We were exceptionally well served with the weather for our trip to the Bibémus quarries - dry, warm but not too hot, and little wind. After a fascinating introduction to the life of Paul Cézanne, we were taken by coach up the narrow winding road to the entrance. The quarries had been in use since Roman times to provide stone for the buildings in the city, but were already disused when Cézanne, a great walker and fascinated by colours, decided to hire a small building there for his workshop. He would be taken there by horse and trap early each morning and work until the light was too intense, then begin again later in the afternoon. The views of Montagne Sainte Victoire, the colours of the stone and the vegetation all provided inspiration and figure in several of his paintings.
The quarries extend over seven hectares and from the edge there are expansive views over the plains at the foot of Montagne Sainte Victoire. The thick vegetation under the tall pine and evergreen oak trees is typical of the garrigue with alkaline soil and many interesting plants including Aphyllanthes monspeliensis, borage, Cistus albidus, Cistus salviifolius, Euphorbia serrata, Limodorum abortivum and Lonicera etrusca - to name a few.
We climbed down into the quarry and along a rough path and turning a corner saw the last thing we expected - a car! A Canadian sculptor is the only person authorised to live in the quarry, in a small building with no services. Walking further, we came to the building where Cézanne worked from 1895 to 1899, and panels with reproductions of some of his famous paintings were placed at the very spots where he must have placed his canvas.
Text and photos: David and Helen Mason
Walk from Bibémus to Le Tholonet
After the visit to the quarries at Bibémus the group found its way, along a serpentine hiking trail, to lunch in Le Tholonet, about 3 km to the south. The walk was first through a shady forest, then, emerging into bright sunshine, we stopped to look at the view of Montagne Sainte Victoire.
Our way continued, steeply downhill, on a path edged by banks of red soil and towering pin d’Alep trees (Pinus halepensis).
Here are pictures of some of the plants and trees we saw:
Text: Jennifer Hastings
Photographs: Kevan Kristjanson and Helen Mason
Les Jardins d'Albertas – a garden of surprises
Albertas, a beguiling 17th century pleasure garden, was built for a wealthy Aix-en-Provence family to take the country air with their friends. It sits to the south of the city, in Bouc-Bel-Air. The planned chateau was never built so this remains, unusually, a garden without a house.
The garden was created in three distinct terraces, incorporating Italian, French and English styles of design. Entering at the lower level the first surprise is the long canal, running pretty much the whole width of the garden, reflecting shadows of a row of magnificent plane trees.
Beyond a wide sweep of lawn is the impressive bassin, containing exuberant sculptural fountains with 17 jets including tritons blowing water, flanked by symmetrical curving steps, santolina and sage.
Clipped evergreen hedges and statuary interface with the vibrant theatricality of the water leading up to the more natural tree planting on the boundaries.
Above the water is a large area of mown turf with a small formal parterre – the French garden – although the original plan of 1751 indicates a more elaborate pattern of broderie de buis. The lawn is retained however, as a useful surface for plant stalls during the annual event of Les Journées des Plantes d’Albertas, which runs over three days each year at the end of May.
The highest terrace overlooking the whole garden is delineated by clipped pyramids of yew and a pair of stone sphinxes, welcoming the visitor into the more natural English garden where informal tree planting towers over a wildflower and longer grass carpet.
The current owner gave us a generous and delightful insight into the garden’s history from its 1650 creation up to the most recent renovation, the water engineering, a little foray into the romantic liaison between Casanova and ‘Henriette’ of the d’Albertas family and how it has now turned into a garden for all to enjoy.
Text and photographs: Anny Evason and Julia Fogg