The birthplace of Marcel Pagnol and his work, Aubagne and its hills embody an authentic and modern-day Provence. The pottery tradition and the paths of the Garlaban – where the garrigue grows – charms visitors more than ever.
Aubagne and the Garlaban
The Land of Marcel Pagnol
Aubagne and its surroundings owe their reputation to Marcel Pagnol. Born in the town in 1895, the writer and filmmaker lived here until the age of three, before his family moved to Marseille. But every summer he spent his holidays in a villa, located “just at the edge of a garrigue desert which goes from Aubagne to Aix.” The hills of the Garlaban were his playground. It was from there that Marcel Pagnol drew his inspiration for his “Childhood Memories” and made most of his films, including “La Fille du Puisatier” and “Manon des Sources.” The identity of Aubagne is based on this unbreakable bond. A short walk from the Old Town and its labyrinth of little streets, built on a mound, you can visit the house where the local lad was born. Close by, the recently refurbished Le Petit Monde de Marcel Pagnol [Marcel Pagnol’s Little World], offers an immersion into the world of this member of the Académie Française through an exhibition of more than 200 santons produced by the best artisans in the region.
Santons and Ceramics
An Ancestral Know-How
Aubagne also built its reputation around its many santonniers, potters and ceramicists who produce their creations and sell them directly to the public. There are around 40 workshops concentrated in the town, at the corners of the little streets of the historic centre and in the surrounding area. This pottery tradition dates back to the Gallo-Roman era. It has lost none of its appeal: every odd year, in August, 170 artisans meet in Aubagne for the Argilla, the biggest ceramics market in France. Visitors flock to this event, which combines craftsmanship, art, colours, and conviviality. The soul of Aubagne can also be found in even years, during the Bienniale de l’Art Santonnier, which is held just before Christmas. About 50 craft workers present their work in a fairytale atmosphere that echoes with the sweet melodies of choirs and storytellers.
The Kingdom of the Garrigue
From the heights of Aubagne and the valley of the Huveaune, you can enjoy an open panorama to the north onto the hills of the Garlaban massif, peaking at 715 metres. Before being celebrated by Marcel Pagnol, it was used as a landmark by the Phocaeans sailing in the Bay of Marseille. Pierced by numerous caves and criss-crossed by rocky paths fringed with aromatic garrigue, the hiking paradise of the Garlaban is Provence concentrated. To the east of Aubagne rise the first foothills of the Massif de la Sainte-Baume. This mountain chain of around ten kilometres combines wilderness and culture. Blanketed with a generous forest where beech woods, oak woods and Scots pine rub shoulders, it is home to the Grotte de la Sainte-Baume, the cave where Saint Mary Magdalene died.