I had dreamed about going to Provence for over a decade, having read most of Peter Mayle’s books and enjoyed movies such as A Good Year. I even have a couple of large Scanlan prints of Aix-en-Provence in the guestroom of every home I have owned. Yet this city caught me completely by surprise in the emotions it evoked. It—particularly the downtown area and Cours Mirabeau—felt oddly familiar. Then it hit me: Aix-en-Provence totally reminded me of my hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado.
The similarities are undeniable: they are both college towns with a population of 140,000. Downtown features lots of cafés and restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating. There is a good mix of students, young people with families and retirees. The people are friendly and happy and the pace of life is leisurely. The citizens seem to know how—and take the time—to enjoy life. Both towns are safe and pretty with flowers and gardens dotting the central part of town. Downtown is alive until midnight but is not uncomfortably jampacked with the throngs of, say, La Rambla in Barcelona. The people are also fit and beautiful.
But of course there are differences. The architecture of the homes between the two could hardly be more disparate, with the colorful, Mediterranian townhomes celebrated in the Scanlan prints for Aix-en-Provence, and the bungalow-style and modern tract homes being ubiquitous in Fort Collins. Provençal folks, young and old, are impeccably dressed with even greater fashion and prettiness than that seen in Paris. Fort Collinsers, while über-fit compared to most of the rest of the United States, dress not quite like slobs in comparison but are very casual, with a T-shirt and shorts or jeans being the local uniform.
Both places appear to be excellent for bicycling—or at least the surrounding areas with lots of hills. Fort Collins also has much more water in the form of lakes and rivers. Aix-en-Provence has almost none, sadly, but is not too far from the Mediterranian coast and the excellent beaches the south of France is famous for.
The Fort is the place I am most happy to call home, but Provence is a place I still fantasize of living in. Perhaps one day. If I do, I won’t be quite as surprised if it still feels remarkably similar to the town I know and love.