Achin’ for Aix: A Well-Read Diner’s Guide

M.L. Longworth’s new mystery, MURDER IN THE RUE DUMAS, is set in a small university in the idyllic town of Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. The charming novel revolves around a dumbfounding murder that nearly stumps the handsome chief magistrate of Aix, Antoine Verlaque. In this essay, the author offers a few tips on where to dine, should you be fortunate enough to visit the book’s real setting.

Aix-en-Provence has golden stone buildings, medieval winding streets, dozens of ancient fountains, and beautiful people. But it doesn’t have good restaurants. Is it because the beautiful people don’t care about good food? Or is it because Aix has always been a big tourist and student town, so local chefs have never had to make an effort at filling their restaurants?

So when we go out to eat in Aix, it’s usually outside of the city’s walls. One of the first landmarks you’ll see when coming towards Aix is Mont Saint-Victoire, Cézanne’s obsession: he painted over 100 images of the white craggy mountain. At the foot of the mountain is the charming Provençal village of Puyloubier, home to one of our favorite restaurants, Les Sarments. Chef Jean-Sébastien Gentil has worked in Paris and London and his food reflects his training: sophisticated, refined, and cooked and presented with imagination. I don’t care for the interior, but the courtyard is lovely.

It’s also best to dine outside at La Table de Ventabren, west of Aix. This Michelin one-star restaurant is located in old Ventabren, a medieval perched village (lower Ventabren is a bedroom community of Aix). From the terrace, which is elegantly furnished, the views south reach almost to the sea. There are two prix-fixe menus, at 41 and 50 euros, which change weekly. When you’re on the terrace on a warm summer’s evening, it’s heaven.

North of Aix is a winery and sculpture park, Château La Coste, the passion of an Irish billionaire and his sister. We never liked La Coste’s wines until the Irishman took over; he modernized the chai, went organic, and hired Matthieu Cosse as chief winemaker. Cosse’s Pentes Douces red wine is fantastic. And now for the grounds: imagine you could hire any Pritzker winning architect — Jean Nouvel or Frank Gehry, and then commission famous sculptors — Richard Serra, Andy Goldsworthy — to create works of art for your grounds, well, that’s what this brother and sister did. I think that the two-hour walk through the grounds is one of the best things Aix has going for it. And I’ve never eaten in their chic restaurant, so can’t say if it’s good. But when you’re having lunch in a Tadao Ando building, who cares?
4 rue Qui Monte
13114 Puyloubier
04 42 66 31 58
1 rue Cézanne
13122 Ventabren
04 42 28 79 33
2750 Route de la Cride
13610 Le Puy Ste-Réparade
04 42 61 92 90

—M.L. Longworth

Buy it at Amazon.

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