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The Outdoor Side of Provence

When many people think about the Provençal lifestyle, culinary delights, fields of lavender, rosé, impressionist painters, and sipping a café on a cobblestoned street come to mind.  These are all absolutely wonderful elements of the ever-so-charming Provençal lifestyle, yet there are other, less stereotyped things that make this region so special.  Provence is a land of stunning natural beauty, and from its rolling hills and wildflowers to the dramatic calanques and the turquoise water of the Mediterranean, there is seemingly endless beauty and outdoor adventure to be had.


I absolutely love Aix (including its plethora of charming fountains, as seen above), but I wanted to use this post to highlight just a few of the fantastic experiences I've had outside of the city.
 Mt. Sainte-Victoire

Cezanne's beloved Mt. Sainte Victoire. With hiking and climbing access only a short bus ride from Aix, the mountain is a favorite for locals and visitors alike.

On our first non-jetlagged weekend here in Aix, many of us from the program summited the famous local landmark, a wonderful way to start our time here.  Beginning from the dam and beautiful blue lake at the bottom, it's about a 2 or 3 hour climb up the peak and its stunning panoramic views.
 Hiking towards the peak of Mt. Sainte-Victoire

Next on the list of must-do outdoor adventures was the calanques.  A series of Mediterranean inlets with limestone formations rising dramatically out of them, the calanques feature brilliantly blue water and are a great day trip from Aix.
 En Vau Calanque
 
 We had the beach at the En Vau calanque all to ourselves
 

Accessed through either Marseille or the cute little beach town of Cassis, the recently formed Calanques national park is favorite of hikers, climbers, and swimmers alike.
 From the calanques toward Cassis and its red cliffs
 
 
 Above the calanques on the Marseille side
 
 
 Wet weather made for some really cool fog on the cliffs

I am an avid mountain biker, and I have to admit to hauling my bike all the way over here to France.  For me, my bike is partly a vehicle for exploration and adventure, and it certainly served those purposes here in Aix.  I was able to explore so much more around the Aix area than I could have on foot, I met locals out on the trails (a wonderful opportunity for me to practice my French!), and was regularly awed by the beauty I found out on the trails that were just a few minutes from my apartment.
 An evening out of a dream, photo taken just outside of Aix
   
 
 The Verdon Gorge

One of Provence's most jaw-dropping landscapes, about an hour and a half drive from Aix, is the Verdon Gorge.  Sometimes called the "Grand Canyon of Europe," the dramatic rock formations, turquoise water of the Verdon River, and the Lac de Sainte-Croix at the gorge's mouth make it a must see.
 Scrambling above the Lac de Sainte-Croix

Though Marseille is the second largest metropolitan area in France, there is certainly no shortage of natural beauty around the city. Besides the calanques there's the Frioul archipelago, a small chain of islands easily accessed by boat from Marseille's old port.  Well known for being the home of the the prison where the Count of Monte Christo spent time, the islands also feature some beautiful inlets, beaches, and a distinctive rocky landscape.
 A cove on the Frioul Archipelago off Marseille
 

There's really no end to the natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor adventure here in Provence, and studying abroad with CEA here in Aix truly is an amazing way to take advantage of everything Provence has to offer, in and outside the city.  Here are just a few more outdoor highlights from a semester that has gone by far too fast.
 La Ciotat
 
 Parc Jourdan here in Aix
 
 Roussillon
 
 Calanque de Sugiton
 
 Saint-Rémy de Provence

Satchel Cronk is the Spring 2015 MOJO Photographer in Aix-en-Provence, France.  He is currently a junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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