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Out of the Humidor

CA Readers
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 9)

Dear Marvin,

As my 12-year-old son, Robbie, was boarding the Air France flight to Paris with his grandmother (an 80-year-old woman who has the energy and enthusiasm of a thirtysomething), I reminded him that he had an important task to accomplish when he reached his destination of Aix-en-Provence, France. His mission was to find out if there were any good cigar stores in town so that I would know whether to bring some of my prized cigars from my humidor when my wife and I traveled to Aix the following week.

A few days later, we received a fax from Robbie not only telling us about the wonderful time he was having with his grandmother exploring the old and beautiful towns of Provence--including retracing the steps of Cézanne--but also that he had found "a great cigar store" not too far from the Hotel Le Pigonnet where they were staying.

We arrived in Aix-en-Provence on Saturday afternoon and, after we had spent some time around the swimming pool catching up on the previous week, Robbie announced that he and I had to walk into town to the cigar store immediately since the store would be closed the following day, a Sunday. So, hand-in-hand we set out for the 15-minute walk along the tree-lined streets of Aix to find his cigar store. Sure enough, right on the Cours Marabeau near the center of town, there was a small tabac store, Au Khedive. The Cours Marabeau is the incredibly beautiful, wide main street of Aix that is justifiably famous for its towering "plain" trees that form a leafy canopy over both the entire street and the numerous cafes that line the sidewalk. The trees have shielded the townspeople from the hot summer sun of Provence since 1651.

Just as my son had promised, at the back of the store, behind the counter, there was a tall humidor with a fine selection of Cuban cigars. There were five types of Montecristos (including my favorite, the No. 2), three sizes of Cohibas, two types of H. Upmanns, two sizes of Partagas, and the Churchill Romeo y Julieta in shiny metal tubes. The store also had a few less interesting Dominican and Dutch cigars. Although the store certainly did not have the selection of a place like Davidoff, its prices (thanks to the relatively strong dollar this summer) were also not like those in Paris, London or Geneva.

After spending some time reviewing the selection, I bought a few cigars (there was no reason to stock up since it would be fun and easy to return), and we walked back to our hotel. That night we ate a terrific gourmet dinner at Le Pigonnet's excellent restaurant (the hotel has four stars under the French government's rating system). Because the weather was so glorious, we were able to eat outside under the stars while overlooking the hotel's gardens. The dinner was not only delicious, but also great fun because during the previous week Robbie had become very friendly with Bernard, the hotel's remarkable maître d'. During a previous stay, Bernard had befriended my mother-in-law (Robbie's grandmother/ roommate), and now Bernard was teaching Robbie the fine points of French cuisine. What a lucky boy!

Of course, there is no better way to complete a superb dinner than with a great cigar. So, after the last raspberry was eaten and our espressos had been fully enjoyed, I asked Bernard if it was permissible for me to smoke a cigar at our table. Since we were in France, where smoking is still done everywhere, Bernard responded to my question with a gentle shrug and the comment "But, of course!" I immediately lit my Montecristo No. 2 and let the entire experience sink in.

With great conversation about everyone's previous week's activities and animated discussions about what we should do during our 10 days in Provence--as well as being in the most serene setting and being surrounded by the love of a wonderful family--no cigar has ever tasted better or been more enjoyed. At least I had thought that there had never been a cigar enjoyed more. However, I was proven wrong virtually every other night for the remainder of our trip as I had the great pleasure to enjoy smoking a wonderful cigar after dinners that seemed to get better and better. Travel is wonderful when you have a great family, a terrific four-star hotel like Le Pigonnet, superb food and an amazing host like Bernard, and a great cigar.

David A. Gross
Rockville, Maryland

***


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