Sunday, June 25, 2017

Retreat in the Sun near Aix-en-Provence...

I made the most of a fluke gap on my timetable to take a flying visit to the South of France - in the area surrounding Aix-en-Provence, to be precise.

Above all, this gave me the chance to catch up with old friends - the oldest, in terms of acquaintance, being my old correspondante française. A trip had been planned since the beginning of the year, but had never materialized, so last week saw me setting off into the sun.

And the blazing heat... Luckily, the early mornings were spent at the place of work, which happened to be in the most amazing grounds of a former Jesuit novitiate.

Built in the 17th century, as the county house for the Collège royal Bourbon d’Aix, known as the Bastide Saint Alexis, it changed hands in 1763 when the Jesuits were banned from the kingdom.

The bastide was finally bought back by the Jesuits in the middle of the 20th century.

It is now a cultural, spiritual and intellectual centre - La Baume-Les-Aix - that also offers hotel rooms at remarkably cheap rates. The term baume signifies an appeasing, soothing balm for the body and soul, and here it seems quite appropriate.

While it may not have the same glossy veneer as other, more modern, standardized establishments, the calm of the setting, wholly makes up for this. Who needs flashy, trashy facilities when you can walk down the long alleys of noble plane trees (les platanes), and wander around the lavender gardens?

Before the sun has fully risen, you can hear birdsong all around, followed by the cigales that suddenly come to life in the heat, just as they abruptly fall silent at dusk. Baume is also an aromatic and here the name finds its full strength in this setting.

No words could describe the rich quality of the smells in the early-morning provençal air here; pine resin, grasses, earth and dew, amongst other things that I simply couldn't define.

Well, all the above, plus endless conversations in great company were certainly balms to my spirit... and the odd glass of rosé never goes amiss!

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