There is something magical about the quality of light in this part of southern France. Honey-coloured towns bathed in golden light and intense blue skies make the grey of northern Europe seem a million miles away. No surprise then that the birthplace of Cezanne has been such a draw to artists over the years.
Aix is easy to get to from London and is a great place to base yourself for a holiday in Provence. Just hop on the direct Eurostar train to Marseille, from there it’s a 30km drive to Aix. There are also regular local trains and buses from Marseille St Charles station however, if possible, rent a car as it's a major plus for exploring the area, and there is so much to see.
Discover the azure blue calanques along the coast from Marseilles or head inland to the Luberon mountains for a bit of kayaking. With the Rhone valley and the Cotes de Provence vineyards on your doorstep, you’re ideally situated to try a bit of wine tasting. Enjoy the heady Rhone reds of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas or the lighter reds and rosés of Provence.
This is a walking route through the town that takes you to places of interest relating to Cezanne, from the house of his birth to the cemetery where he is buried. Pick up a free map in the Tourist office, then just follow the brass markers in the pavement, they’re marked with a large C.
There are over 30 points along the route, taking you past all the main sights so you can discover the town at the same time. The route takes around three hours, at a leisurely stroll and allowing for refreshment breaks.
If you’d prefer more background and a more personalised visit, the Tourist Office organises a guided tour from April to October.
Known as the ‘Champs-Elysées of the South’, this elegant boulevard is the place to hang out and be seen in Aix. Find yourself a seat en terrasse, order yourself a pastis or a demi and watch the world go by. The double row of plane trees will provide the shade and the passers by the entertainment.
One of the most famous cafés along the quarter-mile-long promenade is Les Deux Garcons, once a hangout of Cezanne and fellow-Aixois, Emile Zola. Take a break from sightseeing and try a plateau de coquillages (seafood platter) in the brasserie, washed down with a local white or rosé.
This imposing building was previously an priory belonging to the Knights of Malta. It is now home to the Granet Museum, one of the largest art collections in Provence with nearly 12,000 paintings and art works.
As you would expect in his home town, there is a room devoted to Cezanne, though there are not as many of his works displayed as you would expect.
There is an impressive sculpture gallery featuring works by Trupheme and the 19th century sculptors Ramus and Ferrat, who worked locally.
The museum is shut on Mondays and has non-standard opening times, so check before visiting.
Said to be built on the site of an ancient temple to Apollo, this unique cathedral has had many additions over the years. The façade is a mishmash of different architectural periods Romanesque, Roman and Gothic. This continues into the interior where there are three naves, one Romanesque, one Baroque and one Gothic.
Though quite small as cathedrals go, there are some fine paintings and ornately decorated pillars around the central basin of the baptistery. There is also a viewing hole in the floor so you can see the Roman ruins underneath.
The green and gold organ, restored in 1972, is also pretty spectacular and is a listed historical monument.
Aix-en-Provence has always been associated with water, the town was built by the Romans on a thermal spring and was originally called Aquae Sextiae, which later became Aix. This connection with water can be seen in the number of fountains everywhere, it’s one of the first things that you notice.
Every square and roundabout has a fountain, some grand and ornate, some more modest, and even a few that are completely covered in moss.
On the Cours Mirabeau alone you’ll find 4, the most impressive is definitely the monumental Fontaine de la Rotonde, topped with three statues representing Justice, Agriculture and Art. The oldest on the Cours is the Hot Water fountain, fed by the thermal spring and popularly known as the mossy fountain.
The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest for a good reason. Everything here abounds with fresh, colourful ingredients. Bright red and yellow peppers, luscious tomatoes and bright green courgettes are at the base of most of the recipes in this area.
1. Tapenade – this is a paste traditionally made from olives, garlic, anchovies, olive oil and other spices. It comes in green and black versions and varies quite a lot in taste, depending on the maker. Buy from a market stall and they will let you taste before you purchase. Great for aperitifs served on bread or toast. It’s quite expensive so remember that a little goes a long way.
2. Ratatouille – vegetable stew made with peppers, tomatoes, aubergine, courgette, onions and garlic. Delicious both hot and cold, this can be quite time-consuming to make as traditionally the vegetables are all cooked separately. If you’re not a purist, live dangerously and put everything in the pot together, it will still be scrummy.
3. Calissons d’Aix – these lozenge-shaped marzipan sweets are flavoured with candied orange and melon peel and topped with white icing. You’ll find them everywhere in Aix, beautifully packaged so they make a nice gift to bring home. Definitely more of an adult sweet than for children though.
4. Olive oil – who knew there were so many different flavours of olive oil? Go to a specialist moulin or do a tasting at one of the market stalls. Sample all the different types from the younger, greener oils to the fruitier, riper ones to find your favourite.
5. Fougasse – this is the Provençal equivalent of focaccia, a dense, flatish bread, made with olive oil and often flavoured with cheese, herbs and spices. Traditionally the dough is slashed to look like an ear of wheat, then baked to a deep, golden brown. Serve with salt and a dish of good quality olive oil to dip into.
One of the great joys of being on holidays in Provence is browsing in the markets. There’s always one going on somewhere, and Aix has its fair share to explore.
Most of the big markets take place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays around the centre in the main squares.
The main food market is in the centre of Aix. You’ll find all the usual fruit and vegetables stalls as well as local producers selling wine, fresh goats’ cheese, honey, olive oil, salami, olives and herbs but also bags of lavender, jewellery, leather goods, clothes pottery and much more.
Saturdays are usually the most crowded, so get there early when there is still space to move around. Then, when things get busy find yourself a seat on a café terrace for a coffee and a croissant and gloat over your purchases.
The Aix flower market takes place in the streets around the Town Hall. If you’re looking for some good photo ops, this is the place to go. It’s a riot of colour and smells and will put you in a good mood for the rest of the day. Once again, in the high season, go early before it gets too crowded.
This is a combination of a flea market, an antiques market and car boot sale. Generally everything is under 100 years old, some of it is junk, but you can also pick up some nice things.
Good bargains to look out for that are also easy to transport are old silver-plate cutlery, old-style copper pots and pans, monogrammed linen tablecloths and napkins and antique lace.
Aix Cartoon festival | Easter festival – classical music
Aix-en-Provence Carnival – costumed street festival
La Provençale Sainte Victoire – bike race from Aix to St Victoire
Sm’art – contemporary art fair set outdoors in Jourdan park
Festival du Tambourin – celebrating a local instrument
Rendez-vous aux jardins - three days where private gardens open to the public
C’est Sud – art, music and theatre festival | Fete de la Musique – free concerts around town
Le feu de la Saint-Jean – Summer solstice festival of the flame
Festival d'Aix-en-Provence – annual opera festival
Musique dans la rue – Eight days of free concerts around the town
Mômaix - music, theatre and circus events for children