The name Provence might trigger visions of lavender fields, gentle games of pétanque and café terraces where men drink aniseed liquor and play cards. But the town of Aix, nestled in a valley some 30 kilometres from the city of Marseilles, not only offers up picturesque landscapes; it also oozes glamour.
Bursting with culture, history, wonderful markets, fabulous boutiques and glamorous people — women religiously wear six-inch heels, even when grocery shopping — Aix ticks every box when it comes to reasons for visiting the South of France. No wonder the town attracted cultural stars including author Emile Zola and painter Paul Cézanne, and more recently, iconic French big-screen stars Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot.
No visit to Aix is complete without an up-and-down tour of the Cours Mirabeau, a long sidewalk studded with brasseries, markets, shops and cafés — which also serves as a compass while exploring on foot.
Stop at No. 12, home to the town’s oldest patisserie, Béchard, to indulge in some sweet therapy. Local diamond-shaped marzipans known as Calissons d’Aix are a speciality, but the freshly-baked iced-sugar brioche or glazed fruits will also please your palate.
At No. 49 is laid-back brasserie Le Grillon. Settle down on the heated terrace of this friendly café situated halfway down the hustle and bustle of the Cours and you’ll get a snapshot of true Aix life. From young university students sipping bitter black coffee to the true bourgeois Aixois grazing on their three-course lunches, this is the place to see and be seen.
Stroll down to the end of the Cours to Place de la Rotonde, where the fountain-turned-roundabout marks the original entrance into the town. The fountain is made up of three mesmerizing mermaids, each one representing a different aspect of the town — Justice, Commerce and Agriculture, and Fine Arts.
An entire day should be dedicated to exploring the town’s street markets. Stock up on local products including honey, lavender and fresh fruit on Place de La Madeleine where the local produce market stalls open daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then follow the bursts of colours and smells over to the Palais de Justice, where the flower market merges with the vintage clothes and jewelry stalls situated across the street. Sunflowers in one hand and basket in the other, browse through the heaps of jewels and hand-woven silk pashminas.
Last but not least, unwind after your exhausting trek of all the markets, bars and restaurants by treating yourself to a visit to Aix’s new Spa, Thermes Sextius (thermes-sextius.com), built above a Roman thermae dating back to 122 BC. Spring water is sourced from the Sainte Victoire Mountain and is naturally 36 C and enriched in calcium and magnesium. Choose between a Zen or hydrotherapy massage, depending on your mood.