Having been a Francophile for as long as I can remember, when I retired in 2019 I promised myself that I'd book a trip to France at least once each year. So far I've been able to keep that promise except for 2020 when the world shut down due to Covid-19. Paris happily takes most of my time while I'm in France, but recently my cousin Kelly and I had the good fortune of spending four days in Aix-en-Provence around Easter. Two days were devoted to driving around the beautiful area of Provence just north of Aix and two were in Aix itself. As you can see, the weather was picture-perfect to explore this beautiful city.
A university town with a population of about 145,000, Aix is big enough to be lively, but small enough to easily get around in two days. Aix was founded in 123 BC by the Romans and its "vieille ville" (old town) is magnificent. Meander through the narrow ancient lanes and you'll almost forget that you're in the 21st Century.
The Cours Mirabeau which dates from the mid-17th century is the main pedestrian street. It runs from the iconic Fontaine de la Rotonde at its western end to the Fontaine du Roi René at its eastern end.
Restaurants and shops line both sides of the street and there's a large market every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning.
The Cours Mirabeau on a market day.
Food and Flower Markets
Aix is famous for its markets. We loved the food market at Place des Prêcheurs. This square was the center of social life in Aix for many years before the Cours Mirabeau was established. It was the site of public executions in the 1600's but now serves as a delightful shopping experience for foodies from all over the world.
The square is graced by the beautiful Eglise de la Madeleine and in front of it, the Fontaine des Prêcheurs which was built in 1758.
Locals and tourists enjoying market day at Place des Prêcheurs.
The flower market at Place de l'Hotel de Ville (City Hall) was another favorite of ours.
Here is Kelly choosing an arrangement for our hosts.
The square at L'Hotel de Ville was my favorite. Busy throughout the day, it was a fun spot to have lunch, a late afternoon apéro or just sit and watch the world go by.
It was hard to take my eyes off the buildings surrounding the square. I loved the subtle colors.
The City Hall was established in 1741 and although we didn't go in, it's open to the public.
The carved lion's head on the door is magnificent.
The clock tower was built in 1510 and the astronomical clock was added in 1661. It's decorated with four wooden statues which represent the seasons of the year. The ornate wrought iron structure surrounding the bell protects it and prevents it from ringing randomly during the strong mistral, the winds that Provence is known for.
The Halle aux Grains (Grain Exchange) occupies the southern side of the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville. It was built in the early 18th century at a time when the tax on grain was a major source of revenue for the area. Jean-Pancrace Chastel, a French sculptor, created the beautiful carving at the top of the building. It represents the fertility of the region from two rivers, the Rhône and the Durance. The oar held by Saturn, the god of agriculture, on the left symbolizes the Rhône and the goddess Sybille next to him symbolizes the Durance with her dangling leg representing the river's flooding. The food next to her is symbolic of the riches of the area made possible by the fertile soil. The building now houses a post office.
Walk a few minutes north of Place de l'Hôtel de Ville and you come across Aix's cathedral. Originally built on the site of a Roman forum in the first century, a new church was built on the site in the beginning of the 12th century. Like many other churches in France, it has been rebuilt and renovated many times since, resulting in its Romanesque, Gothic and Neo-Gothic architectural elements. It's designated as a "monument historique" and definitely worth a visit when you're in Aix.
The lovely organ was built in 1745.
The Baptistry with its Corinthian columns is one of the oldest in France, dating to the beginning of the 6th century.
Some more of the interior...
Notice the faint colors above the portal, reminiscent of the bright colors used during the Gothic era.
This is the lovely Place d'Albertas in the Vieille Ville.
In Paris I'm fascinated by doors and love taking photos of them, and it was no different in Aix.
Some more miscellaneous shots of this lovely city and architecture.
I loved this sign which says, "I'll drink milk the day cows eat grapes".
➜ Top Tips
If you only have two days in Aix, you can see a lot, but having even more time is better!
Be sure to plan your visit for market days if possible.
Stay in the old part of the city.
There's no need to rent a car if you don't plan to go outside of Aix. However if you do want to rent one, the Sixt rental office is in the center of town and gave us excellent customer experience.
There is a tourism office in the center of town which has a lot of information about the city, the area and day trips.