A Saturday in Aix-en-Provence-1

A Saturday in Aix-en-Provence

Explore the cultural side of this storied city

Your day starts early in Aix because Saturday is market day. Leave your car at the edge of town, then wend your way through the narrow streets to Place de la Mairie for a cafe breakfast with an extra helping of excellent people watching.

Linger over your croissant and grand crème while you revel in the many different colors of the flower market that fills the square. Don’t pick up your favorite blooms just yet though, first there’s fruits and vegetables to drool over in Place Richelme. You’ll see lavender straight from the fields, and the freshest tomatoes, not to mention the giant pan of Paella that cooks away on one of the stalls in a never-ending flurry of rice.

Market-lavender-aix-en-provence_WPAt the other end of the square, you’ll find all kinds of tempting bric-a-brac, from piles of old photographs to vintage linens and boxes of mismatched silver cutlery. You can spend hours here picking through the treasures, looking for that special souvenir to take home, so why not do just that? The sun is shining, and the only item on your agenda is to absorb the essence of the city.

When your stomach starts to think about lunch, head down to the Cours Mirabeau, Aix-en-Provence’s answer to the Champs Elysées, and the storied Les 2 Garçons. Named after two waiters who clubbed together to buy the restaurant over 150 years ago, you’ll be joining a long list of luminaries who have stopped to eat here, including Winston Churchill, Picasso, and local heroes artist Paul Cézanne and writer Emile Zola. Inside, the decor is classic brasserie with ornate touches—mirrored walls and gilt friezes—but the main action is outside on the shaded terrace. Yes, it’s touristy, but you’ll notice plenty of locals too, and lunching here is a must to get you in the mood for an afternoon exploring the cultural side of the city. Order the oysters or seafood platter, brought in a towering stack that’s as pleasing to the eyes as it is the palate.

Mont-Ste-Victoire-Provence_WPAfter lunch, it’s time to retrieve your car for the short drive up to the Atelier Cézanne—the famous impressionist painter’s studio, preserved as he left it the day he died in October 1906. You can see his paint-stained easels, collection of glass bottles, even his dinner plate with cutlery cast aside. It’s a moving tribute to the artist and a fascinating snapshot of the creative process. Fans of Cézanne’s work will delight in seeing the real life objects behind his many still lifes. Don’t rush away after you’ve finished looking inside; the shaded garden is a wonderful place for a rest and a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

As afternoon turns to evening, something magical happens in Provence. The golden light that draws so many artists here appears like clockwork, making the beauty of the region seem even more spectacular. It’s with this light as the backdrop that you’ll hop back in your car and drive along the south side of Monte Sainte Victoire—Cézanne’s talisman (he painted the mountain more than 60 times)—and catch its rugged slopes turning violet and gold with the sunset.

With your heart and mind now filled with the landscape, find your way back to town through small, charming villages. Dinner is at La Pizza in town, a simple, fresh salad with grilled goat’s cheese followed by a wood-fired pizza, washed down with a glass or two of local rosé. The charming street-side tables along the rue Aude are straight from a movie set.

Once dinner is done it’s time to meander home to your Provençal villa. But before you leave, stop for a delicious ice cream to go at Philippe Faur and walk down the Cours Mirabeau under the moonlight one last time.

Where to stay in Aix-en-Provence