It’s that magical time of year, Christmas in Provence. If you happen to be here during the month of December, visiting Aix-en-Provence and the Christmas Market is a must.
Even if your main reason for going to Aix-en-Provence is to explore the Christmas Market scene, taking the time to discover the village is also an exciting thing to do. I have a personal connection to this village since I lived here for two years while attending a university in the city center. There is a rhythm and flavor here that is all its own. The village is popular with the young crowd due to the high volume of universities in and around the area and the large population of students that live here during the year. It is equally popular for tourist during Christmas time and the summer months.
The village was founded in 123 B.C. by the Romans, hence, the wonderful architecture that still exist today. During the month of December these buildings are lit up with Christmas decorations that give them an even more amazing feel and look and all of the shops are “dressed-up” for the season.
Even though there are lots of goodies to partake of when shopping at the Christmas Market, I still have two favorite places I go for treats for myself and presents for my family and friends.
The Delectable Chocolates of Chocolaterie de Puyricard
One of those places is the Chocolaterie de Puyricard. From the moment I was introduced to this amazing place, I was hooked. I have never found another company who makes chocolate as delicious as Puyricard. To prove it, I’ve tested it out on family and friends and they’ve all had the same reaction and the same phrase comes right out of their mouth (after downing enough chocolate to put them into a comma), “This is the best chocolate that I’ve ever tasted in the whole, wide, world”, they all say. Each year at Christmas my family makes the trek to Aix-en-Provence to not only explore the Christmas Market, but to gather the traditional Puyricard chocolate presents. We seriously have friends who ask us months in advance if we are getting them their prized chocolate gift for Christmas!
The moment you step into the store, is the moment you’ve been held captive. The sight of all the different chocolates behind the glass and the scent that hangs in the air just doesn’t let go of you. The workers behind the counter are courteously waiting to take your order, but you can’t move or think about what you want because you’re so mesmerized by what you are seeing and smelling. I know you all reading this are thinking that I’m off my rocker, but I’m telling you that I’m immobile in this place. I would think that after so many years of going here I would get used to it, but no, it never happens. I have the same reaction each year.
The thing that makes this chocolate so much more delicious than any other is the fact that it is all hand-made, the old fashioned way, with no preservatives and no artificial flavors. While in the store, there is a film playing on the making of the chocolate. This happens to be another thing that they captivate you with.
When ordering, I always choose to go the custom box route. This is where you choose a box size, out of a few different sizes and weights, and then the workers go about picking and choosing all the little chocolates that will go inside the box. They have every type known to man including those with liquor inside. Once your box, or boxes in my case, are full, then the workers wrap them up neatly with beautiful, seasonal paper and decorations. If an entire box of chocolate is too much for you to handle, then they also offer chocolate bars, breaker chocolate and all sorts of other types of specialty chocolate items. There is something for everyone in this place. Then to top it off, they offer you a sample taste of what’s special that day. It’s impossible for you to leave without a smile on your face and something to take with you.
For the faint at heart, be careful about how much you purchase. The overwhelming feeling of being in this fantastic place that snares the senses will run away with you and in turn, your pocket book. For this chocolate does not come cheaply my friends so be prepared when the cashier rings up your purchase. It is well worth it in my book, though.
My review on Google Local Guides is here along with some photos.
Cookies, Chocolates, and Lollipops of La Cure Gourmande
As if the chocolate was not enough for me, the very next place I go to is La Cure Gourmande. This is an all together different kind of experience. In here, you will find delicious cookies, lollipops, chocolates, caramel squares (my personal favorite) and specialty treats. Their store is a wonder of pastel colors and they have the most amazing posters that you can purchase. The displays are so appealing to the eye that you feel as if you stepped back in time. Their style is very traditional, late 1800’s or early 1900’, as is evident on all of their packaging. Vibrant and detailed illustrations are seen everywhere.
When entering the store, my husband heads straight for the lollipops and I make a beeline for the caramels. We never fail to grab these items right off the bat. His recommendation for the lollipops is the raspberry ones, and my recommendation for the caramels are the chocolate, café, and vanilla ones. I stop myself at 3 each for fear that I’ll just go hog wild because usually I eat them all in one sitting. Once I start, I can’t stop. For the lollipops, if you buy ten of them, you get one for free and of course, that’s what my husband does.
We usually end up buying a few extra items to put with the chocolate gifts we send to our family and friends. Go big or go home, right? There happens to be two La Cure Gourmande stores in Aix-en-Provence. One is situated just across from the tourist office and the other is across from the Hotel de Ville. Both have the same items, but their look and feel is a little different. If you have the time or inclination, visit both.
My review on Google Local Guides is here along with some photos.
The Santons of Provence
When you finally head towards the Christmas Market lining the streets of the Cours Mirabeau, make sure you stop to see the Foire aux Santons. This is a specialty of Provence and if you have never seen these little, terracotta, hand-painted figurines and villages before, then it is a must. Children and adults alike will be delight by the small villages, animals and traditional costumes of these masterpieces. Pay close attention to those that are still handcrafted by the traditional method. They are the ones you will want to purchase. The art of handcrafting Santons originated in Marseille during the late 1700’s. The tradition remains alive and well in Provence and though they can be purchased all year around, the most popular time of year to see and buy them is at Christmas. I’ve long been amazed at the beauty and intricacy of the Santons. The color, the detail and the old, Provencal clothing that is painted onto the figurines is just spectacular.
Usually the artisans are all together in one area so you can walk through and admire their handy work and purchase items for your collection. It can get very crowded so you will have to be patient and wait to get up close to see everything, but it is well worth it.
The Cours Mirabeau and the Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market 2016
As the sun sets and the Christmas lights of the Cours Mirabeau come on; you really start to get into that magical feeling of Christmas in Provence. The street is lined with little, wooden chalets where artisans are selling food, drinks, barb-a-papa (cotton candy), toys, traditional soaps and oils of Marseille, dishes, jewelry and much, much, more.
I prefer to visit the Christmas Market the very first weekend of December. The crowds are less at that time and it allows you to get up close and personal to the chalets. As Christmas time approaches, it becomes too crowded and hard to see anything, and in my opinion, not so much fun.
The first weekend, however, is delightful. There are enough people out and about to still give you the feeling of that Christmas hustle and bustle and all around enjoyment of the excitement of the season, but you are still able to maneuver around and see everything. It’s also the time to get your pick of the good stuff! Some of my favorites are the hand-made dishes and glassware, the colorful candles, the chocolates molded into life-like items and the hand-made, wooden kitchen items. Of course I love the food, too! There are also rides for the kiddies.
The nice thing about the Christmas Market in Aix-en-Provence is it’s just the right size. Not too big, not too small and it’s contained on one street only, the widest and most popular, the Cours Mirabeau. I’ve been to other Christmas markets and even though they were fantastic, I felt a bit overwhelmed by just too much to see, do and eat. The market in Aix-en-Provence, is the perfect size for everyone. You can find all the gifts you need and grandma, grandpa and the kids won’t feel like they got run over by a Mac truck and need to sleep for a week afterwards!
Since the chalets are in one, straight line, it’s easy to go from one to the other and take as little or as much time as you need. Many of the artisans speak English and can answer any questions you have about their items.
I must give a plug for the Polish man who is there every year to sell his photographic masterpieces. Unfortunately, he has no website and remains fairly anonymous to the rest of the world, but you cannot miss him. He has the chalet that is full of his most amazing photography all ready to be mounted and displayed. His photos of the region, and of Aix-en-Provence, are a wonder and should not be missed. They are well worth the purchase in order to have a souvenir of your trip. If you want to take home something lovely from your time in Aix-en-Provence, then his work is it.
The Final Hours
As you come to the end of the street and the chalets, take a walk across to the other side of the Cours Mirabeau where the bars, restaurants and shops are. It’s a nice and less hectic walk and you can see all the chalets from a different perspective. It also gives you the opportunity to pop in and have a nice warm drink while people watching (which happens to be a sport of mine). You can rest those weary feet and still continue to enjoy the evening.
Before leaving, my family visited the International Christmas Market of Twin Cities that was being held in the new part of city center. Here we found items displayed from Portugal, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Morrocco, just to name a few. It was very crowded in this indoor tent that the city had put up especially for this year’s market, but nevertheless, I was able to get a few shots and taste tests, of the goodies and specialty foods being sold.
If you do happen to make it to the Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market, I would love to hear how you liked it and what your favorite stores and chalets were to visit. I’d also love to hear about your chocolate experience, too!