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24 hours in Aix-en-Provence – the best base for exploring Provence

24 hours in Aix-en-Provence – the best base for exploring Provence

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France is unfortunately very beautiful. Unfortunately, because you don’t have the time to explore it all in one visit, I wish we could stay for at least 5 days in each location, but it was not possible. Aix-en-Provence, unfortunately for us, lost to Montpellier where we stayed for four days. So, what can you do in Aix-en-Provence in 24-36 hours? Regardless of when you are visiting, Aix-en-Provence will offer you an excellent base for exploring the rest of Provence. Baroque streets and squares full of vibrant life, fountains full of their secrets and country homes with gardens and parks like it’s used to be centuries ago. Provence markets and gourmet French cuisine. Festivals, festivities, music, and art. A Cezanne country. One of Europe’s greatest opera festivals. Welcome to Aix-en-Provence!

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South of France travel itinerary - 24 hours in Provence, including places to stay, eat and best day trips

Things to do in Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence is a city in Southern France in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. The town was founded in 122 bc and was a place for artists, lawyers, and nobles during the 15th century. Zola spent his youth in Aix as, more noticeably, did Paul Cézanne, who was a local. The Mazarin district still has aristocratic town-houses. The modern city itself is not that big, and Aix has a population of approximately 140 000. It has a young vibe due to it being a university city, and about 20% of Aix-en-Provence inhabitants are students.

Shopping

Aix-en-Provence is a prime shopping destination. The top fashion is presented in Old Aix, while major labels in the new area “Les Alles Provencales.” Also, there are several different markets every day, both food, flowers, textiles, and souvenirs. During summer time Aix-en-Provence has a market on the main street where you can get all different kinds of gifts. 

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Food market in Aix-en-Provence

Discover the city – walk

There are a few things to do in Aix-en-Provence, but my favorite will always be strolling around. Aix’s Baroque architecture is ranked as third finest after Paris and the Palace of Versailles (you can read about both by clicking on the links). Take a stroll on Le Cours Mirabeau, one of the busiest and liveliest areas in the city. I love city walks – you get to see and feel the city’s vibe, and the best way to do is to get “lost.” But be kind to your feet and get some comfortable shoes. Check this guide for walking shoes for summertime in Europe

Aix-en-Provence, South of France travel itinerary, 24-36 hours in Aix-en-Provence itinerary, things to do in Aix-en-Provence, day trips from Aix-en-Provence

Baroque architecture in Aix-en-Provence

Caumont art center

Caumont art center is one of the most beautiful mansion in Aix-en-Provence. The art center has been restored, and restoration works took 18 months. Since May 2015 the Caumont Art Centre welcomes you in the Hôtel de Caumont, an 18th-century town mansion situated in the Mazarin neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from the Le Cours Mirabeau (main street). The gallery houses fine arts from old paintings to more modern works.  Each year, the Caumont art center organizes two significant exhibitions: one in summer devoted to a single artist and the other in winter presenting great private collections.
Paul Cezanne was a well known French artist and painter who was passionately attached to Aix-and-Provence. He summed his love up in a single sentence when he was away: “When you’re born there, it’s hopeless, nothing compares!”. It was while walking in the Aix countryside as a
teenager with Émile Zola that he realized he was an artist. It is in Aix-en-Provence and the surrounding area that you can share Cezanne’s experience intensely today, as you visit the streets, places, and landscapes that marked the life, the outlook and the work of the father of modern painting… “The Father of us all” Picasso said.

Another “plus” is that you can visit the most sumptuous mansion in Aix-en-Provence, in which the rooms have been remarkably reconstituted with their period furnishings, and its gorgeous French-style gardens (rare in the city center). To end your visit, you can stop in at its tea room with a terrace leading to the gardens. In the evening, the tea room becomes a bar. Find out more here

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Hotel de Caumont – photo courtesy to Caumont art center

Cezanne atelier, Carrières de Bibémus

Visit the Cezanne atelier and walk on the path of Cezanne’s heritage. See the “props” he used in many paintings preserved in the gallery. Close by the studio is the Chemin de la Marguerite, a headland offering a breathtaking view of the Sainte Victoire mountain. Works painted at this
spot have been reproduced and are displayed here. This will show you the link between the surrounding nature and Cezanne’s paintings.
Explore Carrières de Bibémus. The rock with its beautiful tints and texture is the origin of Aix’s historical center – lights up the forest with its flame-colored hues. Gold, amber and red dance in the sun’s light still, and many years ago they gave many of Cezanne’s paintings inspiration.

The tour is an hour-long walk among the Mediterranean woodland deep into the Grand Site Sainte-Victoire. The guide takes you past huge rocks before stopping in front of the charming hut where the painter stored his equipment and ending on the Belvedere with views of Sainte-Victoire Mountain.

You can take a walking tour by yourself in Aix-en-Provence following in the footsteps of Cezanne. Look out for nails stamped with a “C” on the footpath to explore the city in Cezanne’s footsteps… Visit his childhood home, places dear to him, cafes where he met up with friends and other artists.

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Follow the marks – photo borrowed from Aix-en-Provence Tourism

Musée Granet

Visit Musée Granet, ranked as one of France’s most beautiful museums. In this museum, you will find collections of Rembrandt, Cezanne, Ingres, and Meyer. Musée Granet houses the selections from the 14th to 20th centuries. There is also a restored Chapell 200m away where you will find 300 paintings, drawings, and sculptures, from the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas, up to the major artists of the twentieth century, such as Bonnard, Rouault, Picasso, Braque, Dufy, Léger, Klee, de Staël etc. For more information check out museums official site

If you plan on visiting several museums and going on guided tours I recommend you check Aix-en-Provence city pass; it might save you some money. You can find more information about the price of the pass and what it includes on Aix-en-Provence Tourism Board official site.

Day trips from Aix-en-Provence

Wine tasting

Aix-en-Provence is also a perfect base for your day trips to exploring Provence. Did you know that Provence is the oldest wine region in the whole of France? Red, rosé or white, the Aix Region alone has 5 Appellations d’Origine Protégées (registered designations of origin). This prestigious designation guarantees the quality of three specific elements in the making of wine: soil, grape varieties used for the production and know-how in growing and processing. The 5 AOPs (Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Côtes de Provence and Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire, Palette and Côtes du Luberon) are divided into 70 sectors. This is something for a wine lover like me. You won’t get around in one day, but there are wine tasting trips you can take to different areas that will last half a day or a whole day.

Both Viator and Get your guide arrange wine tasting tours, and you can choose either. I have used both companies on several occasions and can’t complain about any. Get Your Guide offers a whole day tour lasting 10 hours to Cassis and Bandol. Cassis is a known fishing village with beautiful views. Wine tasting activities will vary with the season, but you WILL taste wine whatever season it is. You can cancel your booking 24 hours before your tour and get a full refund.

Viator provides you with several options, but the most popular is the Villages of Luberon with wine tasting. This is also a 10-11 hours tour where there will be time to visit two wineries and explore Luberon. The difference between this tour and the tour with GYG is the wine you will taste. In Cassis, you will taste Róse and White, while in Luberon you will taste Róse and Red wine. For a full refund on cancelation make sure to cancel it 24 hours before your tour. Get your tour with Viator til Luberon and wine tasting here.

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Lavender field on Valensole Plateau

Lavender fields

We had a funny experience visiting Valensole Plateau, but because it was our fault. You can read about it here. That said, I would love to do it again but under different circumstances. Visiting lavender fields you have two choices – to do a self-drive tour or go on a guided tour. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. If you go on a self-drive tour, you need to know exactly where to go to find the best fields, but you can go at your own pace and stop and visit any village on your way. If you go on a guided tour, you will be following the schedule and will be taken places predefined by the tour operator. On the other side, you will be taken to the beautiful fields, and you will get a certain amount of history about the lavender and maybe Provence too.
If you decide to go on your own, I have a map over the fields on my post about Valensole Plateau. Remember to check the blossom season for lavender fields before taking your tour. If you decide to go on a guided tour, both tour companies offer half a day and full day trips. 

Visit lavender fields in Valensole with Viator or book with Get your Guide below.

Day trip to Marseille and Cassis with Viator – it is located only 18 miles (30 km) north of Aix-en-Provence. If you would like to explore Marseille on your own, you can check HERE for things to do.

Other options for day trips are to visit Gorges du Verdon, French answer to Grand Canyon.  Day trip to The Verdon Canyon with Viator offers a visit to Georges du Verdon, a visit to L’Ocitain factory and a visit a few gorgeous beaches. Although you can go on a guided tour to Gorges du Verdon, I recommend taking a self-drive with a sleepover somewhere closer, in for ex. Moustiers Sainte Marie or Castellane. This way you will have a short drive to the most exciting places in the Gorges du Verdon National Park. There are several things you can do while exploring it, like kayaking, climbing, hiking, etc.

If you decide to do a self-drive tour, you can rent a car with Europcar which has 3 offices in Aix-en-Provence. You can check the availability and prices here.

Where to stay in Aix-en-Provence

We were on a road trip and had a low accommodation budget for the stay in Aix-en-Provence. We stayed in the Appart’hôtel Odalys Atrium – an apartment hotel with a bedroom, a living room with a foldout couch, and a kitchenette. The hotel was located about 180 yards (200 m) from the entrance to the old city. We didn’t have breakfast at the hotel as there were plenty of small coffee shops and restaurants within a very short walking distance. The hotel had its parking space, although not a big one and wifi was included in the room fare. It was a perfect place for one or two nights stay for two adults and a child (11 yo), at the price of approximately 100 EUR a night. You can book your stay with Appart’hôtel Odalys Atrium HERE If you want to stay somewhere fancy there are options for that too.

FIND YOUR ACCOMMODATION HERE

 

Restaurants in Aix-en-Provence

We arrived from Valensole in the early afternoon, which we found out was too late for lunch and too early for dinner. It seemed that the city had some sort of siesta. We could get drinks but not food until later in the afternoon. But we got to explore a little bit of the city. Eventually, we found Le Petit Bistrot at the corner of the main street Le Cours Mirabeau and finally could have early dinner at 6 pm. The Bistrot didn’t look touristy at all and had terrific burgers, dessert, and wine. The rest of the restaurants looked like any restaurant on any main street in any touristy city. We came off the street, but if you are staying in Aix-en-Provence for several nights, you should try and book a table at Le Petit Bistrot. I am not sure if they accept reservations, but you can check if they do and read their reviews HERE. We were super happy! If you are into food and want to know what French food you have to try before leaving France, you should read Everydaywanderer post here.

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Le Petit Bistrot

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Le Petit Bistrot

 

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Le Petit Bistrot

Aix-en-Provence is a great place to explore for a few days and a perfect base for day trips to explore Provence. If you are interested in music, dance, and art, Aix-en-Provence has several museums and libraries. The city hosts two large musical events each year – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence (opera festival) and Musique dans la Rue (which consist of a week of classical, jazz and popular concerts held in different street venues and courtyards in the city).

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Streets of Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence, South of France travel itinerary, 24-36 hours in Aix-en-Provence itinerary, things to do in Aix-en-Provence, day trips from Aix-en-Provence

Streets of Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence, South of France travel itinerary, 24-36 hours in Aix-en-Provence itinerary, things to do in Aix-en-Provence, day trips from Aix-en-Provence

Streets and architecture of Aix-en-Provence

There are, of course, many more museums, markets, events and day trips that you can do in and out of Aix-en-Provence and for several suggestions and tips, I recommend you check out Aix-en-Provence tourism board’s official site.

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South of France itinerary - 24 hours in Aix-en-Provence, including places to stay, eat and best day trips

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Travelletters

Hi! We are Lena and Steinar from Norway, a couple with full-time jobs, two teens and a passion for travel. We are not digital nomads obviously!
We love touristy stuff and are not afraid to say it out loud, we mean there is a reason that this stuff is so famous, right? Our getaways consist of long weekends mostly in Europe and include historic sites, food and wine or beer, and of course some off the beaten path corners.
Here you will find resources you need to help you make your planning easier. All recommendation for activities, hotels, and places to eat are based on our own experiences. If we recommend something we didn’t try ourselves it will be clearly marked. Happy travels and enjoy the ride!

45 Comments

  1. August 20, 2018 / 1:56 am

    You made the right decision staying in Aix – it’s such an amazing city and makes a great base to explore Provence from. Shame you didn’t make it to the Georges du Verdon though, it’s an incredible place!

  2. March 20, 2018 / 5:50 am

    I love the South of France!!! It’s a dream of mine to see the lavender fields and Annecy!

    • Travelletters
      Author
      March 22, 2018 / 8:04 am

      South of France is beautiful. However, I would recommend to skip the lavender fields and rather do Gorges du Verdon, if you haven’t been there 🙂

  3. March 7, 2018 / 8:10 pm

    OMG driving through the Georges du Verdon is ON MY BUCKET LIST!!!!!

    • Travelletters
      Author
      March 22, 2018 / 8:22 am

      On mine too! Will defenitely try to fit it in sometime soon 🙂

  4. February 28, 2018 / 10:43 am

    Thanks for sharing your fun and enriching French adventure! ✈️

  5. February 22, 2018 / 5:09 pm

    This looks like a wonderful itinerary! I would love to visit The Verdon Canyon – it just looks so beautiful! The food images in this post look so delicious. French food is the best!

  6. February 22, 2018 / 2:31 pm

    Those lavender fields look like heaven! I can only imagine how wonderful they smelled. And that food…😋. Pinning this for later. France is on my travel bucket list.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 3:49 pm

      I hope you get to visit France, Kristy! It’s a beautiful country, but I would recommend you to skip lavender fields and rather visit Gorges du Verdon 🙂

  7. lifeoutside2by2
    February 22, 2018 / 12:39 pm

    South of France is a dream I worship from afar 😛 the pictures and the food pictures are just soo glorious.. I enjoyed reading about your trip immensely!! I hope you enjoyed it just as much.. 😊

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 3:48 pm

      I enjoyed my trip a lot – I love road trips. And I love good food and wine – so France was perfect 🙂

  8. February 22, 2018 / 11:52 am

    This spot seems perfect for me! I love arty places so this ticks all the boxes. Day trips sound great too, those lavender fields are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing your tips ☺️

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 3:47 pm

      You don’t need many days in Aix, but it’s a great base if you want to explore the region 🙂

  9. Severina Panteleeva
    February 22, 2018 / 10:58 am

    Excellent guide, thanks! I love Provence, but I prefer Burgundy for its lushness, lovely small villages and fewer tourists 🙂

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 3:46 pm

      I know what you mean, I loved Burgundy too. Well, I haven’t seen a lot of it, but we stayed one night in Beaune and I loved it 🙂

  10. February 22, 2018 / 10:21 am

    Oh, I wish I’d known about the Verdon Canyon when I visited Aix. We went in 2008 to visit a friend who was teaching there. We spent alot of time with his friends so we managed to kill three days there. I can see how it could have been a bit too chilled out if left to our own devices though.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 3:45 pm

      I wish I knew about Gorges du Verdon before going on a road trip to France too. I would swap it with Lavender fields in Valensole in a heartbeat:)

  11. dysalut
    February 22, 2018 / 2:18 am

    I can just smell the lavender from here! I didn’t know there was a canyon in France. I’m going to look more into it. I’m going to France in August for almost two weeks and was thinking about visiting Marseille. This region seems like its right up my alley.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 7:22 am

      We skipped Marseille and had one night in Aix and 4 nights in Montpellier – and I LOVED Montpellier. But there is so much to do in the region, so you will have wonderfull time. I recommend you book all your activities in advance as August is super crowded in the whole Southern Europe 🙂

  12. February 22, 2018 / 1:51 am

    I’ve heard so much about this part of France. The architecture looks fascinating…I need to go! And that food looks delicious, btw!

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 7:20 am

      French cuisine is so fine 🙂 And Provence region is super charming. I really hope you get to visit it one day!

  13. February 22, 2018 / 1:31 am

    Sometimes I love spending a night or two in the ‘sleepy’ towns. It allows us to slow down and just relax for a little while. Thanks for the great tips for visiting this charming town.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 7:19 am

      I know – me too. However, Aix in summer time is so crowded, I had to look for those small empty streets, but I found some 🙂

  14. Neha Kulshrestha
    February 21, 2018 / 9:26 pm

    Always fascinating to explore small towns. The lavender fields look so beautiful.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 7:18 am

      Let me just say that lavender fields was nothing like I expected 🙂

  15. February 21, 2018 / 8:18 pm

    great read! I wanted to go to this part of France so bad when i was there but the trains were canceled out of Paris due to a strike 🙁 next time!!

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 7:17 am

      I hope you can go back to France and visit Southern part 🙂

  16. Anuradha Goyal
    February 21, 2018 / 5:52 pm

    Wow. this is almost a 1900 or so year old city – how fascinating. I hope to visit it someday.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 7:16 am

      Europe has a great history and many places that date back to ancient times 🙂

  17. February 21, 2018 / 5:41 pm

    I would really love to see the lavender fields in Southern France – I can almost smell it from here! And I’ve heard such wonderful things about Aix – one of my favorite Rosé wines is from there. Time to put it back up the top of my travel wish list! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 22, 2018 / 7:16 am

      Hi, Erin! I can tell you that lavender fields was nothing like I expected.. I hope you get to tick it off your list 🙂

  18. February 20, 2018 / 2:26 pm

    I would love to eventually travel to France, and this post (I am definitely pinning) has given me some more ideas on what to see. That food looks delicious too.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 20, 2018 / 8:48 pm

      I love French cuisine 😍 I am so glad to hear that I was able to inspire you. France is a beautiful country – hope you get to see it one day 😍

  19. February 19, 2018 / 3:29 am

    I’ve only ever been to Paris! I need to check out more of France. The lavender fields are highhh on my bucketlist!

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 19, 2018 / 9:06 am

      I hope you get to explore more – Valensole was such a disapointment unfortunately 🙂 But I had super high expectations 🙂

  20. February 18, 2018 / 10:36 pm

    Great guide! Im so glad you included Verdon Gorge – It was the highlight of my France trip 🙂

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 19, 2018 / 9:05 am

      I wish I knew about Gorges before I planned this trip – I would swap it with Valensole in a heartbeat 🙂

  21. February 18, 2018 / 10:30 pm

    Love how thorough this guide is Lena! I haven’t been to the region before but it’s definitely on the bucket list! Your photos make it look amazing. Thanks for sharing!

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 19, 2018 / 9:02 am

      Thank you so much, Maya! I hope you get to explore South of France – it’s really a beautifull area with great food and wine 🙂

  22. Tracey Best
    February 18, 2018 / 10:29 pm

    Oh wow. Sounds like 24 hours is the perfect amount of time. It looks beautiful. Can’t believe how old it is!

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 19, 2018 / 8:57 am

      You know Europe is an old lady, Tracy 🙂 24 hours in the city is enough, but if you want to explore the area you can definitely stay longer 🙂

  23. February 18, 2018 / 10:12 pm

    Wow! This looks amazing. Particularly the food! I haven’t had a chance to spend much time in France, so I’m taking note for the next time we get there.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 19, 2018 / 8:53 am

      Souther Europe in general is so beautiful, has a lot of history and great food, not mentioning wine or sparkling 🙂

  24. February 18, 2018 / 5:08 pm

    This post is timely as we are staying in Montpellier and will now add Aix en Provence perhaps to stay on our way to Nice.

    • Travelletters
      Author
      February 18, 2018 / 5:54 pm

      So cool, Maura! My next one will be on Montpellier. How do you like it there? We loved Montpellier 🙂

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