Provence is known for its lavender, the great swathes of purple that stretch towards the horizon and give off the most heavenly scent during their mid-summer bloom. But lavender isn’t the only botanical game in this charming region in southern France. For hundreds of years, the cypress trees have formed elegant green columns that line the streets like sentinels, shooting skyward and miraculously holding their ground when the unpredictable Mistral winds blow through the region.
They once gave secret signals to those who knew the code: a trio of them planted outside a home marked it as a place to stay for passing travellers; two of them showed somewhere to stop for a meal. A single cypress? Best to carry on your way.
Today, the hospitality of Provence is matched by its beauty, with centuries-old buildings creating an air of faded glamour. Spring is one of the best times to plan a visit, as the cities and towns awaken from their winter slumber and enjoy the magnificent outdoors. The magic of this time of year is also captured in the Cyprès de Provence scented candle, its coniferous notes warmed by vanilla and tonka beans to create a scent that is both comforting and spicy.
A short but walkable distance from the centre of Aix, Hôtel Le Pigonnet is housed in a converted 18th century manor and has an air of discrete French luxury. The hotel’s restaurant is a destination unto itself, both for the exquisite food and for its incredible patios and gardens, which come alive in the spring. Enjoy a post-lunch stroll under flower-covered trellises and past herb gardens and fruit trees. Painter Paul Cezanne was known to have set up his easel there and it’s easy to see why.
The local produce comes alive as the weather grows warmer, so visit the local farmers’ markets for the best on offer. Or simply find a sunny cafe terrace to while away an afternoon with fresh food and a glass of rosé. Chez Fanny in rue Chastel is a favourite for its market salad, but with only a handful of tables, you’ll be jostling with the locals for a spot.
Paris may be famous for its pharmacies, but Aix en Provence has its share of them, too. The large pharmacies in the city centre are well stocked with all the cult beauty brands, along with knowledgeable staff who will happily recommend the right product. Get there early in the day because they can become quite popular in the afternoons.
Written by Michelle Bateman