Aix epitomises the true flavour of Provence, with its boulevards framed by plane trees casting dappled shade on the pavements and terraces of the cafés and brasseries where locals, students and tourists while away the time, sipping pastis and soaking up the ambience and atmosphere for which Aix is known and loved. Most famous of the Boulevards, the Cours Mirabeau, is ornamented by its varied fountains, their splashing water, a cooling sound on a scorching summer’s day.
The market place is a ‘must see’ experience. The brightest of colours and wonderful aromas awaken the senses. The flower market, pot pourri and soaps, fruits and vegetables combine to create an artist's palate that will absorb and entrance you. Garlic and herbs abound and another temptation are the beautiful dried flower arrangements for which Provence is famous, as well as the profusion of lavender and the brightly coloured provencale fabrics, perfect for a tablecloth at home to remind you of the sunshine of this colourful part of France.
Aix is noted for its elegant architecture with a plethora of Hôtels Particuliers and cool fountains. The history of the Place d’Albertas is indicative of how important these buildings were to those who created them. A wealthy man in the 17th Century, Rainaud d’Albertas, had an imposing mansion built for him by an architect named Vallon. As it was about to be finished, its patron realised that the buildings surrounding it hemmed it in and it would not be seen and admired. Without hesitation, he bought and flattened the offending buildings and in the process created the square that still stands to this day. Also noteworthy are the Augustin’s bell tower and the façade of the Vendôme Pavilion built in the 17th century for the Duke of Vendôme which boasts two splendid statues by Rambot.
Among the many delicious regional products are Calissons d’Aix, mouth-watering oval marzipan sweets, covered in sugar and the wines of Côteaux d’Aix. For the culturally inclined, the Cité du Livre is an enormous library bursting with rare books and videos, whilst the Granet Museum has eight of Cézanne’s paintings amongst its many treasures, and one can also visit the studio of Cézanne. Gilded studs set in the road surface of Aix lead you through the streets to the landmarks in the life of this famous painter who was also a friend of Emile Zola. There are even signposts to the landscapes he brought to life so vividly. Five routes to lead you to the main points in the countryside surrounding Aix, are indicated by a ‘self portrait of Cézanne in a bowler hat’.
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Copyright text : Sarah Francis
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