If any town has a claim to being a market town, it is Apt. Every Saturday morning for 800 years, there has been a market in its narrow streets and squares; from June to September there's scarcely room to move for all the summer visitors jostling to sample the cheeses and olives, and smell the lavender, herbs and soaps. Now the stalls are full of spring goodies: the local white asparagus (sweet and wonderful with vinaigrette for lunch) and imported strawberries.
Much as I enjoy the market (I blogged about it in greater detail here: The 800-year-old market) I have to say that this is a place I love to wander around on a slow day, visiting all my favourite spots, like the parfumerie Senteurs et Provence, the bric-a-brac shops, the wonderful Librarie La Fontaine bookshop, the V Comme Vin wine boutique and the great mediaeval cathedral at the heart of this small, vibrant working town.
There are Roman ruins of a theatre currently being excavated after their discovery in the cathedral crypt - or rather the very start was found there: the theatre stretches far under the town. There are museums tucked away behind the streets of shops, telling the history of this unassuming place in the Calavon valley at the foot of the great Luberon ridge. The backstreets hold surprises, like the neighbourhood café called Du Coté de chez Swann after Proust's famous literary volume, and fabulous candied fruit sweet shops, one of Apt's traditional products.
Strolling with my camera the other day, I came across a display of old photographs showing that this was always a thriving hub of local commerce. This must have been taken a hundred years or more ago:
Even in the decades I've known Apt, it has been smartened up, especially along the main streets and around the squares. In the 1980s it was quite run-down but now there's pretty paint on shutters and stucco fronts of the buildings. But you don't have to go off the beaten track to get a glimpse of the age-old place where alleys and archways through thick stone walls attest to its long habitation in warrens of interlinking living spaces.
And that's part of the fascination too: the way the past exists alongside the present in every sense. Some of these walls have been in place for a thousand years. Who passed through these streets and what was happening in their lives? I can wander around for hours just letting my imagination take flight.