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France is, unfortunately, gorgeous. Why unfortunately? Because you don’t have the time to explore it all in one visit. I wish we could stay for at least five 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 one day? Regardless of when you are visiting, Aix-en-Provence will offer you an excellent base for exploring the rest of Provence. Aix-en-Provence will greet you with architecture in mystic baroque style. The streets and squares of the city are full of vibrant life. Aix-en-Provence is filled with water fountains full of secrets. Gardens and parks surround country homes in the town like they used to do 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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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.
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 summertime, Aix-en-Provence has a market on the main street where you can get all different kinds of gifts.
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 most excellent 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
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 significant 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. You can 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. 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
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.
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 the museums’ official site.
If you plan on visiting several museums and going on guided tours I recommend you check the 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 the Aix-en-Provence Tourism Board official site.
Day trips from Aix-en-Provence
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 Sainte-Victoire-mountain. And if you are coming off a cruise ship there is a special tour for you, where you will be picked up at your ship and the tour takes only 4 hours. 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.
We had a funny experience visiting Valensole Plateau, but because it was our fault.
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 Marseilles’ official tourism board site for things to do.
Other options for day trips are to visit Gorges du Verdon, the 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 to 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, for example, 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 Booking.com. 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 through Booking.com If you want to stay somewhere fancy, there are options for that too.
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 siesta. We could get drinks but not food until later in the afternoon. But we got to explore a little bit of the town. 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 seemed 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 on TripAdvisor. 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.
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 significant musical events each year – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence (opera festival) and Musique dans la Rue. The events consist of a week of classical, jazz and popular concerts held in different street venues and courtyards in the city.
There are many more museums, markets, events and day trips that you can do in and out of Aix-en-Provence. For several suggestions and tips, I recommend you check out the Aix-en-Provence tourism board’s official site.
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