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Christmas in Aix-en-Provence

by Emilie Johnson

The Streets of Aix

Aix-en-Provence (“Aix,” to most locals) is a town set in the very heart of Provence, France. The palette of its streets is gilded, even in the depths of winter. Its many moss-covered fountains, some thermal, serenade the town’s squares. It is a magical place.


For Christmas, the streets of Aix are adorned with lights: the trees, the fountains, the façades of the stone buildings. It renders an already glowing town just radiant. Even in Provence, a land charged with sun, winter has its way and shortens the days. The Christmas lights bring an abiding luminosity to December days.


Patisserie Shop: Maison Weibel
 

Maison Weibel is on my list of stops every time I am wandering around town. This famous pastry shop is, in reality, a gallery. The lineup of patisseries in their window is a sequence of individual works of art. The tarts and cakes are canvases upon which their artisans craft edible masterpieces, especially around the holiday period.

Maison Weibel in Aix

Here, we step inside the pastry shop

Next, let’s have a look at more of their delicacies

Window licking (as the French call window shopping: lèche-vitrines)

Nativity Figurines | Marché des Santons


An essential Christmas element in any home in Provence is the nativity scene (which sits at the base of the Christmas tree, or decorates the family hearth). There is a famous Christmas market for collecting nativity pieces in Aix-en-Provence. The figurines, in French called “Santons”, are made of clay and are individually crafted and hand painted. The Provence nativity is special in that it includes many unlikely characters: lavender gatherers, fishermen from Marseille, Provençal women in traditional raiment, the postman, butchers and bakers - all key people in the life of any village in Provence. There they stand gazing at the creche of Bethlehem, unfitting for the scene. At the Marché des Santons in Aix, there are at least 5 different houses/makers of the figures battling for attention of passers-by. Little children stand in wonder examining the tiny details of each piece.

Fromagerie

Any Christmas feast in France incorporates a rich offering of cheeses. One of the best shops in Aix-en-Provence for cheese is the famous Fromagerie Lemarié. They have a selection of more than 150 cheeses chosen from farms all over France (and Europe more broadly).

This sign hangs in the shop: “One cannot buy happiness. One can, however, buy cheese, which is almost equivalent.” I couldn’t agree more.  

Unique Shops of Aix

One of the delights of the season is simply wandering around the streets of the Aix and popping into unique or unlikely entryways. I love this little shop in Aix, which exclusively sells trappings related to the French comic “Tintin”. Tintin is a famous comic of the 20th century and is something of an institution in French-speaking countries. Tintin is a daring reporter and adventurer and his exploits take him around the world. The original comics have been translated into English (and many other languages) and make a fantastic gift for Christmas. Once you’ve got a fan, this shop is a perfect little spot for the additional touch. My French husband gets something from this shop every Christmas.

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