Aix-en-Provence is home to painter Cézanne, a thousand fountains and a very famous mountain. So it isn’t surprising that there are lots of free things to do in this very upmarket town.
Cours Mirabeau And La Rotonde
Everyone should start their tour of Aix on the Cours Mirabeau, often called the most beautiful street in Aix. It has been a major part of the city since the 12th century. At one end, you’ll find the statue of King René whose reign heavily influenced Aix. At the other end, you’ll find the Rotonde Fountain, one of the most iconic of Aix’s 1,000 fountains. One of these is the Fontaine Moussue (which is covered in moss, hence the name) which is fed directly from a warm water source. People love to watch the steam come off it in the winter months. The Cours Mirabeau is also home to Aix’s most famous brasserie, Les Deux Garçons, where Cézanne used to hang out with writer pal, Emile Zola. Locals call it “Les 2 G” (pronounced J).
The painter Cézanne is Aix’s most famous resident and the museum houses a lot of his work (Aix was his hometown and where he lived for much of his life). It also has temporary exhibitions and is free on the first Sunday of every month (expect longer queues in summer). The impressive Saint Jean de Malte church is next to the Musée Granet and usually open to have a look around. You can follow a trail of Paul Cézanne’s life around Aix, which stops at all the key points in town including the Musée Granet and the Saint Jean de Malte.
The Albertas family built this square when they were bequeathed the huge adjacent house. They moved from Italy to take up residence. The son loved theatre and he built this square to put on performances, including some naughty phallic shapes in the detail of the balconies. The city built the fountain much later in the same style.
The south of France is known for its lush markets and the morning market in Place Richelme is a great place to wander. It’s not big but the stalls are packed full of seasonal produce, local cheeses and breads and roast chickens. A great place to whet your appetite for free before lunch. The market takes place every day until 12.30pm when the square is cleaned and the bar tables come out.
The Town Hall isn’t just where the Mayor works and where people demonstrate against everything. It’s where you’ll find the flower market, food shops, local bars and the bell tower. The Americans rode their tanks underneath the arch to liberate Aix in 1945 at the end of World War II.
The Pavilion de Vendôme is an old house with very green manicured lawns where locals eat their lunch, kids play in the playground and where people watch free movies screened during the summer evenings.
An Ormeaux is a local tree that apparently magically sprang up when a resident was protesting against the rulers of Aix. Three of them are in this small square, surrounding a fountain where the restaurants cool their wine under the water in summer.
The park is a few minutes walk out of town, running along the river Torse. Many of the local yoga groups practise here and it’s full of joggers and picnickers. If you walk via the Yves Blanc Sports Centre, you can practice football or basketball or use the running track for free.
Cézanne loved the Sainte-Victoire mountain, just outside Aix, so much that he painted it more than 180 times. When Picasso bought a château in Vauvenargues at the base of the mountain, he said that “he had finally bought a piece of the mountains that Cézanne loved so much”. You can take a cheap bus to Biment dam or to the starting point for lots of walks.
Aix has a raging music and festival scene, whether it’s Music In The Streets or the annual free opera concert on the Cours Mirabeau. From April to October, you can usually find something going on for free. Check the town’s website for up-to-date details.