Aix-en-Provence (usually simply called Aix) is a small, classically Provençal town, famous for being home to Cézanne; the addition of the TGV (high-speed train) station has brought lots of vacationers from the north, and Aix has turned into a shopping town with high variety and representation considering its small size. Three universities and several French-language schools for international students produce a very strong student presence.
Aix has always been a rich city. There is a high contrast between Marseille (only 30 km and half an hour away). Whereas Marseille is one the poorest French cities (but still a unique and not to be missed town), Aix is perhaps one of the richest. People seeking for budget or popular places should continue to Marseille. Still, Aix has a lot to offer. It is a quiet, clean and comfortable city. The city center is mostly pedestrian and, though it is quite small (you can cross the centre in 15 min by foot), offers long hours of nice walks. As in all Provençal towns, the city centre consists of narrow streets, lined with interesting buildings from 17th century hotels to paved plazas.
Fly into Marseille or Nice. Marseille is nearer (just south), but budget airlines such as EasyJet prefer Nice. There is a navette (shuttle bus) that can take you from the airport to the bus station near the center of town.
Aix has both a TGV and a regular station and is well connected both to the Paris - Marseille line and (via Marseille) to the Genoa - Nice - Barcelona line. The same shuttle that runs from the airport to Aix also services the Aix TGV station. The regular train station is at Place Victor Hugo, a 5 min walk from the center of town.
If you come from anywhere up north you will most likely use the A7 motorway (Route du Soleil) that runs from Lyon to Marseille (whether you come from Switzerland or from the UK via Paris). At exit 27, take A8 (La Provencale) to Aix. From Spain, you'll take A9 (La Languedocienne), then turn onto A54 through the city of Arles (you might consider stopping there), then turn onto A7 and A8 respectively, as described above. From Italy, just take A8 passing Nice and all the posh Côte d'Azur resorts.
Avoiding toll roads can be slow but highly pleasurable, many of the routes nationales offer wonderful scenery that motorways can't deliver (save maybe some parts of the A8 east of Nice).
Parking in Aix can be quite difficult. There is at least one free car park but allow plenty of time to find a space (and the spaces can be quite tight to get into!).
There is an express coach from Marseille (St Charles station) to Aix, which takes 30-40 min.
Aix is a fairly small city and can be easily navigated by foot. The bus system is also very efficient and has numerous stops within the city as well as connecting Aix with nearby villages, towns, and Marseille. The city bus also runs to Carrefour Les Milles, a large shopping center. Discounted tickets for frequent bus users can be purchased at the main bus station, as well as bus schedules. The ticket office also sells discounted multi-pack tickets for the bus from Aix to Marseille and the new TGV station (located between the two cities).
Aix is famous for its fountains. The largest and most famous is on the Cours Mirabeau, the main avenue through town, as well as a moss-covered fountain which draws its water from a hot spring.
Along with searching out the dozens of fountains sprawled around the city, Aix is known for its architecture. The varied and often intricate doors are a key feature, as well as the bell towers. The bell towers throughout Aix-en-Provence, and Provence more generally, are made of wrought iron. This allows the strong winds of the Mistral to flow straight through them, since solid stone would be destroyed by the force of the winds.
The city market runs multiple days a week, but the largest and most colorful is the Saturday market which includes a flower market at the Place de l'Hotel de Ville and the main food market is at Place Richelme.
It has also become known as the home of Cézanne's later works. You can see his atelier with some of the original objects he painted into his still lives. The Bibémus Quarries allow you to see Mt. St. Victoire, the mountains he captured in many of his paintings. You can also visit the Manor of Jas de Bouffan, which houses many of his masterpieces. To see all three, you need at least two days in Aix.
There are plenty of things to do in Aix en Provence. Most of it involves meandering around the small streets of the inner city observing the crooked Roman architecture, eloquent fountains and beautiful boutiques, or watching the world go by as you sip on an Aixpresso or, for an authentic taste of Provence, Le Pastis.
The more modern activities include bowling, billiards, pubs, clubs, cinema, etc.
Another possibility is renting a bicycle for €10 for five hours and ride around Aix. This is a very good way to see the town that is outside the center. You can find many interesting places and buildings that you wouldn't have seen otherwise. Be careful riding in the center ville, since it is very crowded most of the time.
There is also a bus that leaves off the rotonde headed for St. Victoire and you get there in ten minutes. Pack a lunch and put comfortable shoes on to do a nature walk or to climb the mountain. At the top there is a monastery where you can stay overnight, make sure to bring firewood and water.
Aix is home to the Université d'Aix-Marseille.
Aix has many major fashion boutiques, as well as a plethora of small clothing stores, perfumeries, and touristy souvenir shops. They are complemented by a few open-air markets in large squares, offering home made and grown goods and cafes.
For everyday items, look for various convenience stores. Downtown consider Monoprix (a chain throughout France) on the Cours Mirabeau. It offers clothing/sundries at street level, and a decent selection of groceries, bottled beverages, etc. on the level below, prices slightly higher than local markets.
Aix has an incredible number of restaurants compared to its small size. Most of them are gathered in a small area in the old city, between Place des Cardeurs and the Rotonde (Cours Mirabeau). Restaurants and bars on the Cours Mirabeau tend to be more expensive though, while some might be considered tourist traps, others are amongst the best places to eat in the city. L'Authentique is an excellent burger place in that area (walk past the Hermés boutique when heading towards the fountain, make a left at a wide open space, and it's the third shop).
Emile Bec, which has five locations in Aix-en-Provence, is an excellent bakery.
You can also try Calissons, a specialty of the region consisting of a smooth, pale yellow, homogeneous paste of candied fruit (especially melons and oranges) and ground almonds topped with a thin layer of royal icing. Calissons have a texture not unlike that of marzipan, but with a fruitier, distinctly melon-like flavor. Calissons are often almond-shaped and are typically about two inches in length.
"Chez Charlotte" on rue des Bernardines is a very good restaurant very famous for locals. It proposes simple and reasonably cheap French food in a friendly atmosphere. Around €15 for a usual menu.
If you really want to eat like a local and save a couple of euros the best place to eat is the many corner restaurants that offer Doner Kebabs. For four euros you get a "sandwich" wrapped in a gallet or you can get it in a circular bread, that includes lettuce, tomatoes, onion, meat, french fries and be sure to ask for sauce blanche. This is very delicious and cheap. There are many restaurants that do their Kebabs differently so be sure to try
Aix en Provence is home to the Erasmus students' food of choice. Pizza capri located at the top of the Cours Mirabeau is perhaps the best pizza you will ever eat.
In combination with patisseries and bakeries, convenience stores (noted under "Buy" above) also offer good opportunities for economical self-catering, even for day visitors.
La Maison des Fondues offers a wide range of delicious fondues. he Normande, made with apple cider instead of kirsch, is lovely, and the Provençale is sublime.
Le Clos de la Violette, in the northern part of the city near the excellent Villa Gallici hotel, is extremely deserving of both of its Michelin stars. The menu changes seasonally.
A nice and relatively cheap place to have a drink is the Bar de La Mairie on Place de la Mairie.
Au Petit Quare d'huere Possibly the most original bar in Aix, they sell 1 euro glasses of wine and people sit in the place rather than in the bar. Shuts early around 9pm on weekdays and later on weekends.
Bar Sextius Nice bar, nice barmaids, and seating area. Generally a good vibe with good music, especially on a thursday. Open til late.
Bar Brigand The 'young persons pub' in Aix, expect an overspill on to the streets on the weekends, and plenty of old and new characters. 2am close, happy hour 6 - 8.30
Pub Oshannons The pub in Aix, nice outdoors opposite excellent fast food, beer and kebab go hand in hand. Bar maids are pretty and buy your beer tower for 22 euros. Sports shown here also. Open til 2am
Wohoo The American bar in town. Find other expats or travellers and a wall of exotic money. Have a downstairs Cave thats blasts music on the weekends and beer pong competitions on Mondays, 2 a.m. close, beer-only license.
Bar Ptt Aix's cheapest bar in town, on the place de Richelme. Find locals in the bar itself while you enjoy sitting on the place. Plays sport on outdoors TV. Open til late.
+33 1 58 21 55 84, The Aix Centre residence presents a perfect location to visit the French Riviera. Situated near the Place de la Rotonde and the famous Cours Mirabeau, this 4-floor residence nestles in the heart of the city of Aix en Provence - a peaceful setting, near shops and city attractions. Around €60 a night.
Aix is a safe city to visit, but as with all French cities, tourists in Aix should be conscious of the risk of pickpockets and theft. Be aware of your surroundings. Do not leave valuables within view in parked cars. Exercise increased caution at night, and use the taxis that leave from the Rotonde fountain if you are going to the outlying neighborhoods late in the evening. Avoid public parks after dark.
Some of the most beautiful villages in Provence are located nearby Aix en Provence :
Les Baux de Provence : listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, standing on a spur of rock in the heart of the Alpilles, this village dominates Arles and the Camargue and offers and exceptional panorama. Superb medieval stone fortress.
Roussillon : classified as one of the most beautiful villages of France, facing the Luberon Mountains, Roussillon is famous for its magnificent red cliffs and ochre quarries.
Bonnieux : built on a plateau above the valley, Bonnieux is one of the most beautiful villages of Luberon.
Saignon : peaceful and serene village perched high atop a hill.
Ansouis : charming perched village in Luberon dominated by a magnificent medieval castle.
Lourmarin : nestled amid the vineyards, olive and almond trees, Lourmarin is one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Le Plateau de Valensole : kingdom of lavender, this area offers typical landscapes of Provence with its lavender and wheat fields.
Gordes : lovely village perched on a rock, facing the Luberon mountains, Gordes has been classified as one of the most beautiful villages of France. Narrow cobbled streets and magnificent castle whispering the tales of a thousand legends.
Arles : this town which has a history of 2500 years, is also known as “Gaul’s Little Rome”. It has some impressive Roman monuments, of which its famous arena. Arles is also the first city which Van Gogh discovered when he settled in South France in search of this light so unique to the South.
Occitania Provence Tours offers tours to visit these sites.