When in…Aix-en-Provence

by M. L. Longworth

The following post was inspired by the feature in The Economist’s cultural magazine Intelligent Life:

When in…

Aix-en-Provence 

Do begin your visit at either end of Aix’s tree-lined main street Le Cours Mirabeau (the bottom is at the fountain, La Rotonde; the top at the statue of Good King René). Walk up and down it once or twice, before settling in on the terrace of Le Grillon (Le Mazarin in my books) to people watch.

Don’t eat meals in any of those cafés or restaurants on the Cours Mirabeau.

Do, later in the day, drink a much better coffee at Aix’s only coffee roasting house, La Brûlerie, on the Place Richelme. If you’re not a coffee drinker, they make a delicious hot chocolate.

Do visit Cézanne’s atelier, left exactly the way it was found in 1906 when the artist died. Thanks to funds collected in the United States, the studio was bought from private owners in 1954 and given to the University of Aix-Marseille, passing onto the city of Aix in 1969. In 1955 Marilyn Monroe wrote in the visitor’s book, “a wonderful visit.”

Do visit the newly opened Hôtel Caumont Centre d’Art in the chic Mazarin neighborhood. Their temporary exhibits have been quite good (including a Canaletto) and the restaurant is a wonderful place to eat, either inside the early 18th century restored rooms, or on the terrace overlooking the manicured French garden. Beginning in May, the exhibit will be on Turner!

Do try to get same-day cheap seats for the Opera festival if you’re visiting in July. If you can’t get an opera ticket, find out from the tourist office (at the Rotonde) what free music concerts are being offered over the summer.

Don’t think that the more expensive, or Michelin-starred restaurants, are the best places to eat in Aix. I think that one of the city’s best is an inexpensive Moroccan restaurant on the Rue Van Loo. Write to me for the name.

Do try and get east of Aix to see Cézanne’s obsession, Mont Ste-Victoire. If you don’t have a car, check the local bus schedule (available at the tourist office).

Don’t waste any time or money walking around Aix’s latest mistake, a shopping mall called Les Allées de Provence, located at the foot of the Cours Mirabeau. It’s full of chain stores that can be seen in any city, including probably yours.

Do wander into some of Aix’s mom-and-pop stores, greeting the employees with a “bonjour” when you enter and an “au revoir, merci” when you leave. The best ones are on the rue Thiers, rue de Montigny and the rue Boulegon.

Do buy picnic food at the market. There’s a market every morning on the Place Richelme, and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is the giant market on the Place des Prêcheurs. Avoid the fruit and vegetable stands selling asparagus in December or strawberries in October. The organic stands are marked with the word Bio, short for biologique.

Do go to an Aix rugby game (no hooligans in sight), if you like sports and want some local color. Or, go to the Stade Yves Blanc (on foot from downtown) to watch Les Argonauts, Aix’s amateur American football team.

Don’t resist the temptation to buy baked goods and sweets from Béchard on the Cours (Michaud’s in my books). Their brioche glacées are melt-in-the-mouth goodness, as are their calissons, an almond-shaped candy invented in Aix. Calissons make a great gift to take home, too.

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