The Internet can be a cruel, cold and lonely place when one isn’t able to find exactly what they need. Would you believe that I spent hours (no seriously, HOURS) on the web searching for a list of boulangeries and patisseries to visit in Aix en Provence? Would you believe that after translating dozens of pages from the French, I found only a handful of places — a paltry list of tourist traps — to guide my first day in Provence?
I WEPT CROISSANTS, PEOPLE. CROISSANTS AMANDES, TO BE PRECISE. THAT’S ALMONDS TO YOU, PEOPLE!
After spending two days in Provence, hitting every alley way and every shop that sold confections, pastries + bread, I’m bringing you the very best of what I’ve discovered during my stay. In all candor, nearly all of the places I visited were a complete and utter delight. You’re instantly greeted with a waft of a hot oven, of things baking and cooling, and a pride, helpful proprietor. Oddly, I had a dream the other night where a woman told me that my constitution was built for bread and cakes, not for exquisite pastry. I was obsessive, methodical, passionate but not borderline psychotic. You need to be insane to devote that much minute detail to the art of pastry. And this is true. Although I’m a Type A personality, I tend to not have patience for pate-a-choux, and most of my achievements have been working with breads, loaves, cakes, pies, etc. I have a predilection for the grand in stature rather than the microscopic perfection. What this means is that I cared less for the fanciful Bechards of the world (the beautiful shop was a bit intimidating) and opt for more of the rustic bakeries. However, this is my taste and I encourage you to explore what suits your fancy.
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a croissant rampage. For those who know me and know me well, there was the situation I’d like to call the Muffin Intervention of 2007. I devoted six straight months to the consumption of the blueberry muffin and wondered why I’d gained five pounds. Mysteries of the world, people. Riddle of the Sphinx, etc. In the past two years I’ve engaged in an outright war against the consumption of the CROISSANT. Specifically, the almond croissant. This pastry is much like crack cocaine, and I’ve found myself making the Muffin Intervention of 2007 look like a blip in the calendar. However, I’ve allowed a week of debauchery (I’m in France!), so it’s been a three-croissant/day situation. At this point I’m acutely aware of how bad this has gotten, and cannot wait to set foot in JFK, where I will properly mainline kale.
But I digress. These two gems are from Banette and Pâtisserie Weibel, respectively. Banette is much like your local bake shop cum deli, serving up sandwiches, light eats, pastries, fresh bread and croissants. The place is a bit ordinary, but the chocolate croissants (at $1.30) are a pure and utter delight. Flaky and fresh with a warm chocolate center, you will order two, as I did, and have no regrets consuming the lot. As Edith Piaf so sagely sang, Je Non Regret Rien!
Weibel is a bit fancier in nature, selling loads of the Aix sweet, callison (think fruity chalk), however, their almond croissant is probably one of the finest I’ve sampled in France. Subtly sweet, you have a hint of amaretto amidst the powdered sugar, cream and light pastry. It’s a symphony of flavor, I assure you, and I treasured EVERY. SINGLE. BITE.
Remember when I waxed poetic about Stohrer? Sang its praises, etc? While Stohrer will always hold a dear, minimalist place in my heart, I fawned over the perfect eclairs at Lavarenne (below images). Like pages of a book, I love how this pastry unfolds. At first bite, you taste a thin layer of chocolate frosting and sheets of puff pastry. As you delve deeper, the pastry implodes, caves into a perfect chocolate center juxtaposed with a slight touch of cream.
While I felt intimidated by Bechard and its decadent pastry and bright lights, a much humbler Riederer (below images) is definitely worthy of a visit. Tucked away on a side street off Cours Mirebeau, Riederer feels like Bechard’s quirky cousin, mainly due to its current pâtissier, Philippe Segond, who is warm, effusive and constantly re-inventing biscuits, chocolates and the delicate cakes the shop sells. Instantly, you’ll be drawn into bakets filled with biscuits — an array of aromatics — lavender, almond, citrus, lemon, chocolate, and on it goes. Yet, you’ll leave with a slice of cake (the pistachio blueberry melted my cold heart) or a fig tart.
And let us not forget my lifelong affair with chocolate? As Nigella Lawson once said, whatever the question is, chocolate is ALWAYS the answer. If you’re seeking confectionary finery, I encourage you to check out Puyricard (below images). Whether you’re taking a tour of the chocolate factory in the Aix countryside where you see artisans hand-crafting exquisite confections, or you’re strolling around town aching for a bit of sweetness, Puyricard will easily satisfy all cravings. Not only did I sample coconut and almond-infused truffles, but indulged in chocolate-covered almonds, discs of dark chocolate studded with nuts, and pillowy marshmallows that melted in my mouth.
Notables: Don’t dismiss PAUL because it’s a chain. Serving up tasty sandwiches, fresh coffee and tarts that will put your heart on pause (I stood in front of a glazed fig tart for ten minutes, gawking like a lunatic). If you’re looking for a solid, affordable lunch or a quick sweet, definitely hit up this spot. Loved Gout de Pain’s bread.
SWEETS GUIDE (My Picks)
5 Cheminement Ecoles
13540 Aix en Provence
2 Rue Chabrier
13100 Aix en Provence
44 Place Richelme
67 Cours Mirabeau
9 Rue Rifle Rafle
13100 Aix-en-Provence, France