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Aix-en-Provence is one of the big tourist highlights in southern France. Here’s our guide on how to get the most out of a two-day stay.
This is the morning to indulge in one of the things that Aix-en-Provence does best – food. Don’t have breakfast at your hotel, head out to the daily market in Place Richelme. It’s open 365 days of the year, from 8am to 1pm, and sells everything from seasonal fruit and vegetables to olives and delicious roast chickens. Have a coffee and a croissant in the square and watch the world go by.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, head down to the larger market; which at the time of writing is at La Rotonde (it’s been moved to allow for major pedestrianization to take place in the old town). It has all the same food but also non-food items, like Provençal table cloths, pottery and everything you can imagine made with lavender.
Lunch in the brasserie that is quintessentially Aix, Les 2 Garçons, where Cézanne used to spend hours talking to his friends Emile Zola and Picasso. Winston Churchill also used to hang out here when he came to town to paint. It opened in 1792 and is still serving beer and food to its customers who want to people-watch in the best surroundings.
After lunch, explore the fantastic small streets and beautiful cobbled back alleys. Aix is a city of fountains, and nowhere is this more on show than on the wonderful main promenade of the Cours Mirabeau, the town’s main street. Don’t miss the two cathedrals in town, the beautiful Saint Jean de Malte and the larger, grander, Cathédrale Saint Sauveur.
For dinner, head to Place des Cardeurs, where you’ll find a row of about 20 restaurants, all vying for your summer business. People love Le Papagayo, serving burgers and salads or the more formal, Bistrot des Philosophes. Le Poivre d’Ane does a set menu every night, which isn’t cheap, but gets great reviews.
If day one was for food, then day two is for art. Start by picking up the Cézanne trail and heading up to his studio, on a hill out of town. It’s about a 20-minute walk from the centre, or a short bus ride. Cézanne worked here from 1902 until his death in 1906. A self-guided tour takes in most of Aix from his perspective – where he’s buried, where he went to school, etc.
Have lunch on the Rue d’Italie, the place where you’ll find all the independent and chic food shops. La Dolce Italia is a wonderful Italian lunch restaurant or try La Casa, for a great “tartine” (an open sandwich). Just off the rue d’Italie, you’ll find the Musée Granet, which is home to much of Cézanne’s work. The museum is actually in two parts, because it outgrew its original home. Don’t miss the second part in a beautiful renovated chapel in Place Jean-Boyer.
Next, head to the recently refurbished Hôtel de Caumont, which was built in the 16th century. It now houses a permanent exhibition on Cézanne, as well as temporary exhibitions covering everything from modern photos of Marilyn Monroe to 16th century Italian masters. The exhibitions are never very big but the house and gardens are beautiful too and well worth a look.
Head to Place de la Mairie (the Town Hall Square) for an early evening drink (an “apéro“). After taking in the atmosphere outside the lovely Town Hall, head to either Mitch for a more upmarket dinner, or have a delicious pizza outside at Le Four sous le Platane. Order a bottle of local rosé wine and toast your lovely weekend.