Aix-en-Provence (usually simply called Aix) is a small, classically Provençal town, famous for being home to Cézanne; the addition of the TGV (high-speed train) station has brought lots of vacationers from the north, and Aix has turned into a shopping town with high variety and representation considering its small size. Three universities and several French-language schools for international students produce a very strong student presence.
Aix has always been a rich city. There is a high contrast between Marseille (only 30 km and half an hour away). Whereas Marseille is one of the poorest French cities (but still a unique and not to be missed town), Aix is perhaps one of the richest. People seeking for budget or popular places should continue to Marseille. Still, Aix has a lot to offer. It is a quiet, clean and comfortable city. The city center is mostly pedestrian and, though it is quite small (you can cross the centre in 15 min by foot), offers long hours of nice walks. As in all Provençal towns, the city centre consists of narrow streets, lined with interesting buildings from 17th century hotels to paved plazas.
How to reach Aix-en-Provence
Fly into Marseille or Nice. Marseille is nearer (just south), but budget airlines such as EasyJet prefer Nice. There is a navette (shuttle bus) that can take you from the airport to the bus station near the center of town. Aix has both a TGV and a regular station and is well connected both to the Paris – Marseille line and (via Marseille) to the Genoa – Nice – Barcelona line. The same shuttle that runs from the airport to Aix also services the Aix TGV station. The regular train station is at Place Victor Hugo, a 5 min walk from the center of town. There is an express coach from Marseille (St Charles station) to Aix, which takes 30-40 min.
Top Places to see inAix-en-Provence
Aix is famous for its fountains. The largest and most famous is on the Cours Mirabeau, the main avenue through town, as well as a moss-covered fountain which draws its water from a hot spring.
Along with searching out the dozens of fountains sprawled around the city, Aix is known for its architecture. The varied and often intricate doors are a key feature, as well as the bell towers. The bell towers throughout Aix-en-Provence, and Provence more generally, are made of wrought iron. This allows the strong winds of the Mistral to flow straight through them, since solid stone would be destroyed by the force of the winds.
The city market runs multiple days a week, but the largest and most colorful is the Saturday market which includes a flower market at the Place de l’Hotel de Ville and the main food market is at Place Richelme.
It has also become known as the home of Cézanne’s later works. You can see his atelier with some of the original objects he painted into his still lives. The Bibémus Quarries allow you to see Mt. St. Victoire, the mountains he captured in many of his paintings. You can also visit the Manor of Jas de Bouffan, which houses many of his masterpieces. To see all three, you need at least two days in Aix.
Top Things to Do inAix-en-Provence
There are plenty of things to do in Aix en Provence. Most of it involves meandering around the small streets of the inner city observing the crooked Roman architecture, elegant fountains and beautiful boutiques, or watching the world go by as you sip on an Aixpresso or, for an authentic taste of Provence, Le Pastis.
Many pivate drivers offers excursions or just shuttles to see the holy victory mountain (painted by cezanne), avignon, les gorges du Verdon (lagest canyon europe). Capeo Shuttle offers these services.
The more modern activities include bowling, billiards, pubs, clubs, cinema, etc.
Another possibility is renting a bicycle for €10 for five hours and ride around Aix. This is a very good way to see the town that is outside the center. You can find many interesting places and buildings that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Be careful riding in the center ville, since it is very crowded most of the time.
There is also a bus that leaves off the rotonde headed for St. Victoire and you get there in ten minutes. Pack a lunch and put comfortable shoes on to do a nature walk or to climb the mountain. At the top there is a monastery where you can stay overnight, make sure to bring firewood and water.
Eating and Drinking in Aix-en-Provence
Aix has an incredible number of restaurants compared to its small size. Most of them are gathered in a small area in the old city, between Place des Cardeurs and the Rotonde (Cours Mirabeau). Restaurants and bars on the Cours Mirabeau tend to be more expensive though, while some might be considered tourist traps, others are amongst the best places to eat in the city. L’Authentique is an excellent burger place in that area (walk past the Hermés boutique when heading towards the fountain, make a left at a wide open space, and it’s the third shop).
Try “Le farinomanFou” or Emile Bec, which has five locations in Aix-en-Provence for quality breads.
You can also try Calissons, a specialty of the region consisting of a smooth, pale yellow, homogeneous paste of candied fruit (especially melons and oranges) and ground almonds topped with a thin layer of royal icing. Calissons have a texture not unlike that of marzipan, but with a fruitier, distinctly melon-like flavour. Calissons are often almond-shaped and are typically about two inches in length.
A nice and relatively cheap place to have a drink is the Bar de La Mairie on Place de la Mairie.
- Au P’tit Quart d’heure Possibly the most original bar in Aix, they sell 1 euro glasses of wine and people sit in the place rather than in the bar. Shuts early around 9pm on weekdays and later on weekends.
- Bar Sextius Nice bar, nice barmaids, and seating area. Generally a good vibe with good music, especially on a thursday. Open til late.
- Bar Brigand The ‘young persons pub’ in Aix, expect an overspill on to the streets on the weekends, and plenty of old and new characters. 2am close, happy hour 6 – 8.30
- Pub Oshannons The pub in Aix, nice outdoors opposite excellent fast food, beer and kebab go hand in hand. Bar maids are pretty and buy your beer tower for 22 euros. Sports shown here also. Open til 2am
- Wohoo The American bar in town. Find other expats or travellers and a wall of exotic money. Have a downstairs Cave thats blasts music on the weekends and beer pong competitions on Mondays, 2 a.m. close, beer-only license.
Now You Know