Having not been overly keen on sticking around Aix, we decided on a day trip to the port town of Cassis, which had been recommended as a great spot for a visit by our wine guide, Olivier. We headed south towards the coast to the little fishing village and were immediately impressed. We parked the car, then walked down towards the central square which was located by the water. Small colorful sailboats were moored along the outstretched dock, their reflections near-perfect in the still waters. Several restaurants serving freshly caught fish were lined up against the waterfront, their patios covered with umbrellas, shading patrons against the hot sun. It was like a picture from a postcard.
We were just in time for lunch so we picked a restaurant on the quieter end of the quay called Nino's, and proceeded to have an amazing seafood meal. We started off with appetizers of mussels baked with olive oil, garlic, cheese, and Provencal herbs, and lightly seared sea scallops dressed in a citron sauce. We also shared a whole fresh sea bass which was first grilled, and then cleaned and gutted immediately prior to serving. It was not heavily seasoned; only very lightly salted, which was all it needed. The flavor of the fish itself was amazing, the flesh tender and moist. I'm usually quite weary about ordering fish at restaurants because there is nothing worse than when its dry and overcooked, but this one was perfection. Creme brûlée and espressos capped off our meal, as we sat quietly, people-watching, and enjoying the view of the sea.
After lunch, we decided it would be nice to go kayaking, as the area is famous for its 'calanques,' which are steep inlets and caves that frame the coastline. Unfortunately, we had lingered too long at Nino's so we were only able to have the kayak for 2 hours, which wasn't quite enough time to see the calanques. So instead we went in the opposite direction, where there were small patches of rocky beach and cliffs. The water was the most beautiful turquoise; deep and rich, almost velvety. We paddled to a quiet area and parked our kayak along the rocky shoreline, getting out to stretch our legs, and subsequently sitting on the rocks and gazing at Cassis from afar. After bathing in the sun for a while and breathing in the fresh sea air, we decided it was time to head back out. This proved to be no easy feat. I climbed into the kayak first, balancing gingerly as I sat down in the front of the kayak. The copain got in after me but in the process of doing so, with paddle in hand, he knocked me square in the back of the head with it. I had a sudden deja vu, as this is exactly what happened on our first kayaking outing together. By my count, this was only our second time, but he was two for two. I half suspected that he enjoyed it to some extent, as he cackled uncontrollably at my expense ("sorry hunny!!) but I'll bet he was REALLY sorry after I went on strike and left him to paddle on his own for a stretch.
Safely away from shore, we paddled out further and saw several boats anchored in the water. To my utter dismay, on one of these boats sat a rather large, older gentleman, who was completely buck-naked. Completely. I nearly lost my lunch right then and there, but remembered where I was, and it seemed that in the French Riviera, public nudity was clearly not considered inappropriate! (Well, at least not on the beaches, anyways). Averting my eyes, and trying hard to bleach the image of the portly naked man from my brain, we paddled past the unsightly figure. But less than a minute later, on the side of a nearby cliff, we spotted a lanky, dark-skinned figure, wearing a baseball cap, hiking shoes, a backpack, and a smile. And nothing else. It was curious to me that this man had the foresight to protect his face from the sun by wearing a hat, but did not seem remotely concerned about the other parts of his body which may also be sensitive to UV rays. Hmmm, interesting. I tried to imagine his thought process as he made his way out of the house in the nude that morning , wondering exactly what it took for someone to decide to expose themself in such a manner. Either way my rather conservative Canadian sensibilities screamed out against all of this nakendess, feeling that I'd certainly had my fill of bare bum sightings for the day. So we turned the kayak around and headed back to shore, spotting yet another nudist or two on the way. I shook my head , not sure whether to laugh or cringe, but decided that side from the random nudity, I thoroughly enjoyed our little kayaking adventure.
After rinsing off in the showers at the kayak rental office, we sat ourselves on a patio at a cafe back at the harbourfront, settling happily with our coffee (me) and beer (the copain). He read his book as I typed away on the iPad, and we lounged there peacefully for nearly three hours. At one point our waiter asked us to settle the bill because his shift was ending, but he was quick to note that it was fine for us to continue to stay there for as long as we wanted. Clearly loitering is not prohibited here, and may in fact be encouraged. I looked around the cafe; there were people were playing some curious game involving dice, others intently watching a soccer game on the TV, and still others were contentedly sipping their beverages and lounging lazily like us. In the dusty square across from us, men played endless games of "boule" (similar to lawn bowling or Bacci ball), yelling in French and cheering loudly at random. Life is definitely lived at a much slower pace here; I smiled at the contrast between this and my reality, where timing is everything and there are never enough hours in a day. As the sun began to dip behind the cliffs, we finally left the cafe, only to make our way to our chosen dinner venue for the evening. Tonight we had reservations at Le Chaudron, which, for a restaurant that seemed to have many accolades, did not really give us a very satisfying meal. But in hindsight, I'm really not quite sure what I had expected from a place where the menus and business cards were printed with a logo depicting two babies wearing chef hats while sitting in a large bubbling cauldron. Huh.
Exhausted after a rather long day, and breathless from the uphill hike to our car, we drove back peacefully to Aix and to the Cezanne, where we promptly took to our beds.