Funny isn’t it, that a place I’d never heard of became one of the highlights of my recent European adventure. A friendly hotel clerk in Aix en Provence shared with us a place she holds dear, a town on the French Rivera called Cassis.
Dating to ancient times and rebuilt in the 16th century Cassis is famous for the Calanques, deep fijordlike inlets at the base of beautiful white limestone cliffs.
Since many of our most cherished adventures turn out to be the result of recommendations offered by locals, we happily set our course for the cote de azure. Arriving after dark we worried that all the hotels would be full. The first two places we stopped to inquire about lodging were indeed full but the desk clerk at the latter happily directed us to a little place up the road that might have a room.
The third place was indeed the charm and did in fact have a small beautifully appointed room just for us. We quickly settled in feeling lucky to have arrived in time to take advantage the double bonus of pre season pricing and availability.
As the sun rose I stirred and slowly woke up cozy as a kitten in a beam of sunlight. Seeing the sun streaming in through the blinds I knew it would be a beautiful day. I opened the window and to my delight the Mediterranean Sea appeared like an unexpected gift before me and caused me to gasp out loud. I woke John up eager to share this experience with him. As we gazed out of our window arm in arm captivated by our first views of the water I felt the muscles on my face tighten and I realized it was due to my Cheshire cat-like grin.
We dressed quickly and made our way on foot to the port. The ten-minute walk stretched to thirty as we stopped to photograph scenic views along the way. We snapped photos as if to somehow devour all we saw and preserve that delicious feeling of contentment, pure joy of discovery and the perfection of this new day. As we descended the stairs to the port we felt as if we were stepping in to a postcard.
The shops and cafes were preparing for their day, placing chairs and tables in neat rows to face the water. Small boats bobbed against the dock as the fishermen returned to sell their catch, their fish still wet and flopping on the fish tables.
As we began to explore the town we immediately discovered a store dedicated to local cookies. I stood in the middle of the cobblestone street torn by the gravitational pull of the cookie store on one side of the street and the bakery on the other side of the street.
After a visit to both we wandered into the Cassis open-air market, several blocks lined with stalls, their tables laden with all manner of delicious treats. I spun around like a character in some dream sequence and landed in front of a stand covered with bowls full of olives, sun dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
To my right I noticed bolts of cloth that reflected the reds yellows and blues that are so popular in the Provence region. Table after table revealed cheeses, charcuterie, breads, vegetables and all manner of kitchen toys and even clothing. I reacted much like a pinball that released from its spring darted joyfully stall to stall unable to take it in fast enough.
John followed me smiling at my enthusiasm patiently waiting for something to eat . Still buzzing and chirping about the market we headed to an outdoor café for breakfast and people watching .Enjoying breakfast at the port of Cassis we had the feeling that our daydreams had somehow become real. We sat at the café taking in the city perched vertically on the cliffs, listening to the sounds of the marina, savoring strong coffee and flaky croissant, being in love and feeling lucky for all of it
I will forever be grateful to that hotel clerk in Aix en Provence who gave us a memory we treasure. We sometimes receive amazing gifts from total strangers if we are willing to open our hearts and our minds and extend a hand of friendship.