Travel

How to Spend a Weekend in Aix-en-Provence

by Lily Heise

While many people are attracted to the villages of Provence, the southern French region also has some wonderful cities. Among the nicest is Aix-en-Provence. The former capital of Provence, the city’s wealthy residents embellished it with elegant architecture, refined fountains, and picturesque squares. Today, it’s a lively university city that marvels visitors with its fabulous markets, art museums, and contagious joie de vivre. Here’s how to spend the perfect weekend in Aix-en-Provence.

The sun shines on buildings in a square in Aix-en-Provence.
Top: Hôtel de Gallifet / Above: Linh Nguyen

A weekend visit to Aix wouldn’t be complete without exploring the city’s amazing markets, which are at their best on Saturdays. What’s more, as they are spread out around the city, you’ll have an opportunity to discover the city’s colorful streets, many picturesque squares, and famous fountains along the way.

Left: A woman in a red skirt, white shirt and denim jacket stands outside Aix & Co, a concept store in Aix-en-Provence, Right: A display of jewelry  from Violette & Colombe sits on display at Aix & Co concept store in Aix-en-Provence
Aix and Co

You can start with the market along the city’s main promenade, the tree and café lined Cours Mirabeau. On Saturdays, its central walkway is taken over by dozens of stands selling Provençal textiles and clothing. Once you reach the end, it’s a short walk to Place de Verdun, home to Aix’s imposing courthouse and market stands selling local produce, olive oils, tapanades, honeys, and more. From here, weaving through the narrow streets to the Place l’Hôtel-de-Ville, where you’ll find the attractive City Hall and flower market. Lastly, track down Place Richelme, which hosts further stands, including that of Béatrice, a sweet 80-year-old who sells lavender-filled Provençal sachets she makes herself.

Left: An overhead shot of a delicious crème catalane sitting on a plate and a napkin printed with the name of the restaurant, Café du Temps, Right: A bowl of salade de lentilles du puy sits on a table with a basket of bread and vase of flowers at Café du Temps in Aix-en-Provence
Café du Temps

If you haven’t picked up market picnic supplies, camp out on one of the terraces in the nearby Place Forum des Cardeurs. Although the quality can vary at these, you can get a more sophisticated meal at Le Poivre d’Ane. While you’re at this end of town, stop into the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur, Aix’s cathedral which was built atop the Roman temple to Apollo and is a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles.

Left: Whicker chairs line a path outside the hotel Le Pigonnet in Aix-en-Provence on a sunny day, Right: Inside the Atelier de Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence
Le Pigonnet / Atelier de Cézanne

Afterwards, art lovers should trek up the Lauves hill to the Atelier de Cézanne. Originally from Aix, Cézanne spent his last few years painting at this art studio, now a museum in his honor. It’s within a pretty garden with a viewpoint over the valley and of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, one of Cézanne’s favorite subjects. Delve further into Cézanne’s life and work on Context Travel’s Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence tours, led by art historians.

Left: A woman in a blue dress gazes at a painting in the cultural space at the Hôtel du Caumont in Aix-en-Provence, Right: An overhead shot of the beautiful outdoor gardens at the Hôtel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence
Hôtel de Caumont

Alternatively, if you’d like to do some more shopping, you can peruse local designers at Les Passagers, a concept store in the lovely Passage Agard, or at Aix & Co, which also doubles as a tea room. Aix is famous for its calissons, traditional marzipan sweets that you can buy at Maison Brémond, in business since 1830.

Left: A mother and daughter discuss art on display in the culture center at the Hôtel du Caumont, Right: A large, feathery art piece hangs from the ceiling at the Hôtel du Caumont
Hôtel de GallifetLe Petit Bonsai

Aix has a wonderful lively ambiance in the evenings, which you can enjoy by foot or during a dinner en terrasse. However, if you’re looking for great modern cuisine, book a table at L’Alcôve, which sources ingredients directly from local producers, L’Opéra, for its inventive small plates or Le Café du Temps, an excellent vegetarian restaurant on a quieter square.

Left: A large plate of fricassé tunisien et chorba froide (Tunisian fricassee and cold chorba) sits on a table in front of a velvet booth at Café du Temps, Right: A person in blue jeans and a white shirt holds a large bowl of rouleau de printemps à la pêche, sauce façon umeboshi (peach spring rolls with umeboshi sauce) at Café du Temps
Café du Temps

For a more unique setting, try La Table du Pigonnet. This chic gourmet restaurant is located within the enchanting gardens of the historic Le Pigonnet hotel, which is also an excellent base for your stay in Aix-en-Provence. The stylish hotel is found a short walk from the city center within buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, all redecorated with a hip, modern touch. There’s also a two-bedroom apartment and a private villa for rent, and a fabulous pool next to the garden, where Cézanne himself once painted!

Left: A table is set for breakfast on the beautiful outdoor patio at Le Pigonnet hotel, with a view of the pool behind it, Right: A table is set with tableware and vases of pink flowers at Le Pigonnet
Le Pigonnet

You can spend your Sunday in Aix perusing the city’s excellent museums, many housed in historic mansions. The most notable is the Musée Granet, a museum in a 17th-century building in the upscale Mazarin district. Its collection of 600 artworks traverse Roman times to the mid-20th century, including a room dedicated to local legend Cézanne.

The front of Hôtel de Caumont on a sunny day in Aix-en-Provence
Hôtel de Caumont

Not far is the Hôtel de Caumont, an elegant 18th-century mansion. It has temporary art exhibitions and an opulently decorated café with a gorgeous garden terrace. It’s the perfect place for lunch or a coffee break. In the same neighborhood, is the Hôtel de Gallifet, another historic mansion with art exhibits and a lovely courtyard café. For more art and history, cross the history city center to the alluring Pavillon Vendôme. Built by the Duke of Vendôme in the 1660s, today it displays furniture, paintings, and decorative arts from the era.

Left: Two girls hold hands while looking at art in the culture space of the Hôtel de Gallifet, Right: A refreshing bowl of strawberries and vanilla ice cream sits on a table at the Hôtel de Gallifet
Hôtel de GallifetLe Petit Bonsai / Hôtel de Gallifet

Or for something different, visit the Fondation Vasarely. Located on the outskirts of town and created in 1966 by Victor Vasarely, the site showcases 44 large-scale panels by the artist specialized in optical art. They will certainly leave you with another vision of Aix-en-Provence!

Large-scale panel art sits on display at the Fondation Vasarely in Aix-en-Provence
Fondation Vasarely

Aix is also a great jumping-off point for exploring Provence; so you could use your second (or third) day to explore other parts of the region. A La Française has small group and private tours of villages, wineries, markets and in Aix as well. Be sure to use the code HIPPARIS to get a 5% discount!

Left: A bowl of bright lemons and vases of fresh yellow flowers sit on a table and under the shade of a tree at the Hôtel de Gallifet, Right: A child walks through the culture space at the Hôtel de Gallifet and gazes at the large, feathery piece hanging on display from the ceiling
Hôtel de Gallifet

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Written by Lily Heise for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a  fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.

Written By

Lily Heise

Lily Heise has been living in Paris for more than 10 years. When she's not getting into romantic mischief, she writes on dating, travel, and culture. Her writing has been featured in Frommer’s Guides, the Huffington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, City Secrets, DK Eyewitness Guides, and other local and international publications. She is the author of Je T'Aime, Me Neither, and Je T'Aime... Maybe? lively novelized memoirs on her romantic misadventures, and continues to share dating tips, stories and travel features on her blog www.jetaimemeneither.com. View Lily Heise's Website

3 comments on “How to Spend a Weekend in Aix-en-Provence

Thanks so much for the article and beautiful pictures! Provence is interesting but I worry that the small villages in the Luberon might be too small for a lengthy stay. Aix sounds like a perfect balance of city and village. Are there many apartments for rent? What parts of Aix do you recommend for a 3-week stay? Thank you!

Thank you. Love your article if Aix-en Provence. Such happy memories of this magic city. I am now compelled to revisit it. Once we have Covid in control! X

So very happy I found you!! Looking for a move perhaps to somewhere in Provence from the US. Your references and blog will be so helpful! It’s just research for now. Merci!

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