Pavillon de Vendome the Pleasure Palace of Provence
The thing I love about Provence is that it’s not Paris. What I mean is: Paris is obvious. There’s the Tour Eiffel, l’Arc de Triomphe, a whole slew of “must-see” tourist destinations. But Provence, on the other hand, still has a lot of hidden secrets that the average tourist is delighted to stumble upon. I’m making my list for my next trip!
Who Needs Versailles?
Versailles may be the best known palace with gardens, but here’s another one to consider: the Pavillon de Vendôme in Aix. Louis Mercoeur, Duke of Vendôme in 1662, ordered this manor’s construction as a secret love nest he could visit with his lover, Lucrèce de Forbin Solliès. Juicy! But alas, Louis died only a few years after the home was completed in 1667.
After Louis, the painter Jean-Baptiste Van Loo took ownership and kept his art studio there. The property changed hands a few more times, and then after the French Revolution in 1789, it was turned into a Catholic boarding school for girls.
The final individual owner of Pavillon de Vendôme was Henri Dobler, who bought it in 1906. When he died, however, he donated the building and its marvelous gardens to the city of Aix-en-Provence. Today it is a museum exhibiting an extensive collection of Provencal furniture and paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Located in the heart of Aix, in Old Town, the gardens offer respite from the crowded streets.
While the gardens aren’t nearly as expansive as that of Versailles, it’s the small touches, like the bushes trimmed like teetering cakes, the whimsical frog statue, and the Dawn and Dusk sculptures by the sculptor Jean-Claude Rambot Aachen, that make it worth a visit.
Pavillon de Vendôme is closed all of January (but who wants to visit a garden in the dead of winter, anyway?), and hours vary throughout the year. Do note, however, that they’re always closed 12:30-1:30. Plan your lunch accordingly. Museum admission is €3.50, but the gardens are free to stroll.