Located in the south of France, Aix-en-Provence is a quintessential Provencal city filled with beautiful architecture, little squares, colorful boutiques, and bustling markets. Aix-en-Provence is immediately charming no matter you only have 1 day to spend or more days if you’re lucky and have enough time. I visited Aix 3 times during my stay in France because one day is just not enough. Aix-en-Provence is also the birthplace and home of famous painter Paul Cézanne, and the entire city contains memories of his life, from his grave to his artwork and the landscapes that inspired them.
No South of France itinerary would be complete without spending some time in Aix-en-Provence. Aix-en Provence should be the first stop to explore South of France. My ideal South of France itinerary would be to start with Provence region and then going down to the coastline of Cote d’Azur, also called French Riviera. Aix-en-Provence makes a good base as it’s centrally located for many of the regions’ key attractions, and it’s easily accessible. It’s also one of the most beautiful cities in Provence, with plenty to see and do while you’re there.
First, let’s start with the logistics
How to get here
1. From Marseille airport, you can take Bus no.40 from the bus station located between terminal 1 and 2. Buy the ticket from the ticket office (Billetterie). It cost 10eur one way or 16eur round trip. Kids under 6 are free. The bus leaves every 30 minutes and the journey takes about 30-40 minutes. It makes the first stop at Aix-en-Provence TGV Station before reaching its final destination: Gare Routiere, 1km from Fontaine de la Rotonde (Aix city center).
2. From Aix-en-Provence TGV station, Navette bus departs every 30 minutes. Tickets for the Navette bus from the Aix TGV station to the Aix city center cost 3.60eur. They can be purchased from the driver when you board. The bus leaves from the lower level outside of the station.
3. From Marseille city you can take bus line 50 from St Charles Station
4. If you are renting a car and driving, park your car in the Parking Garage in Rotonde and explore Aix-en Provence on foot. You park your car in the garage and take the lift up which will take you to the Aix Shopping Area. Walk straight until you reach Fontaine de la Rotonde.
Provence area has a website and apps to see Bus Schedule but it is in French. What you can do is open it with Google chrome and use the translation service.
Aix-en-Provence have 2 train stations:
1. Aix TGV Station
Long-distance rail travelers to and from Aix will almost certainly pass through the TGV station. If you come from or heading to Paris or Cote d’Azur, you will be taking the train from here. Aix TGV Station is situated 18 kilometers from Aix city center. It takes around 15 minutes to get from the station to Aix by bus, and around the same amount of time to get there by taxi. You can buy train ticket online from SNCF Connect website or apps.
2. Aix Center Station (Gare SNCF d’Aix-en-Provence)
Aix Centre Station is at the junction of the avenue Victor Hugo and rue Gustave Desplaces, a short walk from La Rotonde at the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau. The station website (in French only) includes live travel information on train arrivals and departures. One train line passes through the station, from Marseille Saint Charles in the south to either Pertuis or (less frequently) Manosque, Gap and Briançon in the north.
Best Things to Do
You can spend 1 to 2 days exploring Aix-en-Provence and then take day trips to explore other areas in Provence. My suggestion is to start in the morning from Fontaine de la Rotonde. Fontaine de la Rotonde was built from 1840 to 1850. Ten years later, in 1860, Théophile de Tournadre designed this fountain. It is 32 meter wide and 12 meter high and is surrounded by bronze sculptures of twelve lions, sirens, swans, and angels on the backs of dolphins. At the top of the fountain are three sculptures of female figures presenting Justice (towards the Cours Mirabeau), Agriculture (towards Marseille) and the Fine Arts (towards Avignon). They were sculpted by Joseph-Marius Ramus (1805-1888), Hippolyte Ferrat (1822-1882) and Louis-Félix Chabaud (1824-1902).
1. Stroll thru Cours Mirabeau
This tree-lined street is beautiful and appealingly relaxing and showcases some of the best restaurants, cafés, and boutiques in the city. If you come in the morning there is a market along the street. The street will be lined with stalls selling clothing, textiles of all sorts, purses, jewelry and unique Provence goodies and souvenirs.
Otherwise, this pedestrian street is nonetheless the best place for a stroll and for basking in the sun in a local café. There are also several lovely fountains along the street, like the Fontaine du Roi Rene. If you are looking for Longchamp store, it is located in the pedestrian street of Cours Mirabeau.
2. Discover fountains after fountains
Aix is also known as the city with a thousand fountains. The Romans settled here in part due to ready access to natural springs. As the town began to take shape during the Middle Ages, there were hundreds of fountains created for domestic use. Today there are only about 30 left and the remaining fountains are beautifully ornamented and simply for viewing pleasure. It is no longer serving any utilitarian functionality though in summer you will see many children dipped their feet in the fountain lol.
3. Discover the market of Aix-en-Provence
There’s no better place than a market for mingling with the locals, trying local produce, and picking up souvenirs. Open every day of the year, from 8am to 1pm, the daily market in Place Richelme is the place to eat breakfast, in the cobbled square surrounded by picturesque bars and cafés. The markets of Aix-en-Provence offer everything from farm fresh fruit and vegetables to artisan goods. The most fun of all is to wander among the stalls, chat with the shopkeepers, and keep your eyes open for something amazing. Because in these markets, you’ll never know what you might find. At 1 o’clock, the stalls are disbanded, the street cleaners move in, the tables go up, the cafés become operational and the crowds arrive for lunch or afternoon beer. It’s wonderful to watch the square changing, all in the space of about twenty minutes. Don’t miss this iconic spectacle when planning out your Aix-en-Provence sightseeing.
4. Place d’Albertas
The Albertas family, originally from Italy, was one of the most influential families in Aix-en-Provence in the 18th century. The square they created from 1735 to 1741 still charms today. Place d’Albertas, with its Baroque façades and a beautiful fountain, is a show stopper. It is a favorite with both tourists, locals and street musicians.
5. Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur
This unique cathedral took twelve centuries to build and was under construction from the 5th century to the 17th. That’s why when you visit, you’ll notice how it blends architectural styles from Roman to Renaissance and everything in between during your visit to Aix-en-Provence France. Inside, you’ll find beautiful works of art, but the cathedral is still surprisingly simple compared to similar buildings. Make sure that you visit the main nave, where you’ll find artwork by Nicolas Froment, as well as the cloister, bell tower, and Baptistery. The Baptistery was built in the 6th century, and it is the oldest baptistery still working in all of France.
6. Lunch in Place des Cardeurs
The Place des Cardeurs (sometimes called the Forum des Cardeurs) is a place in Aix-en-Provence, located in the center of the city, behind the town hall, on the site of the old Jewish quarter of the Middle Ages. Some of the best restaurants in Aix-en-Provence are here and it is a perfect place to have a break to sit down for lunch from all the walking.
7. Get lost in the old town of Aix-en-Provence
Take a walk through the curving streets, stop for Amarino Gelato as you browse the colorful boutiques. You will find the leading names of fashion and style in the pedestrian streets such as Hermès, Sonia Rykiel, Longchamp,etc and also the trendy brand Zadig et Voltaire, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Sandro, etc are everywhere. Take a break and sit down in one of the cafe and observe the locals. Wander some more and discover another fountain. Turn left down to a quiet cobbled street. It’s the most leisurely way to explore Aix.
8. Granet Museum
The Granet Museum, classified as one of the finest in France, is just off Rue d’Italie, very close to Cours Mirabeau. The museum has collections of works from the 14th to the 20th century, by Rembrandt, Ingres, Cezanne and the “Cezanne à Giacometti” donation. Since it reopened in 2006 it has hosted major international exhibitions: the Cezanne Exhibition in 2006, From Picasso to Cezanne. The museum’s modern art stock was considerably expanded in 2010, with a 15-year loan by the Fondation Jean et Suzanne Planque of the collection of Jean Planque, the Swiss painter and collector who passed away in 1998. This collection is composed of some 300 paintings, drawings and sculptures from the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists: Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas and Redon to major artists of the 20th century such as Bonnard, Rouault, Picasso, Braque, Dufy, Laurens, Léger, Klee, Bissière, De Staël and Dubuffet.
9. Visit Cezanne’s Place
If you are into arts, open the door of Cezanne’s studio and enter the artist’s private world. Discover the house where he began painting, by exploring the grounds and the family property of Jas de Bouffan. Walk in Cezanne’s footsteps and visit the city as he experienced it. A pedestrian route marked by studs stamped with a “C” leads you from the house where he was born to his final resting place in the St Jean cemetery. Discover the landmarks of his early years (the house where he lived as a child, his schools, etc), the places that marked him, the homes of his family and acquaintances, the cafes where he met his friends and other artist.
10. Shop some more
If you need more shopping, walk to the newest shopping district, Les Allées Provençales. You will find chain stores such as H&M, Zara, Nature et Découverte, Fnac and Monoprix. Aix also has a huge choice of bookshops and stationers, art galleries, decoration and souvenir shops (L’Esprit des Lieux, Souleiado, Les Olivades, L’Occitane, Place aux Huiles). Aroma Zone, my favorite essential oil and anything organic also has a store here.
If you have a sweet tooth, visit the renowned patisseries (Weibel, Béchard, Riederer, Philippe Segond), delicatessens (including Jacquèmes) and famous calisson-makers (Parli, Brémond, La Chocolaterie de Puyricard). Having said that my favorite dessert is Madeleines De Christophe. Their madeleines are not be missed! I even brought 3 boxes home on the day I flew out lol. My favorite is the orange madeleines.
And don’t forget the Tourist Office shop “Le Comptoir du Pays d’Aix, which offers a selection of regional specialities and crafts, and many ideas for souvenir gifts.
11. Day trips from Aix-en-Provence
If you have exhausted yourself from all there is to see and do in Aix, there are a number of places to explore within easy reach of the city by car if you are renting a car and driving or take a tour (I put Get your Guide tour for easy reference). Sometimes I book direct with the Tour provider but most of the time I use Get your Guide as their cancellation clause is more flexible.
Marseille City Highlights: You don’t need a car here as you can take bus no 50.
And inside Marseille is best explored without a car
Cassis Town and Cap Canaille: The portside town of Cassis is located around an
hour south of Aix-en-Provence, not too far from Marseille. And you can also see the
Calanques de Cassis, a series of jagged cliffs create natural inlets along the coast
from Marseille. Casis boat ride and wine tour
Villages of the Luberon: Day tour to Luberon Village
Lavender field of Provence in Valensole. If you visit in summer, mid-June to
mid-July is the best time to visit lavender field. Lavender Valensole tour
Sainte-Croix-Du-Verdon and Gorge du Verdon: overlooking Lake Sainte Croix, the
village of the same name benefits from striking views over the expansive teal
colored waters. There is plenty water activity to do in Gorge du Verdon. You can do
a single trip here or combining it with a trip to Lavender field in Valensole. Gorge du Verdon Tour
Factory Outlet Shopping: If you want to do Factory Outlet shopping you can visit mcArthurGlen Provence Factory Outlet. Yes I hear you, Provence has its own Factory Outlet!