Our friends Mitzi and Alain gave us the best Valentine's Day present ever... a week in their apartment on the Mediterranean while they were in Egypt. We also enjoyed the time we were able to spend with them before and after their trip. February may not seem like the ideal time to visit Provence, but in fact it is really wonderful. It feels as if we are on the cusp of Spring, a delicate edge of gentle but decidedly cool breezes which balance the heat of the sun, which in Spring and Summer might become too hot.
This morning, as we walked down the path to the boulangerie, I was struck by the softness of Provence. The only sound was the soft cooing of doves. Delicate almond blossoms have started to bloom, giving the leafless branches a cushion of white and pink. Even the pine trees look soft as if their needles would feel more like feathers than needles. The warmth and light of the sun is soft as well as the blue of the sky. All the colors are soft as well: dusty blue, lavender, pink, cream and beige. Even the red of the roofs seems softer than red tile roofs elsewhere.
Today we hiked on a trail that went above the highest cliffs of Europe, the Calanques. Even the cliffs were softened by the trees and haze.
It is all such a contrast to the boisterous energy and colors, noise and dirt of South America... kind of like being shot out of a circus canon and landing in a fluffy feather bed.
La Ciotat is a pretty Mediterranean town.
The downtown has winding streets and stone buildings with boutiques and boulangeries, most of which see, only to be open a fez hours in the morning. Alain and Mitzi's condo is in the East end of town. To get to the center we walk down a pine shaded trail then through a residential area with pretty Provencal houses, cream colored with red roofs and yards with blooming trees. Stone walls and cast iron gates separate the owners' little paradises from the mundane street. Past the bakery where we get fresh baguettes and pain au chocolate, the street leads down to the long waterfront.
Often when we walked, it was almost empty. On Sunday afternoon, however, there were lots of children in the parks, mothers pushing prams, and couples walking hand in hand. There were numerous courts where people played boules, or pettanque, which is probably the favorite game of Provence.
I was pleased to learn that La Ciotat had been the home of the Lumiere family, and the train station there had been the subject of one of the Lumiere brothers' first films.