This town in southern France was tailor-made for long weekends – with galleries, gardens and markets galore. It’s a beauty to wander along the celebrated Cours Mirabeau, stopping for a refreshing beer in the warm sunshine on a café terrace. And when hunger pangs strike, you’re spoilt for choice: cheap, chic, trendy or trad – you’ll find a place to suit your taste buds at one of the best restaurants in Aix-en-Provence.
In a golden-stone street on the edge of Aix’s Old Town, Le Petit Verdot is a must for its hearty cuisine, rooted firmly in Provençal soil, with a menu that nods occasionally to Italy. Tuck into succulent Camargue bull, or a leg of lamb braised in thyme, accompanied by a bottle (or two) from its 100-plus wine list, which is drawn mostly from the South of France. Dine at their rustic tables made from wine boxes and sip along to a laid-back jazz soundtrack.
On a lane in the Old Town, Les Vieilles Canailles – “the old scoundrels” – is a lively bistro run by the dynamic young chef Pierre Hochart. In opening his own restaurant, Hochart brought with him experience of working at Alain Ducasse in Monaco as well as a stint in London, and he draws on the freshest local produce for his menu, marked up daily on his blackboard. The wine selection is excellent – ask for recommendations from the vast, wall-hung collection.
Just a 15-minute drive from town, up a mulberry-tree lined avenue with the imposing Montagne Sainte-Victoire as a dramatic backdrop, is this swish, modern family-run bistro. The enticing menus draw on local produce, be it fresh fish from the harbour at Marseille, or summer truffles from the countryside. Sorbets draw on the herbs that grow in the maquis; try combos such as ginger and citronella, or others made with rosemary and thyme liqueur.
In naming their restaurant “once upon a time”, couple Julie and Joan Sampietro explain their passion: hosting guests in this friendly bistro, a bright space with patchwork chairs and modern decor. Joan started his career at the renowned Restaurant Bernard Loiseau, west of Dijon, followed by stints in many top restaurants, and now draws on market produce for his menus. In summer, dishes are infused with citrus flavours; autumn brings an earthy cuisine.
The decadent Villa Gallici is close to the Atelier de Cézanne, where Aix’s most famous son painted his Post-Impressionist masterpieces. This Florentine palace is a luxury hotel with a gourmet restaurant to make the eyes pop (think lavish, then quadruple it); eschew the floral dining room for a table on the terrace under the plane trees, where a gentle breeze will accompany a menu of the best local produce, plus highlights such as king crab and caviar.
In its unusual location, down a narrow little alley, this little bistro lives up to its name: “funny place”. There’s a boho vibe to it: industrial bare walls adorned with the latest art exhibition, and diners sit at tables tucked between pillars or at one long canteen table for a more sociable meal. The menu isn’t flash, but does a good line in tasty salads, meat and fish with moreish sauces, and all put together with fresh, local produce.
Despite its rustic-sounding name and grandma-inspired menu, La Petite Ferme is decidedly urban, with its counter tables looking into the kitchen. Its owner Ronan Kernen won Top Chef, France’s answer to Masterchef, in 2011 and already has a popular restaurant Côté Cour on the Cours Mirabeau. Kernen takes inspiration from his childhood in Brittany and from the seafood of Provence. There is also a generous choice of steak-frites.
Welcome to one of Aix’s hippest restaurants – well worth the 10-minute stroll from the centre. Its expansive terrace is the place to while away an evening or savour a long, languid lunch, while the dining room features white leather banquettes and retro wood panelling for a ’70s vibe. The menu is modern European, with exquisitely presented plates of exceptionally good produce, such as fish fresh from the Med, with the €62 (£53) tasting menu proving good value.
With modern decor and an impressive wine cellar, this cosy little restaurant in a sleepy corner of the Old Town takes pride in matching excellent produce to a superior wine list. Chef William Aubert works with local producers to use pure-bred Bigorre pork, and Aubrac beef along with vegetables from Aix’s excellent market. It changes every two weeks, and Aubert ensures there are always two fish and two meat dishes on the menu. One to search out.
For a restaurant with a festival vibe, head beyond town for 15 minutes, to the grounds of an 18th-century Provençal farmhouse where Gaodina has a breezy terrace restaurant with a garden bar, pétanque piste, swimming pool and a lot more still. Make your way here for brunch, with a choice including eggs, fruit compote and cake, or book for later when the lunch and dinner menus offer upmarket riffs on burgers, risotto, Caesar salad or poke bowls.
This is an updated rewrite of an article originally written by Shyla Watson.
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