Aix en Provence: Planning Your Trip

Aix-en-Provence old town

Julie Magnussen / TripSavvy

Once an independent country under the beloved King Rene of Anjou, Aix-en-Provence was incorporated into France in 1486, after which it became known as a wealthy city.
Since then, the town has quietly prospered, and today you can see much of its history in the Roman remains and classical buildings that fill its Old Town.

Just 16 miles (25 kilometers) from Marseille, Aix is one of the most attractive cities in Provence. It's packed with art, brimming with history, and has a wealth of hip hangouts thanks to its dense student population. Discover the city's best hotels, restaurants, shopping, and more.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: To see Aix-en-Provence's most authentic side, visit during the shoulder seasons—March to May and September through November—when the weather is mild and crowds are kept to a minimum. However, if you don't mind exploring amid a see of international and Parisian tourists, visit during La Fête de St Jean (a summer solstice festival) in June or the Festival International d'Art Lyrique (a music festival) in July.
  • Language: French
  • Currency: Euros
  • Getting Around: You can easily travel around Aix-en-Provence on foot or by bike, but if you prefer to take public transportation, you can purchase an Aix CityPass, which gives you a reduction on the Aix network bus that travels around Provence. Otherwise, the public bus costs about 1 Euro for a single trip and stops frequently throughout the city.
  • Travel Tip: The name of this city is pronounced as "Ex" locally. Pronouncing it as the wood-chopping tool is a quick way to establish yourself as an outsider.
Sidewalk Cafes on the Place de Hotel de Ville
Jan Butchofsky / Getty Images

Things to Do

Aix-en-Provence is a slow city, so while there is plenty to see and do here, rushing around from attraction to attraction does not suit the local pace. Tourists are more likely to get the full Aix experience just by hopping from market to market, enjoying a long lunch at an outdoor cafe, or perusing antiques and bric-a-brac at the shops off the main drag. Old Town, or Vieux Aix—centering around the boulevard cours Mirabeau—is the soul of the city, comprising many terraces to sit and people watch, the Aix way.

  • Atelier Cézanne: One of Aix's main claims to fame is that it's the former home of the Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, whose works were inspired by city. Cézanne's masterpieces can be found at Musée Granet and a guided tour of the landmarks that appear in his paintings is organized by the Tourist Office, but for serious admirers, Atelier Cézanne is the jackpot. His studio, with its original furnishings and his work tools, is now open for public viewing.
  • Aix vineyards and wineries: No trip to Aix—or any city in France, for that matter—would be complete without sampling the local vino. If you have time to venture out of the center, head to the countryside to taste Château La Coste's libations. It doubles as an art gallery, hotel, and summertime cafe. Another option is Château Vignelaure, whose 136 acres house some of the oldest cabernet sauvignon vines.
  • The Cité du Livre: Also known as the City of Books, this is the site of the Bibliothèque Méjanes library (the Marquis de Méjane left his considerable library of 80,000 books to the city in 1786), the Prejlocaj Ballet, and more. Housed in an old match-making factory, the book palace has been known to put on major exhibitions and events, too.

Whether you're an art lover, history enthusiast, spa-goer, or devout shopper, there's plenty to do in this small, country town. Discover other attractions around Aix-en-Provence, such as the Cathedral St-Sauveur and Tapestry Museum.

What to Eat and Drink

Aix-en-Provence is known for its olive oil, which is celebrated in an annual olive oil festival in December. It's been described as an aromatic blend of apples, almonds, artichokes, and herbs. The region also has a distinct kind of bull meat, Taureau de Camargue, that's said to be much stronger than regular beef, and is a major grower of rice, riz de Camargue. You may encounter a certain kind of fleur de sel (flower salt) on your market jaunts. It's set apart by its crunchiness and slightly damp texture.

One thing you certainly won't want to leave Aix without eating is a calisson, an almond-shaped candy made with nuts and candied melons and covered in icing. Think: marzipan, but fruitier. Find it at one of the many pâtisseries dotted around the city.

As far as drink, the locals like a fortified wine (wine with distilled spirits added to it). Noilly Prat and dry vermouth, in general, are popular varieties. Libations can be found in abundance around Place Richelme and Rue de la Verrerie.

Aix-en-Provence has many fantastic eateries, both for upscale evening dining and casual lunching. Try Cote Cour for innovative cooking in a renovated old building, or La Tomate Verte ("The Green Tomato") for local Provencal cooking in a pretty, bistro-style setting in Old Town. Les Deux Garcons ("The Two Boys") is a popular haunt with grand décor and an enclosed terrace, serving typical brasserie fare.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of accommodation options for overnight visitors. Those traveling sans car (and quite a few do) will likely prefer a hotel in the center of Vieux Aix whereas those making their rounds around Provence and seeking a quiet night away from the center may rather book a villa on the outskirts of town. For the former, top-end charm can be found at Villa Gallici, a Florentine residence that once inspired Cézanne. Expect an elegant and chicly decorated interior with Provencal fabrics and a swimming pool just minutes from the town center.

Likewise, the Hotel des Augustins stuns with its vaulted ceilings, stone walls, and cozy, Provencal-style rooms. It was once a 12th-century convent belonging to the Grands Augustins order. However, for something more modest, Hotel Saint Christophe caters to a range of budgets.

Outside the city, La Bastide de la Loube—a villa sleeping only 15—is located on a 250-acre vineyard. Villa des Verans, 10 minutes from Aix, is surrounded by countryside and offers gorgeous views of the Sainte Victoire valley. A night at the Bastide du Logis mansion—with its swimming pool, tennis courts, and 30 acres of olive trees and truffle oaks—is the ultimate splurge.

Getting There

Aix-en-Provence is 472 miles (760 kilometers) from Paris, and the journey takes around 6 hours and 40 minutes by car. It can be reached via the A6 and A7, both toll roads. TGV high-speed express trains also run regularly to Provence from Paris Gare de Lyon.

For those traveling from abroad, the closest airport to Aix is in Marseille, a 30-minute drive away. This major international transport hub connects Provence to the UK, the rest of Europe, and beyond. From the Marseille Airport, you can take the CarTreize bus for about $3. It runs every 30 minutes.

Culture and Customs

Though Aix-en-Provence is a small, country town, it's quite a popular tourist destination, so many locals—especially those working in hospitality—can communicate with travelers in English. It's also home to three universities that host American students year-round. That being said, it's always best to learn some basic phrases in the native language.

Many bars and restaurants will include a service compris (service charge) on the bill, but if they don't, you are not expected to tip (though it's a nice gesture). Washroom attendants usually are tipped a euro and taxi drivers are tipped 5 to 10 percent.

Aix-en-Provence is exceedingly safe, but be aware of your surroundings as pickpockets tend to target distracted tourists in large crowds.

Saturday market, Place Richelme, Aix-en-Provence
Franz-Marc Frei / Getty Images

Money Saving Tips

  • The Aix CityPass is not only handy for bus discounts; it also provides free access to more than a dozen tourist attractions, guided tours, and various deals around town.
  • Bundle your visit to Paul Cezanne’s workshop, the Jas de Bouffan family house, and the Bibemus quarries with a Cézanne Pass, sold by the Tourist Office for 12 euros.
  • Aix-en-Provence is an entirely walkable city. If you're able, tour the sites on foot instead of wasting money on taxis and public transportation.
  • Visiting during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) will guarantee fewer crowds but also lower prices on hotels and flights.
  • Take a break from expensive restaurant dining and pack a picnic of breads, cheeses, fruit, and whatever else you find at the market instead. There's a daily market on Place Richelme, which is at its biggest on Saturdays and has been known to supply many a free sample. You can even bargain a little to get the prices down.
  • Check prices on Airbnb before booking a hotel in the city. Not only can it be more budget-friendly, it can also help acquaint you with some friendly locals while you're in town.
  • Aix has earned the nickname "City of Fountains" for its 40-ish public ornamental water-sprouting structures. The Tourist Office offers a map of them, making for a fun and entirely free, scavenger hunt-style afternoon activity.
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