About Sasha H
Lives in Healey, United Kingdom
Since Jan 2015
I’ve swum with wild dolphins in the Maldives, fed baby kangaroos in Australia, spent hours in the shopping malls of Dubai and crash-landed a hot-air balloon in Poland – having spent the last decade travelling and freelancing, I am a joyful, nosy traveller, always meeting new experiences head on. I enjoy digging into the culture, listening to what’s happening around me and taking thousands of photos on the way. Thanks to two decades of travelling extensively through Europe, the Middle and Far East and the Caribbean, I know the cities and countries I write about inside out. And even though I live in the Yorkshire Dales – surely the most beautiful place on earth – I never lose my enthusiasm for skiing in Zermatt, visiting my favourite cities in Italy and Poland or discovering new places to shop in Dubai.
Historic Walking Areas
Historic Sites, Sacred & Religious Sites
Points of Interest & Landmarks, Neighbourhoods
Historic Sites, History Museums
Points of Interest & Landmarks, Gardens, Historic Sites
Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas
Nature & Wildlife Areas, National Parks
The lovely ancient heart of Aix is a tangle of charming fountain-filled piazzas, ocher-hued town houses and bustling street markets, buzzing with terrace cafés under bright awnings, smart boutiques full of designer clothes and boutique hotels. Its narrow streets were once protected by its crumbling medieval ramparts and now hide a scattering of fine medieval churches and palaces, the city’s cathedral, and the Neo-classical Palais de Justice (Law Court), as well as several small museums.
Aix’s central place of worship displays a melange of architectural styles, thanks to it being 5th century in origin but not completed until a thousand years later. Its stands on ground that was once a pagan temple, has a Merovingian baptistery dating from the early 5th century and surrounded by five worn columns, plus its Romanesque and Gothic naves contrast neatly with the contemporary altar and glittering Archbishop’s Throne in the multi-colored choir. Along with a smattering of faded fresco fragments, the cathedral displays a masterly 15th-century triptych by Nicolas Froment and several fine tapestries. The neighboring Archbishop’s Palace adjoins the cathedral via a tranquil Romanesque cloister carved with 12th century figures of the saints.
The pedestrianized main boulevard in Aix dives straight through the center of the city, awash with fountains and monumental sculptures, shaded by plane trees, and hemmed with pavement cafés and bars to the north. The southern side of the street is lined with grand town houses with fancy wrought-iron balconies and lavish carved stonework façades. The street is 440 meters (480 yards) long and was constructed in the 17th century so that the aristocratic residents of Mazarin — Aix’s smartest enclave — would have a place to stroll on sunny afternoons.
North of Vieil Aix and perched on a hilltop with a view across to his beloved Montagne Sainte-Victoire, the studio of Paul Cézanne — Expressionist painter and contemporary of Van Gogh — remains much as it was at his death in 1906, standing as a monument to his towering artistic genius. Although none of his paintings hang here — they are all copies — there are touching reminders of the man in his simple furniture and few possessions.
Late afternoon, make a pilgrimage to the craggy limestone landmark of Sainte-Victoire, which Cézanne painted repeatedly — to the point of obsession — between 1902 and his death from pleurisy in 1906. The south side of the mountain is spectacular at dusk, when its flanks gleam and glitter as the sun disappears behind the mountain. Reaching 1,011 meters (3,317 ft) in height, the peak dominates the skyline around Aix-en-Provence, and by day is a popular spot for hikers and cyclists, with vineyards and sleepy villages spread at its feet.
Tucked away in an unassuming backstreet, and up there with the best of restaurants in Aix, Le Zinc d'Hugo has long been known for the quality of its Provençal cooking and knowledgeable service. Its simple interior has a few plain tables, wooden beams, and a fire flickering at the end of the room; while the locally sourced charcuterie and cheeses are superb. There’s also a fine wine selection in the subterranean wine bar.
Found on the northern edges of Vieil Aix is the grandest of the grand palaces built during the mid 17th-century; the Vendôme Pavilion is a gorgeous Baroque affair built as an aristocratic love nest. Of soft yellow stone, its has an ornate façade adorned with wrought-iron balconies and an elegant interior that — despite being a little worn in places — showcases the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Provençal upper classes. There’s a majestic curved staircase leading to several rooms decorated with period furniture and wallpapers.
South of the Cours Mirabeau lies the Mazarin Quarter, an ultra-sophisticated residential area that sprung up in the 17th century and is now Aix’s most desirable address. The little grid of streets is full of Baroque architecture and hidden squares as well as the Musée Granet, which has the best private collection of art in the city. Among its permanent exhibits is Old Masters, a gallery full of classical sculpture and modern work, featuring big names such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Picasso and — of course — Cézanne. There are also frequent, top-class temporary shows.
Time for lunch accompanied by a glass of rosé wine in the stunning Provençal countryside. La Bastide de Marie in Ménerbes fits the bill perfectly, being in the heart of wine-making country and surrounded by acres of vines in the Luberon Natural Park. Located in an 18th-century farmhouse, its elegant dining room has a terrace with bucolic views and the Provençal-style cuisine — think meatballs and risotto flavored with local truffles — is second to none.
A microcosm of all that is beautiful about rural France, the Lubéron is a peaceful region of hilltop villages clustered around the spires of their churches; busy market towns such as Apt, Sault and Cavaillon; and bustling daily markets bursting with color and fragrance. Covering 1,840 sq km (710 sq miles), the Lubéron’s distinctive characteristics are jagged limestone rock formations and soaring cliffs, ocher-red soils planted with orderly vines, and purple swathes of lavender. Popular with walkers and cyclists, the natural park has hiking trails of all levels that pass alongside vineyards, through gorges, and up into the peaks of the Lubéron Massif. After you've explored this area thoroughly, end the day with a late supper in the bars and bistros of Vieil Aix.
Steeped in history, Arles sits on the banks of the River Rhône northwest of Aix-en-Provence. With an ancient center liberally scattered with the UNESCO-listed remains of a Roman amphitheater, a baths complex and open-air theater; the city has a photogenic medieval center often painted by Van Gogh in 1888, the biggest Saturday market in Provence, an ornate Romanesque cathedral, and a legendary schedule of summertime festivals. All this, plus bars, cafés, boutiques, and classy restaurants packed into its streets, make Arles a vibrant, seductive portal to the wild waterlands of Camargue.
The étangs (saltwater lakes) and marshes of the Camargue have long been famous for their legendary white horses, black bulls and flocks of Disney-pink flamingos. Squeezed between two branches of the mighty River Rhône and the Mediterranean Sea, it is also a flat landscape of rice paddies, saltpans, and vineyards, where life has changed little for centuries and man exists alongside nature in harmony. The region is crisscrossed with nature trails and cycling paths — a paradise for walkers, horseback riders, cyclists, artists, and photographers — but also has a brace of appealing, laidback towns to explore.
Once an important seaport, Aigues-Mortes is now five km (three miles) inland from the Mediterranean thanks to the silting up of the Rhône Delta, and it is the perfect pit stop for lunch and a wander. Fortified in the 13th century, the town’s massive walls still guard its huddle of grid-like lanes, classy shops, and thriving restaurant scene. The austere Gothic Church of Our Lady of the Sands stands at the heart of the old town and dates from the same time; from here Crusaders regularly set out to the Holy Land. Outside the town’s defense walls lie the red-tinged saltpans of Salin d’Aigues-Mortes; a little tourist train chugs round them on a regular schedule, taking 90 minutes and getting up close to the harvested piles of gourmet Fleur du Sel, considered the best salt in France.
Once a fishing village on the banks of the Petit Rhône, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is now a seaside tourist resort huddled along the Mediterranean shoreline. It has a vast, fortified 9th century church, a bullring, and a couple of tiny museums, but is most often visited by French families for bucket-and-spade vacations on the sandy expanse of beach, and for its excellent seafood restaurants.
Named after the famous salt produced outside Aigues-Mortes, A Fleur de Sel is one of the best restaurants in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, with a flower-covered exterior and a ever-packed interior. Serving up loaded platters of garlicky shrimp or clams as well as steaks and foie gras, the quality of food here far eclipses the tourist restaurants along the main drag of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.