I was surprised at the size of Aix-en-Provence (“Aix” for short – pronounced like the letter). I had done little research on the town before my arrival, and for some reason I had envisioned a sleepy town surrounded by rolling hills and fields of lavender. Instead, I was greeted by a bustling town of approximately 150,000, featuring an array of sidewalk cafes, cobbled shopping streets, graceful fountains, elegant squares and historical churches. A bit like a miniature Paris, tucked in amidst the dramatic landscape of southeastern France. Aix is located about a half hour north of Marseilles and the Côte d’Azur, and is home to several universities, art schools and galleries…which is fitting, as one of its most famous residents was Paul Cezanne.
My long train ride from Venice (with a couple of changes along the way) ended at the Aix TGV Station at around 8 o’clock in the evening. If you travel there, take note that it is about 30 minutes outside of town and a 40€ taxi ride into town. My hotel, the Hotel de Gantes, was perfectly situated right in center of town, on rue Fabrot, a pedestrian street just off of Cours Mirabeau, the primary boulevard that runs east-west through Aix.
I had only one night and the following morning in Aix, so I was even more pressed for time than usual, but I did make it to dinner at an outdoor café in Place de Verdun and the next morning explored as much as I could before it was time to head for the station again. I was very fortunate to have a perfect late-summer morning in which to sightsee, and more fortunate still to be in Aix for its famous Saturday market. The outdoor marketplace is divided into 4 different sections, my favorite of which is known as the “Marché aux Fleurs” in the Place de Mairie. The peak time to visit is apparently in the spring (le printemps), but it was really lovely during my visit as well.
After meandering through the market and stopping for a café au lait, it was time to bid adieu to Aix and hop on another train. This one bound for Biarritz…