Thinking of Southern France, Nice and Cannes are the popular destinations but I did not go to either of them for my first exploration of this idyllic region. Instead, I chose the less well-known cities such as Marseille, Béziers, Arles, and Aix-en-Provence (Aix). Among them, I would like to come back to Aix the most because of many reasons but the true one is… the last one in this list.
1. Aix is the birthplace of Cézanne and his lifetime inspiration.
Although I am not a huge fan of Paul Cézanne, a 19th-century Post-Impressionist painter, my trip to his studio Atelier de Cezanne made me admire him deeply. I could feel Cézanne’s passion for nature and lighting effects through the way he built his studio – a room full of natural lighting and looking out to a beautiful garden. He saw beauty in ordinary things such as fruit and furniture. He also obsessed with the landscapes of his hometown and of the extraordinary mountain Mont Sainte-Victoire. Despite the fact that his father encouraged him to be a banker, he chose to be a painter, knowing he could be broke.
Still not impressed? His painting The Card Players is one of the most expensive paintings ever, sold for $263.1 million in 2011. (The models for this painting were actually his workers.)
2. Aix is the most graceful and probably the most walkable city in Provence.
From Atelier de Cezanne, it is only a 15 to 20-min walk to the city center of Aix, where there is an elegant walking path called Cours Mirabeau. According to Lovely Planet, Cours Mirabeau encapsulates the grace of Aix with its Renaissance mansions along the path.
Aix is so small I could walk around the whole city in just one day. I love small cities because they make me feel calm, and I can stroll around there without getting lost.
3. Organic stores in Aix’s historic centre are hard to resist.
Aix is truly a heaven for (window) shopping natural and artisanal products such as soaps, cosmetic products, and… food like pate, jam, and cakes! This is characteristic of the region Provence in general but the design of the stores in Aix in particular has an authentic feel to it. The rustic wooden interior makes them feel cozy and down-to-earth.
4. The best crêpes in town are underground.
Highly recommended by my friends, Crêpes à Gogo is one of the best crêpe places in Aix. In one rainy afternoon, I ventured into an underground passageway. In the middle of this passageway, there were two ladies making fresh crêpe from scratch. I tried their new recipe, salted caramel crêpe, and it was delicious!
5. Aix is not just about Cézanne, but it is also about Granet.
And who is Granet? François Marius Granet is an early-19th-century painter born in Aix. You can learn all about Granet in an art museum named after him, Museé Granet. Granet’s paintings often depict human figures in a marvelous architectural setting.
6. Art museums in Aix are great attractions, and there is always something for everyone.
From Cézanne and Granet to Picasso and contemporary art, museums in Aix make sure every type of art lovers is happy. On the ground floor of Museé Granet, there is a space dedicated to temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists.
7. You can find Picasso’s paintings in a chapel.
The modern art collection at Museé Granet has been extended, and a large part of it is now housed in a former chapel. Among about 300 artworks, there are works by renowned artists such as Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Klee. It was probably the first time I saw modern art in a religious setting, and it felt quite strange.
8. Aix is decorated with sophisticated doors.
9. Book In Bar is a hidden gem which is both a tea room and a bookstore.
The day before leaving Aix, I found Book In Bar by chance. Cozy and full of books, it is a haven for bookworm and tea lovers. Aix is also a university city so Book in Bar must be popular among local students. Sipping a cup of fragrant Tibet tea and browsing English bookshelves, I immediately thought of my days as a student in England.
10. Last but not least, Aix is a sweet city.
The number of patisseries (the French word for bakeries) in this small city is unbelievable. Every 5-min walk I took there was a little bakery, and I did not expect this at all. I myself is a French pastry addict so you can tell that I was super content. My friend told me I should have tried cakes from Pâtisserie Weibel but I did not have a chance to do this. That is why I must come back to Aix one day.
Are you not a big fan of desserts? No problem, you can always try the artisanal bread in boulangerie. The smell of freshly baked bread in France is so divine that I have not yet experienced it anywhere else (except in the my kitchen once in a looooong while). In Aix, I highly recommend trying Banon bread from Lavarenne.
Have you been to Aix-en-Provence? Is there anything you would like to add to this list? Are you an art lover? Do you have a sweet tooth? Do you enjoy walking and exploring small cities? If yes, then you should not miss Aix-en-Provence while in Southern France. If you want to do all the things that I did, I recommend staying there for at least 2 full days.