Aix en Provence is often referred to as “Cezanne’s city”. It is hard to miss the “Steps of Cezanne” emblems on the sidewalks of Aix; these symbols lead tourists to some of the more famous sites for Cezanne’s artistic inspiration. The problem with looking at your feet to follow the little emblems is you might miss some of the sights along the way. We could fill a book and several photo albums to really describe this city. Aix en Provence has a long history (founded in 123 BC) as a centre built over hot springs or “thermes”. Aix is a student town, tourist town and the official centre of the 13th department of France.
The interesting thing is it was not “love at first sight” for me. The city is frankly a bit scruffy, and can take a bit of time to get under your skin. The famous boulevard Cours Mirabeau, although tree-lined and shaded, is also home to a mixture of very tourist restaurants, banks and uninteresting retail stores. The old town (vieux ville) is a maze of small crowded streets, overflowing with retail stores, restaurants, brasseries and boulangeries. It took a few weeks of walking the streets, to get properly oriented. We had several attempts and many failures with restaurant meals, before sorting out the better available options. The markets are enticing, however I caution “buyer-beware” as there are some very expensive vendors in the market who can identify a tourist sucker, it can take awhile to identify the regular and reliable vendors.
Now that we are on the verge of leaving Aix-en-Provence, it is with quite heavy hearts. We have had some great experiences and would like to share some of their favorites for your next visit:
Boulangerie: This is tough in France as there are so many good ones. My favourite is Farinoman Fou, their bread is rustic and unique. Their unique breads include a couple standouts, Maître Goji (goji berries and raisins) and Choco Souris (chocolate smile).
Coffee: My opinion is that French coffee is good if you order espresso but marginal if you order anything with milk like a “grande creme” (cafe-au-lait). There is a very good chance you will get a weak and tepid drink. We found two spots that were consistent, La Brulerie and Italy Coffee Shop.
Creperie: Hands down the crêpes made by Delphine at Crêpes Cidres and Companie are the best in town. Delphine is originally from Brittany and insists on using authentic Breton ingredients (this is not always easy in Provence). Her crêpes are hot and made to order. The espresso is consistent and the special treats like her mini Madeleine cookies are delicious. If that is not enough, she is lovely. Stop by!!
Doors: The great thing about exploring a city like Aix with such a depth of history is the ability to revel in the age-old architecture and wonder what lies behind the endless beautiful doors.
Fountains: As mentioned above the city was built on top of hot springs and the main streets have several beautiful fountains as a nod to that history.
Gelato: My husband tried all the obvious locations and without a doubt Amorino at the end of the Cours Mirabeau is his hands down favourite, worth every Euro. Their chocolate is also worth a mention, it is expensive and exquisite.
Market: Aix-en-Provence is fantastic as there is a market every single day. The local market in Place de Richelme is the one that we gravitated to and found our trusted vendors, who work really hard, long hours.
Restaurants: As mentioned above Aix is many things but above all a student and tourist town. This is not necessarily a good combination for decent restaurant options. There is certainly no lack of food establishments but most we would not recommended. We have feel confident in recommending the following:
- Le Millefeuille (small, nice decor and a menu that changes daily)
- L’Epicurien Restaurant ( 7-10 tables, the menu changes weekly) – Divine
- La Cave d-Yves (tiny wine bar, small tapas style menu, lots great wine and a sommelier who really knows his stuff)
- Carton Rouge (really tiny, this place makes Yves look spacious, very tasty food, daily menu, cooked to order) – Make a reservation
- Tapas Cafe (in Place des Augustins, it does not look like much outside but the food is authentic Spanish Tapas and we liked the Mojitos)
- Poivre d’Ane (bright and small, they offer two prix-fix menus) – great service, reservations are a must
Route de Cezanne: Easily accessed from the centre of town, this rural road to Mont St Victore and vineyards is a must see. It is lovely for a short bike ride or longer drive.
- The Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur for the Scandinavian Christmas concert in honor of Santa Lucia
- Église Saint Jean de Malte concert “Churs au Diapason” by the Ordre de Malte – 10 euros for a “programme sacre et airs d’opéra”
- The Muse Granet
In the end, there is lots to love about Aix en Provence. My advise is to book your trip and find some of your own favorites.