I started my Provence trip with a week in Aix-en-Provence. The town is famous for its farmer markets and for being the birthplace of Cezanne.
The old city centre of Aix is considered one of the most beautiful in France. The little streets, many of them pedestrianised, are cute and packed with little shops and cafes.
You can wander around for a few hours, stopping for ice cream and taking photos of the terracota facades.
Nearby is the famous Cours Mirabeau, an ample boulevard where you can watch people go by while sipping a glass of wine at Cafe des Deux Garcons (which Cezanne went to).
MARKETS AND SHOPPING
In the mornings of Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the streets near the Rotonde and in the main city squares, many markets take over Aix. Selling local produce, handicraft, clothes and more, these are not only a good place to shop but also an attraction in themselves.
The produce is good and fresh and you can buy the best peaches ever, but I found that the stalls selling things like lavender were a bit too touristy.
There’s also a good market in the evenings during the summer in Cours Mirabeau.
Around Aix Old Town there’s tons of little shops, selling all sorts of stuff. Many sell traditional products like lavender and calissons, but it’s good to have a look around first and see what’s on offer in different places – I found only a few shops were selling their own production.
I booked this half day wine tour to see some of the countryside and sample nice local wine. Provence is famous for rosé, so the tour focussed on that.
We visited two wineries. The first, Mistral, gave us a tour of the estate and a detailed explanation of how their wine is produced. We then tasted two types of white wine and three types of rose, as well as two types of olive oil also produced on site. Our second stop was Gassier, another winery where we tried three types of rosé.
Both places were set in the beautiful landscape of Provence, with great views over the mountains and the colourful countryside. This tour was a good opportunity to do something different for the day.
A couple of kilometres outside Aix’s city centre is the Vasarely Foundation (tickets for 9€). The unusual building with towering rooms shaped as hexagons is a nice setting for Vasarely’s artwork, basically a collection of huge optical illusion pieces. It’s an interesting museum which also holds temporary exhibitions (when we visited there were nice displays by Vera Rohm).
The place is currently going through a big renovation, so a few rooms were closed, but it’s still definitely worth the trip – and as with anything with Aix, because it’s outside the city centre most tourists don’t venture that far.
DAY TRIP TO CASSIS
About half an hour by train from Marseille is Cassis, a little resort town by beautiful Mediterranean beaches. The town itself is very pretty, with a little port and plenty of bars and cafes with great views.
But the main attraction are the Calanques, narrow inlets with steep walls that create the most amazing scenery and beaches. You can follow different trails in the national park to reach different beaches and ports – the routes take from 30min to 2h and are not particularly difficult, although it can get quite hot and it’s good to wear comfortable shoes.
Along the way you get amazing views, and there are lots of cool spots for taking pictures.
To get to Cassis you can take a train from Marseille (takes about 30min). The gare is quite far from the city centre, but in the summer there are tourist busses available.
FOOD AND DRINK
Food in Provence may not be particularly veggie, but the are lots of yummy vegetables in the region, so it’s a great place for self-catering. In Aix there are lots of restaurants around, and plenty of options to choose from.
Provence is famous for their rosé wine, but beer is also very popular in the bars of Aix. We found a bunch of cool pubs in Rue de la Verrerie – they’re not particularly French, but many served Belgian beers at good prices (our favourite was the Kerry with their happy hour deals). And of course there are plenty of cafes and brasseries all over the Old Town, where you can have a drink al fresco.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Go: Fly to Marseille from London (takes 1h30). From the airport, busses leave every 30min to Aix and take about 35min. Tickets can be bought on the bus for 8.20€.
- Stay: I stayed in this excellent flat, which was well located and very well equipped. As long as you’re close to the Old Town then everything is within walking distance.
- Weather: I went in August, narrowly missing the big heatwave, so when I visited the weather was very good, usually just under 30 degrees and sunny. Summers in France can get unbearably hot though, and it’s also high season, so there are more tourists around. On the other hand, days are long and there’s a lot going on. Lavender fields were already gone by the time I arrived, so going earlier is also a good option.
I will do a follow up post on following Cezanne’s steps in Aix.