The historic capital of Provence, Aix-en-Provence was nicknamed Little Versailles in the 18th century in recognition of its majestic architecture. Today’s town has lost none of its former glory and invites modern-day travellers on a genuine voyage back in time. Around every corner and on every square, you will still find traces of the Roman era, Good King René or the Count of Mirabeau!
Starting out from Place de la Rotonde and its magnificent fountain, head up the Cours Mirabeau main thoroughfare, lined with beautiful 17th and 18th century mansion houses. The walk is interspersed with three fountains, including the famous mossy fountain whose water reaches temperatures of up to 34°C! Here, raise your eyes to admire the balcony of the “Hotel d’Espagnet”, held up by the giant “Atlantes” figures sculpted by Pierre Puget. Take time off to enjoy a drink and watch the world go by on the terrace of “Les Deux Garçons” café, before walking up to the top of the road, where the Good King René proudly awaits visitors perched on his fountain, a bunch of grapes in hand!
The little Passage Agard leads to the Palais de Justice (tribunal), bordered by Renaissance houses. You can enjoy a spot of window shopping in the little lanes around the tribunal before coming to the Hotel de Ville (town hall): a monumental Baroque construction topped with a magnificent clock tower, now one of the town’s landmarks. Just a few steps away lies Saint Sauveur cathedral, built from the 5th century onwards. The cathedral stands opposite the former law school where Paul Cézanne studied!
Fashion, decoration, luxury and delicacies place Aix-en-Provence among the top shopping destinations. Great names in fashion and elegance can be found in the Old Town and big brands in the new Allées Provençales district.
If you fancy a spot of rest and relaxation, the Thermes Sextius roman baths, now converted into a spa complex, are situated just next door. www.thermes-sextius.com
Before heading up to the heights of Aix to visit the Cézanne studio, don’t miss a stop-off in the aristocratic Mazarin quarter, home to the magnificent “Musée Granet” and the entirely restored Hotel de Caumont.
Musée Granet is known as one of the finest museums in France, with its collections of 14th to 20th-century art, works by Rembrandt, Ingres, Cézanne and the Meyer donation “from Cézanne to Giacometti.” It regularly organizes major exhibitions. The museum expanded with the restoration of the White Penitents’ Chapel, located just 200 metres away, which now houses the splendid Suzanne and Jean Planque collection. Thus, Granet XX includes some 300 paintings, drawings and sculptures from the Impressionists and post-Impressionists (Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas) to major 20th century artists (Bonnard, Rouault, Picasso, Braque, Dufy, Léger, Klee, De Staël…).
Cézanne lovers will be delighted to discover the districts and places he lived in by following the copper rivets stamped with a “C” marking out the In “Cézanne’s Footsteps” walking itinerary!
The Art Centre at Hôtel de Caumont opened in May 2015. Hôtel de Caumont is one of the finest 18th century townhouses in Aix-en-Provence. Located near Cours Mirabeau, in the Mazarin district, it has been completely restored. It will host major temporary exhibitions dedicated to the great masters of art from the 14th to the 19th centuries and will become a key venue for art and culture.
Near Puyricard, to the north of Aix, the Chateau La Coste vineyard, already famous for the delicacy of its wine, has decided to combine art and nature. Numerous works of art by contemporary artists are scattered among the vines and olive groves for visitors to enjoy. Do not miss the contemporary art centre by Tadao Ando and its café/ restaurant. It hosts two temporary exhibitions a year dedicated to leading artists, from ancient art to present-day works. Make sure you stop in at the café restaurant and bookshop.