- Where the Locals Go
Anne Elder “fell in love with France somewhere between Madeline and Moulin Rouge.” After studying abroad in Paris, the life-long Francophile migrated south and found a home in Aix–en–Provence, France. When she’s not helping students learn English as a teaching assistant, Anne spends her time keeping her blog up to date, working on the perfect bœuf bourguignon, or trying to blend in with the locals.
Aix is “the perfect blend of French history, modern style and intelligence, and the Provençal way of life,” Anne says. “[I] get butterflies walking down the street with a baguette under my arm every day,” she adds. “It still feels like this is all a daydream.” Here’s a look at Aix-en-Provence through her starry eyes.
Follow Anne’s story on Twitter, Instagram, and her website.
Aix-en-Provence Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, where there is bound to be a market to browse for flowers, books, or fresh produce.
Spring is the best time to visit my city because the weather is at its best—and no one is shy about saying so.
You can see my city best by following Paul Cézanne’s footsteps up to his atelierhis atelier, or workshop, where you can see Sainte-Victoire, a mountain he incorporated into scores of his paintings.
Locals know to skip shops on the main drag Cours Mirabeau and check out smaller, more affordable stores downtown instead. There is certainly no shortage of places to shop in Aix.
Any of the city’s markets are the perfect places to buy authentic, local souvenirs. Go locavore with honey, lavender, sausages, garlic, and, of course, herbs from Provence. And don’t forget to pick up some calissons, Aix’s signature leaf-shaped candy, at Confiserie Léonard Parli.
In the past, notable people like post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, writer Émile Zola, and even actor Bradley Cooper have called my city home. (Bonus tip: Artist Pablo Picasso is buried nearby at the Château de Vauvenargues.)
My city’s best museum is Musée Granet, which is filled with vast holdings of French and Italian art and boasts an entire room dedicated to the works of Cézanne.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that you can walk almost anywhere. But catching a bus at the Gare Routière can take you all over southern France and even to Spain! For those who want to stay near Aix’s historical center, take the tourist trolley (everyone should do it at least once) through downtown up to Cézanne’s atelier. Tip: Wear good shoes—the cobblestones can be hard on your feet.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is by hiking Sainte-Victoire Mountain or walking around the Bimont Dam. Both are just a 20-minute drive away.
My city really knows how to celebrate art. Even its churches and cathedrals house masterpieces by artists such as Barthélemy d’Eyck. If you find yourself inspired by the creative environment, many local artists offer hour-long painting lessons.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they sell their goods at the market and pronounce words like pain, vin, and fin as though they rhyme with tang. A native Aixois(e) is rare in this university city!
For a fancy night out, I start with a rosé aperitif, then head to dinner at a restaurant downtown, followed by a movie at Le Cézanne or a show at the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume.
Just outside my city, you can hike the Calanques and enjoy the Mediterranean coast in Marseille, Cassis, and La Ciotat—only 30 to 90 minutes by bus.
My city is known for being bourgeois, but it’s really filled with charm and many, many fountains!
The best outdoor market in my city is found at Place Richelme. On Sunday mornings, Place des Prêcheurs is the place to find a blend of produce, clothes, leather goods, and flowers.
La Maison Weibel is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Rue de la Verrerie, where you can find kebabs, pizza, and sandwiches all on one corner, is the spot for late-night eats.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Agenda Culturel, a publication of the local tourism office.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go for a picnic in Parc Jourdan.
To escape the crowds I walk around the city early in the morning while the pain au chocolat is fresh and the market vendors are still setting up or hide away in the Pavillon de Vendôme gardens with a tarte tropezienne.
The dish that represents my city best is magret de canard (seared duck breast), and wine from local vineyards is its signature drink. Try them both at one of the many restaurants at Place des Cardeurs.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Le Grand Théâtre de Provence is the best place to see live (classical) music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Le Mistral, or head to the Woohoo on Friday night for karaoke.
Sunshine 300 days of the year in France could only happen in my city.
In the spring you should explore the Route des Vins de Provence, a scenic stretch of highway dotted with wineries.
In the summer you should sojourn to one of the many lavender fields surrounding the city or splurge on a spa day at Thermes Sextius, just steps from ancient Roman baths.
In the fall you should enjoy the sunshine at one of Aix-en-Provence’s many cafés (my favorite is Unic). Afterward, go for a hike through the local vineyards to admire the autumn leaves.
In the winter you should get some vin chaud (mulled wine) at the Cours Mirabeau Christmas market, then walk around the city to take in all of the holiday lights.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss heading down to Marseille for a day to look at all the boats in Vieux Port.
The best book about my city is either A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle or My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme (though much of the book is set in Paris). Both can be found in Book in Bar, a near-perfect café-bookstore hybrid near Cours Mirabeau.
In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it’s rich with French history and modern style, yet maintains the Provençal way of life. Plus, it’s small enough to make you feel like you’ve truly seen it all!