Aix-en-Provence | Quintessential France

Written by on July 29, 2013 in Provence-Alpes

Aix en Provence france

City of a thousand fountains, Aix is a fantastic place to stay for a few days says Sue Aitken of Boutique Provencale as she explores the bustling old town with its markets and little boutiques or stroll down the elegant Cours Mirabeau with its tall plane trees and 18th century buildings…

For many, Aix-en-Provence is the quintessential Provençal town, and it doesn’t get much better than sitting in one of the many pavement cafes on Cours Mirabeau on a sunny day, sipping a coffee (or glass of rosé) and simply watching the world go by.

aix en provnce franceThe famous impressionist Paul Cezanne was born in Aix and if you’re a fan of his work (and have a car) there’s a circuit starting in Aix that’s designed to take you to a number of important places associated with the artist and his work – including the famous Mont Sainte Victoire which he immortalised in many of his paintings. You can actually visit his studio in Aix itself – avenue Paul Cezanne (where else!). Preserved exactly as he left it, it’s filled not only with various objects that he painted but also with his hat hanging from a peg on the wall and a glass of wine on a table. There are guided tours available in Aix that include a visit to Cezanne’s studio, but if you don’t want to do much dashing around (particularly in the summer heat) just amble around the old town and the Mazarin quarter and simply breathe in the history.

There are absolutely loads of restaurants in Aix, from cheap and cheerful pizzeria style through to fine dining – and everything in between. Definitely my favourite restaurant is Clôs de la Violette. Although it’s Michelin starred, it’s not stuffy at all and the food is absolutely delicious. It sits in its own gardens slightly outside the old city centre, so is a very calm and tranquil spot for lunch. I had one of my favourite ever desserts at this restaurant – white peaches prepared in three different ways…I just swoon thinking about it!

aix en provence france

For less formal eating, the Forum des Cardeurs off the place de l’hôtel de ville has a great selection of restaurants serving everything from Moroccan specialities to seafood.

Aix has a wide selection of boutiques selling everything from handicrafts to designer bags – although it has to be said that the number of independent local boutiques has dwindled over the past few years, to be replaced by national and international retailers. But there are still some one-off little shops that are worth a visit. Some of my favourites are La Victoire on place Richelme which sells a great range of Provençal fabrics, Designers Studio on rue Boulegon for quirky home furnishings and Robert Clergerie on rue Marius Reinaud for designer shoes. If you have a car, it would be worth visiting the workshop of Souleò who make fantastic Provencal pottery in a number of traditional designs. They’re based outside the city centre at 2440 Chemin des Lauves.

aix en provence franceOf course, you can’t plan a visit to Aix without visiting the markets for which the town is justifiably famous. The large Aix-en-Provence market takes place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings in the Place de Verdun. The flower market is every morning in the Place de l’Hôtel de ville and there’s a local producers’ market every morning in the Place Richelme. It gets very, very busy in Aix on Saturday morning with many roads pedestrianized and the old town practically closed off to traffic.

Negotiating the narrow streets is a nightmare at the best of times, so I suggest you park in one of the many car parks on the road that runs around the city centre such as the parking Bellegarde – and stroll into the centre from there.  Believe me, you’ll be pleased you took my advice. Driving around the old city streets in a kind of death spiral without any idea of where you’re going is not good for the nerves!

What to buy? If you’re partial to almond paste, a box of calissons (an Aix speciality) is a must. Some local pottery from the market would be another great buy, although do check that it is local pottery and not cheap Chinese imported stuff.  Look out for local lavender honey on the market which is absolutely delicious. Plus tablecloths, placemats and various bags in colourful Provencal fabrics are gorgeous and easy to pack for the trip home. Visit La Victoire on Place Richelme for a fabulous selection of items and fabric by the roll.

Aix is a very good centre for visiting other interesting places. So if you’ve spent a few days exploring Aix, and are feeling adventurous, it’s worth hiring a car for some excursions outside the city.

About a 40 minute drive North West is Silvacane Abbey. It’s one of the famous Trois Soeurs de Provence (Three Sisters) – the name that’s given to the three grand Cistercian abbeys built in Provence in the 12th century. It’s a lovely drive out there, and the abbey itself is very atmospheric. Well worth a visit.

aix en provence franceIf you feel in need of some sea air after what can be the stifling heat of Aix, a 45 minute drive south east will bring you to the gorgeous, picturesque port of Cassis. Full of upmarket little boutiques and restaurants and cafes, it’s a great place to while away some time. And you can take a boat trip to visit the famous Calanques – the spectacular Provençal equivalent of the fjords. Rocky inlets of sheer limestone cliffs and clear turquoise water – picture postcard views at every turn!

Also worth considering for a trip near Aix is the Château La Coste wine domain, which not only makes great wines but also showcases art and architecture. Half an hour’s drive North of Aix, the winery was designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, and dotted around the landscape are works by a range of contemporary artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Frank Gehry and Louise Bourgeoise. So you can combine some wine tasting with something a little more cultured…

Aix en Provence Tourist Office (English version) for lots of things to do/see.

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