Best Things To Do in Aix-en-Provence
In Aix, you can stroll along the Cours Mirabeau, browse through the markets and sip lattes and people watch in cafes. You can also head to a museum or two — the Musée Granet hangs a few Cézannes; speaking of which, you can also visit his studio or climb one of his biggest inspirations, Mont Sainte-Victoire. And you must spend some time shopping — or at least window-shopping — at some of Aix's boutiques, which are scattered in both old and new towns.
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While in Aix-en-Provence, you must visit a provincial market. And Le Grand Marché refers to the many markets that flood the city's squares: You'll find fresh food and sweet treats in Place des Prêcheurs and Place de la Madeleine, gorgeous garments in the clothing market on the Cours Mirabeau on Tuesdays and Thursdays (it's around the Palais des Justice on Saturdays), a flea market around the Place de Verdun and a flower market at the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville.
Keep in mind that these markets are only open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (typically in the morning) and hours vary.
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This shady boulevard is canopied in trees and punctuated by three lovely fountains. You can take a stroll down the street while admiring the regal buildings that flank its edges, including the Hôtel des Villiers and the Hôtel d'Arbod Jouques. Open-air cafes like Les Deux Garçons and a variety of market vendors also rest along this popular pedestrian corridor. The atmosphere here, on this crossroads of the Quartier Mazarin (or new town) and Villa comtale (old town), is cheery and chic.
"Cours Mirabeau is not to be missed," said one TripAdvisor user. "Although this is the grandest boulevard within old Aix, it has the down-to-earth feel, unlike the Parisian equivalent of the Champs Elysees."
- #3View all Photos#3 in Aix-en-ProvenceHiking, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDRead More
This mountain inspired quite a few of Cézanne's paintings, since the artist could see its pyramid shape (rising about 10 miles east of Aix) from his house. And it's no wonder why he painted it so much: The mountain's limestone surface reflects light, appearing blue, gray, pink and orange during different times of the year.
With about 1,000 different paths to explore, you can also hike Mont Sainte-Victoire from mid-September to June. To get to the hiking routes, you can take a bus from Aix-en-Provence's Gare Routière or you can drive east on the D17 or D10 and park your car in one of the lots on-site.
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An ornate religious site, this cathedral doesn't have just one architectural identity — but that's what makes it special. Originally raised in the 5th century, the cathedral's construction continued until the 18th century, likely accounting for the variety in design. The church boasts a mishmash of Roman, Gothic, Baroque and Merovingian styles that can be seen in its facades, interior and decor.
One TripAdvisor user called the architecture both inside and outside the church "quite spectacular."
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Just a few miles west of the city center, Fondation Vasarely is a museum housed in its own masterpiece (16 interconnected hexagons) filled with Victor Vasarely's optical art. This Hungarian-born French artist is known as the father of this style — a method that combines graphic art with optical illusion, often playing with patterns, lines, shadows and light. The vibrant and colorful art installations captivate both adults and children alike. At the foundation, you can experience much of his work in the Tapestries, Kinetic and Planetary Folklore rooms.
"The building is very striking and a precise echo of its contents," said one TripAdvisor user. "The grand works inside deserve to be absorbed with a good long sit on the sofas."
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For a little more than €5 EUR (or about $7 USD), you can tour Paul Cézanne's studio. Some of this artist's most famous works were painted here, including Les Grandes Baigneuses (The Large Bathers) and La Femme à la Cafétière (The Woman with the Coffee Pot); you can even see the tin coffee pot that inspired the latter.
Describing the studio as a "must-see," one TripAdvisor user says, "A visit to Cezanne's atelier is an intimate glimpse into his final years as a painter, in which he did some of his largest and most ambitious works." Another recommends exploring the surrounding area: "A short walk up the road from the house takes you deep into a residential area where, with a bit of exploring the cul-de-sacs, you can get a fantastic view of Mont Sainte-Victoire."
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A former tile factory, Camp des Milles opened in September 1939 as a French internment and deportation camp during World War II. Between 1939 and 1942, thousands of political dissidents, emigrants and Jews were held as prisoners with many being sent on to extermination camps. Today, this site has been restored and reopened as a Holocaust memorial. Inside, a large museum offers educational and interactive displays on the history of Camp des Milles. One feature that distinguishes this internment camp from others is the number of artists and scholars who were held here. It's estimated more than 400 pieces of artwork and literature were created at Camp des Milles and several drawings, paintings and graffiti can still be seen on the walls today. An example is the Room of Murals, a separate building that was once a dining room for guards, which is filled with colorful scenes created by the imprisoned.
Many of the exhibits are in French and while some offer written English translations, recent visitors were disappointed more visual and audio aspects of the museum aren't available in English. But what the museum may lack in language diversity, it makes up for with its detailed visual storytelling and historical artifacts — visitors say it's a sobering yet informative experience. "It is worth a visit as a reminder of a darker time in the region's and Europe's history," said one TripAdvisor user.
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Described by many travelers as an oasis within the city's limits, Pavilion de Vendôme is a charming villa surrounded by verdant gardens. The grandiose baroque building was constructed in 1665 as a retreat for the Duke of Vendome, Louis de Mercoeur, and his mistress. Its ornately decorated façade is said to be inspired by the beauty of the duke's mistress, La Belle du Canet. In the 18th century, the house was expanded, refurnished and refurbished with antique furniture and portraits of the period.
Today, the Pavilion de Vendôme plays host to rotating temporary modern art exhibitions inside, though some visitors say the contrast between the modern art and classical architecture of the building and furniture is rather jarring. Many more visitors flock to enjoy its lush, landscaped grounds — relaxing on one of the benches that pepper the perimeter or packing a picnic to enjoy. "Great place for an outside picnic, walk or just a perfect place to sit in silence," said one TripAdvisor user. "It's quaint and peaceful."
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Inside the Musée Granet, you'll find works by Van Dyck, Puget and, of course, Cézanne. You'll also see dozens of paintings by the museum's namesake, the French artist François Marius Granet. The building is interesting as well, as it was the former priory of the 17th-century Knights of Malta.
You'll find the museum about a five-minute walk southeast from the Cours Mirabeau. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. June through September and from noon to 6 p.m. October through May. Admission fees range from €2 to €5 (about $3 to $7 USD) and guided tours, access to specific exhibits and workshops are available for an additional fee. For more information, visit the official website.
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If you're a spa junkie, you'll definitely want to pay a visit to the Thermes Sextius. This luxurious spa is built on top of the thermal baths of Aquae Sextiae, which were discovered by the Romans in the 18th century. Visitors can view the excavated remains beneath the lobby's glass floor. These natural spring waters have long been an Aix staple — famous figures Pablo Picasso and Winston Churchill have even experienced these soothing waters. These days, you can enjoy a soak in the baths, as well as an Aroma Purifying Treatment or a Nuxe Body Slimming Massage, among other spa treatments. While some travelers mentioned the high prices that come along with the notoriety, others said the experience was other-worldly. "The water treatments all felt divine," one TripAdvisor user said. Once you've completed a treatment, continue your rejuvenation by kicking back in the relaxation area and sipping on your choice of herbal tea.
The Thermes Sextius is located in the heart of the city, just a short walk northwest of the Cours Mirabeau. Since the spa is popular, you should aim to book your treatments in advance. The spa is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Visit its website for more information on packages and pricing.
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A popular brasserie, located right on Cours Mirabeau, Les Deux Garçons has served coffee to everyone from Paul Cézanne to Emile Zola. It's been a prominent place for artists and intellectuals since its founding in 1792, but some say the food quality and service have deteriorated recently. However, no one can dispute its prime location in a hip area of Aix. You can choose to lounge outside and watch passers-by or enjoy your café-au-lait inside, where you'll be transported back in time by the ornate mural and gilt decor.
"No visit to Aix would be complete without stopping by the city's oldest cafe, where Cézanne and Zola convened," said one TripAdvisor user. "But … the menu is expensive and not very memorable."
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