Reasons Why You Should Visit Aix-en-Provence, France

Aix-en-Provence is known for its many decorative fountains
Aix-en-Provence is known for its many decorative fountains | © Eleni Mavrandoni / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alex Ledsom
25 July 2021

Aix-en-Provence is the classiest corner of Provence, France: all chic bistros and Parisian-style boutique shops. Here are our top 10 reasons why it should be at the top of your European travel list.

There are many reasons to visit Aix-en-Provence (Aix for short, pronounced like the letter “x”). Its art, buildings, history and food are among France’s most alluring, with 17th-century mansions lining tree-framed boulevards and squares decorated with stone fountains. And then there’s the Cours Mirabeau – the city’s main vein of designer fashion shops and people-watching spots populated by students, visitors and well-dressed residents alike. Leave the city and you’ll be surrounded by the mountains and lavender fields that Provence is so famous for. Here are 10 reasons why you should visit Aix-en-Provence, France, at least once.

Aix-en-Provence is an art hotspot

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F5E4GM Paul Cezanne's last studio at Les Lauves, Aix-en-Provence, where the artist painted many of his best-known paintings
© Hilke Maunder / Alamy Stock Photo
Aix is famously the hometown of 19th-century French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne and prides itself on its cultural offerings. You can follow Cézanne’s trail, which takes in his workshop, the Musée Granet (where lots of his paintings and sketches are exhibited) and the renovated Hôtel de Caumont, where a permanent video exhibition chronicles Cézanne’s life and work. There’s also one temporary art exhibition on at any time, ranging from Caravaggio to Marilyn Monroe. A 10-minute drive out of town, you’ll find the avant-garde Fondation Vasarely art museum.

The countryside around Aix inspired Cézanne

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2D5YK30 Vauvenargues & Mont Sainte-Victoire or Sainte Victoire Mountain, near Aix-en-Provence, France
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Cézanne painted the Sainte-Victoire mountain, just outside of Aix, more than 180 times. Discover what he found so magical about it on one of many walks in the countryside, around the mountain and the Bimont dam. You can also visit Picasso’s château in Vauvenargues, at the foot of the mountain, by contacting the local tourist office in Aix. When the Spanish artist bought it, he said that “he had finally bought a piece of the mountains that Cézanne loved so much.”

Its history is unique

Building, Historical Landmark
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M13XGR France, Bouches du Rhone, Aix en Provence, Cours Mirabeau, Maurel de Ponteves Mansion house of the middle of the 17th century, atlantes
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Aix has some interesting history that you can’t find anywhere else in France. Just outside town is the Camp des Milles, France’s only intact internment camp from World War II. Then, you can walk along the Cours Mirabeau, the main boulevard that runs through the centre of the Old Town, to marvel at the ornate architecture – you can trace the town’s history via its 14th- to 19th-century buildings. Finish with a wander through the back streets of the Mazarin District, an elegant residential neighbourhood originally built on the authority of King Louis XIV for only the wealthiest citizens.

Aix is the city of 1,000 fountains

Architectural Landmark
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DR7HJY Fountain with face sculpture, Aix-en-Provence, France
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Aix is often called the “city of 1,000 fountains”, and while it might not technically have a thousand, it has a great many of them. Some are in grand squares – La Rotonde marks the city’s central point – while others are tucked away in back alleys or small, quiet cobbled streets. The fontaine moussue (moss fountain) on Cours Mirabeau is fed from a nearby hot spring, so occasionally it pours out either steam or icicles, depending on the weather.

It's a foodie paradise

Market, Street Food
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PP5R7B Aix-en-Provence, FRANCE, People Food Shopping, French Local Farmer's Market, Outside, Bakery Shop, Local Speciality
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It’s perhaps a cliché to come to France for the food and drink, but Aix is nonetheless a gourmand’s paradise. Head to the daily market in Place Richelme (open every day of the year until 1pm) and the surrounding streets to find artisan shops that treat chocolate like an art form and olive oil like delicate perfume. The Rue d’Italie is full of delicatessens, independent cheese shops and great butchers and bakers, where you can pick up a rotisserie chicken for lunch and fresh baguettes. Aix’s dining scene is exploding, with some 700 restaurants of all kinds and styles. Choose one with an outside terrace and have a glass of local rosé wine in the sun.

You can shop exclusively in chic boutiques

Architectural Landmark
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France, Bouches du Rhone, Aix en Provence, the Allees Provencales
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Aix is nicknamed the 21st arrondissement (district) of Paris, which reveals itself in its elegantly dressed residents who love to shop. Aix has independent fashion boutiques dotted all over town, as well as all the usual international and national chains. Shops are increasingly opening all day and on Sundays, but the trend is still to open from 10am to 12pm and again from 2pm to 7pm after a long lunch break. Many places are still closed on Sundays and Mondays, including restaurants.

Aix is great for people-watching

Architectural Landmark
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Street cafe in the Place de l'Hotel de Ville with the Town Hall behind, Aix en Provence, France
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
People come to France for the way of life as much as anything else. Life in Aix is slow and laid-back, and its buildings are kept in a pristine condition, which means that there are constant opportunities to have a coffee or cup of tea in beautifully restored town squares. Head to Place Richelme any day after 1pm (when the market stalls disappear, the square is washed down and the café tables are put up until midnight). The Place de l’Hotel de Ville (where you’ll find the Town Hall) is another favourite for an apéritif (a drink before dinner).

Just about everything is perfumed with lavender

Natural Feature
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PDGP2P Champ de lavande Aix-en-Provence, France 2018
© Ilona Barna BIPHOTONEWS / Alamy Stock Photo
You might associate lavender with your nan’s house, but it’s one of Aix’s biggest exports and the area’s most fragrant draw. The lavender fields outside Aix are a must-see if you’re there in the warmer months, and the shops in town do big business selling lavender products. Make sure you nab a bar of Marseille soap (savon de Marseille), which is cheaper from the street markets and just as good. You’ll also find lavender in food items at the upmarket delis, in macarons and in many market stalls.

To try calissons, its signature sweet

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T7R62N Calissons, traditional French Provence sweets on marble table background
© Anna Pustynnikova / Alamy Stock Pho
Aix has its own sweet delight called the calisson, which is only found in this area. It’s said that it was invented in the mid-15th century for Queen Jeanne, to sweeten the deal when marrying a man twice her age – King René of Anjou. The almond-shaped sweets are made from a marzipan-like paste of almonds and candied fruit, and topped with white icing. Many of the shops in Aix sell them, but the best known are Léonard Parli and Pâtisserie Béchard, or Le Roy René just outside of town.

You can always find a free concert

Architectural Landmark
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G1BJ78 France, Bouches du Rhone, Aix en Provence, Terrasses du Grand Theatre de Provence, Music Festival in La Rue, concert of the French Youth Orchestra
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Aix is well known for its musical heritage – it boasts one of the best conservatoires (music schools) in the country. It also has a thriving music and festival scene, from the eight-day festival of free concerts, Musique dans la Rue, to the annual free opera concert on Cours Mirabeau. From April to October, you can usually find something musical (and free) to tap your feet to. Check the town’s website for up-to-date details.

Florence Derrick contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on July 25, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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