Apt in the department of Vaucluse, Provence is a largish town with an inner old town. It’s famous for its crystallised fruit, is awash with gorgeous little shops and home to a fabulous Saturday street market. Founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC, it’s in the heart of the Luberon Nature Park, between the mountains of Vaucluse and Luberon.
Me, I’m happy to wander the sun-baked streets, ogle the private mansion houses, laze around the tinkling fountains and cool down in the shade of one of the many little tree lined squares. The town is great for those who love to browse the boutiques, galleries and art shops, take a break at a café, eat a lavender ice cream and contemplate how it’s possible to make an ice cream taste so heavenly. But there’s plenty more to do for a day in Apt including a museum of history and archaeology.
It probably won’t surprise you to discover that Apt is classified a “site remarquable du gout” (a place of wonderful tastes). It’s an absolute treat for fans of street markets.
Saturday morning is market day year-round in Apt. It’s one of the biggest in the area and a classified “Exceptional market.” If you don’t want to stick out like a tourist get there by 8am, and definitely not after 9.30am! Apt market has been going for some 900 years. Incredible to think when you stand there picking out the most delicious honey and jams, herbs and cheeses, that in the 13th century, our ancestors were stood there doing the same thing! Normally quite sleepy, Apt bursts into life on Saturday mornings, get there early if you need to park your car.
Apt is apt to bring out your inner cake monkey
Apt is apt to send the sweet-toothed into a frenzy. When one Matthew Wood, a British pudding maker, visited Apt in the mid-1800s – he fell head over heels for the glacé cherries and candied fruit produced there. He started importing the sweet stuff, adding it to cakes and gaining a reputation for the best of the best. To this day, Apt exports most of its candied, or glacé, cherries to the UK, and is famous throughout the world for the quality of its candied fruit.
But the history of sweetened fruit in France goes back much further. The Popes in Provence, with their court based in Avignon in the 15th century, were said to be fond of crystallised fruit from here.
In Provence candied fruit is included in the famous “13 desserts”, a Christmas tradition. It’s served at the end of a meal as a treat. It’s used in cakes (especially the Galette des Rois), and in cooking up and down the land. And added to liqueurs for extra flavour and to cocktails for extra sweetness.
When you’re in Apt, you’ll see plenty of shops offering the colourful, shining-like-diamonds fruits of all kinds. Apricots, pears, angelica, cherries, pineapple, clementines, figs, lemons, melon, plums, strawberries and more are preserved in sugar, their flavours heightened. People come from miles around to get their sweets here. And if you want to add more calories – dip the candied treats in melted chocolate like the locals do!
Find out more at the Musée de l’Aventure Industrielle, which boasts a whole section on crystallised fruit. It also has a section covering traditional faïence d’Apt ceramics and crockery. apt.fr/Le-Musee-de-l-Aventure
Treats and sweets
Head to rue des Marchands for yet more treats. It’s easy to find with its landmark 16th century clock tower in Gothic Provencal style with a distinctive lacy dome looming at one end of the street. Patisserie Rousset offers drool-worthy crystallised fruit, nougat, confectionary and ice cream. Passion Chocolat is where Chef Alain Bouchard makes gateaux to make your eyes pop. People come from miles around for his awesome macarons and gorgeous cakes like the Galapian d’Apt. Bouchard created this speciality in 1994 in honour of the candied fruits of the town.
And, according to local Martine DiCicco, the best bakery/cake shop in town is Au Pierrot Blanc 36 rue des Marchands. The family business specialises in lavender and their grandfather invented the first lavender ice- cream. “They produce lavender cookies, lavender chocolate cake, lavender marshmallows and a lavender flower baguette which goes perfectly with goat cheese.”
Anyone who likes all things sugary and sweet will love visiting this town not just for its sun-kissed streets, it’s wonderful cafés and gourmet food shops but for the local sweet speciality…
Where to eat out in Apt
There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the town and sitting under the shade of a leafy plane tree on a sunny day with something chilled and locally made is one of life’s great pleasures. Warm summer evenings are enhanced with tapas like dishes on terraces. And on Saturdays, market day, the restaurants buzz with life as the locals from miles around come to town.
Locals love: Restaurant Chez Sylla whre the locals meet and indulge. In the cool wine cellar enjoy seasonal dishes, superb salads, great quality farmhouse cheeses and fine breads. The sommelier is known for his great advice on wines! 406, avenue de Lançon – 84400 Apt
Don’t miss: Restaurant Carnot on the quaint Place Carnot, by the swan fountain, surrounded by 17th and 18th century buildings. Delicious home-cooked dishes and friendly, the chef always comes to meet guests and chat – locals say “it’s like eating at home.” A true taste of Provence. 35 place Carnot 8440 Apt
Take home a souvenir of Apt
The clay soil and local ochre deposits led to Apt becoming a centre of pottery. Every year a pottery market is held in mid-August in the park, shaded by the tall trees. To this day there are numerous artisan pottery workshops in the town. Christine Jouval- Marcel of Apt Faience acquired her technique training with renowned craftsmen. She creates mixed clays, marble ware and “flammé” enamelling and adds a feminine and contemporary touch to unique 18th century know-how and tradition to produce the most beautiful pottery. apt-faience-luberon.fr
For great gifts to take home, try Le Temps d’un Eté. The owner Marie Laure stocks beautiful handicraft objects from all over the South. From fine craft pieces, ceramics, paper art, jewellery, silk work, fashion accessories, wooden furniture – be warned, there’s lots to fall in love with. 53 rue Eugène Brunel. Head off the beaten track to Fondation Blachère, an unusual art centre. It’s in an industrial zone, where the Blachère company, European leader of festive illuminations, are based. With a focus on contemporary African art it also has a store which stocks fabulous lighting products for the home and garden and a boutique selling African crafts and designs. www.fondationblachere.org
Pop Apt on your must-see list…
Apt is a great base for visiting the Luberon and Vaucluse areas. And for a wander, sample, browse, taste, sniff and enjoy a seat at a charming café in the sun and watch the world go by… You’ll go home with lasting memories of the sweetest fruits, lavender bread and goats cheese – a potted view of Provence in one small town.
Apt Tourism: en.luberon-apt.fr
Vaucluse Provence: provenceguide.com
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