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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
- While exploring Aix, don’t forget to check out the best markets in Provence
- Lover of almonds and or Cézanne? Then a trip to Aix should be in your future
- Get your art fix without all the tourists at Paris’ best non-touristy museums
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.