Aix-en-Provence (usually simply called Aix) is a small, classically Provençal town, famous for being home to Cézanne; the addition of the TGV (high-speed train) station has brought lots of vacationers from the north, and Aix has turned into a shopping town with high variety and representation considering its small size. Three universities and several French-language schools for international students produce a very strong student presence.
Aix has always been a rich city. There is a high contrast between Marseille (only 30 km and half an hour away). Whereas Marseille is one the poorest French cities (but still a unique and not to be missed town), Aix is perhaps one of the richest. People seeking for budget or popular places should continue to Marseille. Still, Aix has a lot to offer. It is a quiet, clean and comfortable city. The city center is mostly pedestrian and, though it is quite small (you can cross the center in 15 minutes by foot), offers long hours of nice walks. As in all Provençal towns, the city center consists of narrow streets, lined with interesting buildings from 17th century hotels to paved plazas.
- 1 Office de Tourisme (Tourist Office), 300 Av. Giuseppe Verdi, ☎ . The tourist office is perhaps the nicest in all of southern France, with large touch-screen computers available to browse the city virtually through Google Maps.
Aix has both a TGV and a regular station and is well connected both to the Paris - Marseille line and (via Marseille) to the Genoa - Nice - Barcelona line. The same shuttle that runs from the airport to Aix also services the Aix TGV station.
- 2 Gare d'Aix-en-Provence (regular train station), Place Gustave Desplaces.
- 3 Gare d'Aix-en-Provence TGV (TGV station), Route départementale 9 (15 km SW of the city of Aix-en-Provence and 20 km N of Marseille).
- 4 Gare Routière (bus station), ☎ . There is an express coach from Marseille (St Charles station) to Aix which takes 30–40 minutes. There are also regular shuttles to the TGV station and the airport.
Fly into Marseille or Nice. Marseille is nearer (just south), but budget airlines such as EasyJet prefer Nice. There is a navette (shuttle bus) that can take you from the airport to the bus station near the center of town.
If you come from anywhere up north you will most likely use the A7 motorway (Route du Soleil) that runs from Lyon to Marseille (whether you come from Switzerland or from the UK via Paris). At exit 27, take A8 (La Provencale) to Aix. From Spain, you'll take A9 (La Languedocienne), then turn onto A54 through the city of Arles (you might consider stopping there), then turn onto A7 and A8 respectively, as described above. From Italy, just take A8 passing Nice and all the posh Côte d'Azur resorts.
Avoiding toll roads can be slow but highly pleasurable, many of the routes nationales offer wonderful scenery that motorways can't deliver (save maybe some parts of the A8 east of Nice).
Parking in Aix can be quite difficult. There is at least one free car park but allow plenty of time to find a space (and the spaces can be quite tight to get into!).
Aix is a fairly small city and can be easily navigated by foot. The bus system is also very efficient and has numerous stops within the city as well as connecting Aix with nearby villages, towns, and Marseille. The city bus also runs to Carrefour Les Milles, a large shopping center. Discounted tickets for frequent bus users can be purchased at the main bus station, as well as bus schedules. The ticket office also sells discounted multi-pack tickets for the bus from Aix to Marseille and the new TGV station (located between the two cities).
Aix is famous for its fountains. The largest and the most popular one is on the Cours Mirabeau, the main avenue through town, as well as a moss-covered fountain which draws its water from a hot spring.
Along with searching out the dozens of fountains sprawled around the city, Aix is known for its architecture. The varied and often intricate doors are a key feature, as well as the bell towers. The bell towers throughout Aix-en-Provence, and Provence more generally, are made of wrought iron. This allows the strong winds of the Mistral to flow straight through them, since solid stone would be destroyed by the force of the winds.
The city market runs multiple days a week, but the largest and most colorful is the Saturday market which includes a flower market at the Place de l'Hotel de Ville and the main food market is at Place Richelme.
It has also become known as the home of Cézanne's later works. You can see his atelier with some of the original objects he painted into his still lives. The Bibémus Quarries allow you to see Mt. St. Victoire, the mountains he captured in many of his paintings. You can also visit the Manor of Jas de Bouffan which houses many of his masterpieces. To see all three, you need at least two days in Aix.
Among the main landmarks in the town are:
- 1 Cours Mirabeau. The main promenade of the town
- 2 Fontaine de la Rotonde (at the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau). The biggest fontain in Aix
- 3 Passage Agard. Initially it was a Carmelite's monastery
- 4 Hôtel de Ville (Mairie).
- 5 Halle de Grains. the former Corn Exchange.
- 6 Palais de Justice (Appeal Court). One of the most ones in the country.
- 7 Palais de l'Archevêché (Musée des Tapisseries).
- 8 Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur.
- 9 Place d’Albertas.
- 10 Monument Joseph Sec, 6 Avenue Pasteur, ☎ . A rare example of an architecture of French Revolution.
- 11 Thermes Sextius.
Aix is a fairly quiet town, but if you really want to there can be many things to do. At the tourist office you can learn about the more modern activities include bowling, billiards, pubs, etc.
Another option is to hire a bicycle (for about €10 for five hours) and ride around Aix. This is a very good way to see the town that is outside the center. You can find many interesting places and buildings that you wouldn't have seen other wise. Be careful though when riding in the center of the town, since it is very crowded most of the time.
There is also a bus that leaves off the Fontaine de la Rotonde for Sainte-Victoire Mountain [dead link] and you get there in ten minutes. Pack a lunch and put comfortable shoes on to do a nature walk or to climb the mountain. At the top there is a monastery where you can stay over night, make sure to bring fire wood.
One of the campuses of Aix-Marseille University is located in the town.
Aix has many major fashion boutiques, as well as a plethora of small clothing stores, perfumeries, and touristy souvenir shops. They are complemented by a few open-air markets in large squares, offering home made and grown goods and cafes.
For everyday items, look for various convenience stores, e.g., Monoprix (even on the Cours Mirabeau) with clothing/sundries at street level and a decent selection of groceries, bottled beverages, etc. on the level below.
Aix has an incredible number of restaurants compared to its small size. Most of them are gathered in a small area in the old city, between Place des Cardeurs and the Rotonde (Cours Mirabeau). Restaurants and bars on the Cours Mirabeau tend to be more expensive though, while some might be considered tourist traps, others are among the best places to eat in the city.
Emile Bec, which has five locations in Aix-en-Provence, is an excellent bakery.
You can also try Calissons, a specialty of the region consisting of a smooth, pale yellow, homogeneous paste of candied fruit (especially melons and oranges) and ground almonds topped with a thin layer of royal icing. Calissons have a texture not unlike that of marzipan, but with a fruitier, distinctly melon-like flavor. Calissons are often almond-shaped and are typically about two inches in length.
- 1 Authentique, 56 Place Richelme (walk past the Hermés boutique when heading towards the fountain, make a left at a wide open space, and it's the 3rd shop), ☎ . an excellent burger place.
- 2 Chez Charlotte, 32 Rue des Bernardines, ☎ . a very good restaurant very famous for locals. It proposes simple and reasonably cheap French food in a friendly atmosphere. Around €15 for a usual menu.
- 3 Jacqou le Croquant, 2 Rue Aumône Vieille, ☎ . a lovely restaurant, family owned, this little establishment is "very french," very friendly, and perhaps the best food you'll find for around €15. It also has a courtyard in back.
- Pizza Capri chain:
- 7 Crêperie (pedestrian underpass beneath Avenue Victor Hugo, as it reaches La Rotonde (Place Generale de Gaulle)). A popular place that will fill you up with delicious and authentic crêpes for only a few euros.
If you really want to eat like a local and save a couple of euros, a great place to eat is the many corner restaurants that offer Doner Kebabs. For four euros you get a "sandwich," wrapped in a gallette or pita, that includes lettuce, tomatoes, onion, meat, French fries and be sure to ask for sauce blanche. This is very delicious and cheap. There are many restaurants that do their Kebabs differently so be sure to try a few!
Aix en Provence is home to the Erasmus students' food of choice. Pizza capri located at the top of the Cours Mirabeau is perhaps the best pizza you will ever eat. (I would like to contest this bit about Pizza capri. Firstly, it simply isn't that good. Secondly, the fact that EVERY single person I've met in Aix tells me that Pizza Capri is the best leads me to believe that the Corsican Mafia, which owns Pizza Capris, has paid off the city to promote this place because (I jest). Pizza Capri is simply well located and cheap. It's not bad but it's nothing to visit the city for so don't buy the hype and you'll enjoy it more.)
In combination with patisseries and bakeries, convenience stores (noted under "Buy" above) also offer good opportunities for economical self-catering, even for day visitors.
- 8 Le Comté d'Aix, 17 Rue de la Couronne, ☎ . prix fixe menu.
- 9 L'alcôve, 19 Rue Constantin, ☎ . quality cuisine with an occasional twist.
- 10 La Maison des Fondues, 11-13 rue de la Verrerie, ☎ . offers a wide range of delicious fondues. The Normande, made with apple cider instead of kirsch, is lovely, and the Provençale is sublime.
- 11 Chez Laurette, 6 Forum des Cardeurs. The food is quite modest, but they server all the day long.
- 12 Vintrépide, 48 Rue du Puits Neuf, ☎ .
- 13 Le Poivre d'Ane, 40 Place Forum des Cardeurs, ☎ . modern and experimental cuisine, 2 set menus, and a la carte at a higher price
- 14 La Chimère Café, 15 Rue Bruyès, ☎ . a lovely place for a romantic meal and Provençal-styled fare, though somewhat pricey.
- 15 Le Zinc d'Hugo, 22 Rue Lieutaud, ☎ . This small place has a charming atmosphere, the service is kind, and the food both exquisite and innovatively, quintessentially, Provençal. Mixed reviews by visitors.
Like restaurants there are plenty of bars, pubs, night-clubs, etc... in Aix. A nice and relatively cheap place to have a drink is the Bar de La Mairie on Place de la Mairie.
For those who would like to meet with the local student population, the bar Le Brigand might be a good choice. The prices are reasonable, and the ambiance is convivial : most of the regular customers are either tourists, or students. But be sure not to arrive too late, for the place may quickly be overcrowded, and you may have to drink your pint outside, without any chair or table!
- L'Atelier Monclar **** 4 stars appartement in the city center. Calm, design and full equipped, the hostes will do their best to make your stay unforgettable.
- HOTEL DES ARTS* Tel (0)442381177 good Quality/Price in center aix en provence
- Hotel Paul.
- Formule 1. 10 km
- Etap Hotel. 10 km
- Ibis. Not center
Campers should find a campground establishment, rather than camping alone in a forest for example, as the area surrounding this city is known to have wolves.
- Grand Hotel Mercure du Roi René.
- Novotel Beau Manoir les Trois Sautets.
- Novotel Pont de l'Arc Fenouillères.
- AquaBella. Nice three star hotel with pool, garden and hammam. Breakfast included normally, served on terrace looking into gardens and pool area. Drinks fairly expensive. Nice flat easy walk to town centre.
Aix is a safe city to visit, but crime does occur there. As with all French cities, tourists in Aix should be especially conscious of the risk of pickpockets and theft. Be aware of your surroundings. Do not leave valuables within view in parked cars. Exercise increased caution at night, and use the taxis that leave from the Rotonde fountain if you are returning to the outlying neighborhoods late in the evening. Avoid public parks after dark.