Top Attractions in Aix-en-Provence - Walk through the Old Town
Vieil Aix, the Old Town, is full of squares and boulevards bordered by grand 17th- and 18th-century houses. Mature trees line the streets and fountains play in the middle of the squares, keeping the air fresh in the hot summer months.
The best known and most attractive street is Cours Mirabeau. This lovely boulevard is the heart of the city, beating to a good mix of restaurants, cafes and shops. Each day the whole area is the setting for the best markets of Provence offering fruit and veg stalls, dried wild herbs and mushrooms, cheeses, olive oil and flowers.
The Cours Mirabeau follows the original 15th-century defensive walls and was designed so that the grandest houses run along the south side of the Cours. At the back there are sun-filled gardens, while their formal facades, facing north onto the Boulevard are decorated with sculptured doorways and wrought-iron balconies, testifying to the wealth of each owner.
More information from the Aix-en-Provence Tourist Office.
The Cathedral of St-Sauveur in the Old Town of Aix-en-Provence
The Cathedral St-Sauveur takes pride of place among the religious buildings in Aix. Some parts date back to the 4th century but it is mainly 15th to 16th century. Its most famous possession -- among some notable religious art works, is a remarkable triptych in the St Lazaire chapel, its three panels depicting the Burning Bush. Commissioned by King Rene in 1475, it was painted by Nicolas Froment of Avignon. Now restored, the right and left panel show Good King Rene and his second wife, Jeanne de Laval who are depicted in prayer looking towards the center panel and Mary and Jesus, all in glorious revitalised colors.
Don’t miss the cloisters, a peaceful oasis of elegant arcades and sculptured columns.
Place des Martyrs de la Resistance
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 23 98 90
Open daily 8am-noon & 2-6pm
Mass Sunday 10.30am & 7pm
Treasures in the Museums of Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence is home to a number of wonderful museums.
The Musée des Tapisseries
The Tapestry Museum is housed in the former Bishop’s palace. Lining the walls are 19 magnificent tapestries that both kept out the cold, and impressed the guests. Woven in Beauvais in the 17th and 18th centuries, nine panels are unique, illustrating the life of Don Quixote. Others include the so-called ‘Grotesques’ theatrical scenes woven in 1699 and The Russian Games. Contemporary textile art also has a showing here, along with costumes and models from the theater.
28 place des Martys de la Resistance
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 23 09 91
Open Mid-April to mid-October daily (except Tuesdays) 10am-12.30pm & 1.30-6pm
Mid-October to mid-April daily (except Tuesdays) 1.30-5pm
Closed Jan 1, May1 and December 25
Admission 3.50 euros
Most people come to the 17th-century, former Knights of Malta priory for the nine paintings by Paul Cézanne, along with works by Leger, Matisse, Klee, Giacometti, Picasso and Mondrian. But also don’t miss the works from the major European art movements from the 16th to 19th centuries.
Place St-Jean de Malte
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 52 88 32
Open June-September Tuesday-Sunday 11am-7pm; October-May noon-6pm. Check on website for exceptional closures.
Admission adult 4 euros. Other tariffs for exhibitions.
Dedicated to Hungarian artist and architect, Victor Vasarely (1906-97), the building of 16 extraordinary structures with its facades of black and white squares and circles, echoes Vasarely’s studies of geometric abstractions. Inside, 44 monumental works fill the building, along with temporary exhibitions on the artist.
1 ave Marcel Pagnol
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 20 01 09
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-1pm & 2-6pm
Admission adult 9 euros; 7-26 year olds 6 euros; 3-7 year olds 4 euros
Visit the Thermes Sextius Spa
The Romans came to Aix for the waters, so do the same at the Thermes Sextius. The modern complex was built on the site of the Roman Aquae Sextiae’s thermal springs; you can see the excavated remains under the glass floor in the lobby.
But the treatments are a far cry from ancient days. The spa has a gym, sauna, hammam, bubble bath, gym area and outdoor swimming pool. There’s a relaxation area serving herbal teas from Pere Blaize, the herbalists in Marseille.
Many people come for the massages with essential oils. Try an all-day pampering package which begin at 99 euros per person.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 23 81 82
Follow in the Footsteps of Paul Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence
The life of the artist Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) is inextricably tied in with Aix-en-Provence. He was born at 28 rue de l’Opera and lived at different addresses in the city during his life.
In 1859 his father bought Le Jas de Bouffan, a country house where Cezanne painted many of his most famous pictures. You can only take a guided tour which you must book in advance at the Tourist Office.
In 1895 Cézanne rented a cabin at Les Carrieres de Bibemus (Bibemus quarries) just outside the town. Again you see this by guided tours which take you around the strange shapes of the quarry's orange rocks.
In 1901 Cézanne bought a piece of land to build the Atelier Paul Cézanne. Here you see, not works of art, but the studio where he painted so many canvases. From the terraced garden at the nearby Terrain des Peintres you get a wonderful view of the Montagne Ste-Victoire.
You can book the various tours, and pick up a leaflet (Sur les Pas de Cézanne, In the Footsteps of Cézanne) at the Tourist Office.
Montagne Ste-Victoire is outside Aix to the east. The mountain range is a great place for ramblers and hikers, as well as painters recreating Paul Cézanne’s masterpieces.
Aix-en-Provence Tourist Office
Les allées provençales
300 avenue Giuseppe Verdi
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 16 11 61
Shopping and Markets in Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence is a shopper’s delight. Traditional markets take place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings in different areas. A large market selling fruit and vegetables and fish takes place Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from 8am to 1pm at Place Richelme. Flowers fill the area round the Hotel de Ville on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and around the place des Precheurs on other days of the week. Textiles are sold in Cours Mirabeau on Tuesday and Thursday from 8am to 2pm and around the Palais de Justice on Saturdays.
The best shopping street is the pedestrian rue Marius Reynaud; chic shops also line the cours Mirabeau.
For antiques and bric-a-brac, try the market on place de Verdun on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from 8am to 1pm.
For traditional santons (crèche figurines much sought after and used in France at Christmas and Easter), try Santons Fouque (65 cours Gambetta, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 26 33 38).
Puyricard (420 Route du Puy Sainte Reparade, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 21 47 10) is the place for great chocolates filled with all kinds of ingredients, including local lavender honey.
For bread and cakes of the most tempting variety, shop at Maisons Bechard (12 cours Mirabeau, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 26 06 78). Worth buying as gifts are the famous Calissons d’Aix, candy made from ground almonds, preserved melon and fruit syrup and sold in pretty tins.
You’ll also find more of the local calissons at Roy Rene, rue Gaston de Saporta, tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 26 67 86. Not only do they make calissons, they also produce calisson ice cream, nougat, preserves and creamed versions, all beautifully packaged for great presents. You can visit their factory in the industrial zone of La Pioline, in Aix-les-Milles, to see the products being made. You must make an appointment and pay the entrance fee -- the price of one calisson ice cream.
Details of Roy Rene factory visits
Calissons du Roy René
Pôle commercial de la Pioline
330 rue Guillaume du Vair
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 42 39 29 90
Tuesdays and Thursdays, visit are at 10 a.m. only by appointment.
Price of the visit: 1 calisson ice cream
These apart, you'll find good boutiques for gifts all over the city, so you can fill up with Provencal textiles, baskets, soaps and more.