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My experience with southern France is limited: only one long weekend during which I drove nearly 1000 kilometers visiting places that friends and colleagues told me were beautiful and/or interesting. I ended up in Aix-en-Provence, Saint-Paul de Vence, Tourrettes-sur-Loup, Gourdon, Vers-Pont-du-Gard, Cassis, Esparron-de-Verdon, and Avignon. If (when) I return, I'd like to spend more time near the water and in wine areas like Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Lovely Places to Swim
The calanques at Cassis are gorgeous, dramatic promontories sweeping out of the Mediterranean Sea. People stretch out and sun themselves on flat rocks bigger than themselves as the sea unremittingly pounds the shore.
Pont du Gard
Estimates of when this Roman aqueduct was built vary, but it may have been as long ago as the first century AD. The river is a pleasant temperature (an unplanned discovery in the course of trying to get exactly the right angle for the second picture below) and is popular with swimmers. How magnificent to swim and sunbathe in the presence of such a grand, historic structure!
Gorges du Verdon
This mini-Grand Canyon is particularly beautiful, with aquamarine-colored water. The Lac d'Esparron-Gréoux, created by damming the river Verdon River, is a tranquil setting in which to enjoy sailing or swimming.
Saint-Paul de Vence
This is one of the more interesting medieval cities I've seen.
While I know this is a gross overgeneralization, many of the medieval European city-centers seem quite similar, with cobblestone streets, squat, stone buildings, narrow passageways, and arches. Saint-Paul de Vence also has these features; however, its preserved area is relatively large, lending it a cohesiveness lacking in the medieval fragments of other cities. Art galleries and good restaurants add modern charm and pleasures, without detracting from the ambience of yesteryear. And its hilly, forested setting is idyllic.
Half an hour is all that's needed to cover this small, pretty town on foot, though the draw of an artisan's shop may cause you to dwell longer. The town is known for its flowers, particularly violets.
Gourdon's mountaintop setting with 360-degree views over the Loup River valley is impressive. The town itself is quite small (about 5 short streets in total).
Several popes and antipopes (those who, breaking from the Roman Catholic Church, declared themselves pope) resided in the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), built in the 14th century. The medieval bridge, Pont Saint-Bénezet, also known as the Pont d'Avignon, is even older, constructed in the 12th century, though only a fraction of it survives.
Oratories -- praying sites with statues of saints, usually recessed into corners of buildings -- abound in Aix-en-Provence. With 90 oratories, Aix has more than any other city in France.
Aix is known for its ubiquitous fountains -- some gigantic and imposing and others barely more than outdoor basins. Famous fountains include the Fontaine de la Rotonde (1840; at the city center, with statues representing Justice, Agriculture, and the Arts), Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (1667; Four Dolphins fountain), Fontaine d'Eau Chaude (1734; Hot Water Fountain, mossy, fed by a hot spring), and Fontaine des Neuf Canons (1691; Nine Cannons fountain).
This cathedral, a national monument of France, combines architectural elements from the 5th through 17th centuries.
Place de l'Hôtel de Ville
Also known as Place de la Mairie, this square contains the Hôtel de Ville (city hall; 1655-1670), an astronomical clock (1661), and the Halle aux Grains (the former Grain Exchange; 1759-61), as well as a fountain and restaurants (which most squares in Aix seem to contain).
Designed in the 17th century by the Archbishop Mazarin, this area once housed the city's aristocracy. The Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins pictured in the Fountain section above is found in this neighborhood, just off of the Old Town.
Other Old Town Photos
More photos: View all photos in the directory /photos/france/south/.
Eve Andersson (email@example.com)
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