Friday, August 12, 2016

France: 1 day in Aix-en-Provence

       Aix-en-Provence is a low-key destination in Southeast France, famous for its marvelous architecture, heritage, culture, intellectual and art. What’s more, it is the hometown of the world-renowned 19th-century post-impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne, and the nearest town from Chateau of Vauvenargues which is the final resting place of Picasso. It definitely makes a perfect getaway for those who are into l'art de vivre (the art of living)!

       With the help of Aix-en-Provence Tourist Office, here is how I spent 1 day discovering the beauty of this high-IQ little college town. 

1. Following the footsteps of Cézanne

       The pedestrian route marked with the letter “C” leads you from spot to spot (all 32 points), telling the whole story in chronological order: from the birth to the death of the “Father of Modern Painting”, Paul Cezanne. The trail begins from the statue of Cezzane, not far away from the tourism office. 
       During my stay, I had a chance to visit Atelier Cézanne, located at the hilly side outside of the old town, where he created a majority of his famous masterpieces, for example, Les Grandes Baigneuses (The Large Bathers). 
       If you are walking here from the city center, note that you will be taking the exact path like Cezanne as he walked from his house to his studio every day. The room was preserved as what it was like during the painter's lifetime, to give visitors an intimate glimpse into his work as well as personal life. A lot of artifacts are on display, including a ladder, an easel, skulls, and a lot more. A coffee pot at a corner is even said to be the inspiration for his painting called "La Femme à la Cafétière" (The Woman with the Coffee Pot). Cezanne's clothes, tools, and other items added to the personal touch of the place. 
       After visiting the studio, be sure to wander around in the garden surrounding it. 
Address: 9 Avenue Paul Cézanne Aix en Provence, France 
Entrance fees: €5 ($7 USD)
1. Pick up a free Cézanne mini-guide at the Tourist Office
2. Guided tours are available from April to October “In the Steps of Cézanne”.

2. Sauntering on Cours Mirabeau

       This lovely boulevard lined with café terraces and towering trees that formed some sort of canopy, was once a special street for horse-drawn carriages
       Today, it is the most popular pedestrian street in the town, hence, the perfect place to come for an evening stroll, people watching, a cup of morning coffee, lunch or after-work gathering. 
       So, slow down your pace and watch the world pass you by. Other than that, be sure to pop in for a drink at Les Deux Garçons, Paul Cezanne's favorite (open-air) café in Aix where he regularly met up with his friends. 
There are 3 fountains located in Cours Mirabeau, one of them is the largest fountain in Aix. 

3. Shopping for Calissons

       The legend of Calissons made me so determined to try this specialty of Aix-en-Provence. According to legend, the origin of calisson can be dated back to 1454 as it was created to please an unhappy princess. It managed to send a smile to the princess's face, which made me wonder how magical can a marzipan+almond based candy be. I was never a fan of marzipan or candied fruits but calisson ended up to be the only exception. 
       I figured that the calisson must be a big deal in Aix, when I was told that it receives a blessing annually during the first Sunday of September in the Church of Saint John of Malta.
You can buy calissons from the Tourist Office’s shop:" Comptoir du Pays d’Aix " or Calisson de Roy René.

4. Visiting an Art Museum. 

       Just a stone throw away from Cours Mirabeau, lies The Granet Museum, one of the finest Museum in France. It is set in the old Priory of Saint-Jean (a Knight) de Malta, just off Rue d’Italie. Since 1838, it houses over 12,000 masterpieces from the 14th to the 20th century by various artists ranging from Rembrandt, Cézanne, Monet, Van Gogh to Picasso, Braque, and Dufy. 
       You might be surprised that the curator of the museum, Pontier was against Cézanne's artwork. "Never in my lifetime will his works enter here," was his orders back in 1896. 
       The Granet XX annex located in the Chapel of the Pénitents-Blancs on Place Jean-Boyeris is also part of the Granet Museum. It is smaller than the main museum but not less interesting. 

5. Appreciating the Historic City Center

       After Paris and Versailles, Aix-en-Provence houses the third-largest collection of Baroque architecture in France. Strolling through the city center, it was clear to me that despite Aix-en-Provence being a bustling university town, it never loses its classical touch. 
       The historic quarter has so much to offer, we enjoyed going through narrow alleys from square to square, passing by numerous eye-catching water fountains (Aix is called the "Town of 100 Fountains" for a valid reason!), admiring the architecture as we go.  

6. Joining the Morning Market Craze.

       If you happen to arrive on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday (largest market) morning, the open-air Le Grand Marché that filled up the city squares is the perfect starting point to discover the region’s specialties, especially the traditional sun-drenched cuisine. Other than that, pick up some fresh vegetables, fruits, flowers, purchase some fine garments,jewelry, antiques and other artisan goods. You'll definitely find something that suits everyone.
       Even if you are not a fan of farmer's market, come here to see the city comes to life, and how the Aixoises spend their early morning. 

7. Savoring French Cuisine and Pastries

       Although we can probably do an individual blog post listing Provençal Specialties, if you only have time for one meal, I highly suggest trying La ratatouille, a regional favorite made famous by a Pixar animated movie bearing the same name. (Well, at least that was how I got to know it). It is a vegetarian dish made up of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and herbs. 
       We also found some pretty enticing bakeries on the way back to our hotel and sampled some Lavender flavored cookies. 
       Other than that, look for a good open air cafe and sip on an Aixpresso. If you are looking for an authentic taste of Provence, try Le Pastis too. 
       For budget eats, a university student recommended Pizza Capri, which we didn't try due to time constraint. We were also told that "Chez Charlotte" on rue des Bernardines is a very good restaurant frequented by locals. We eventually decided to have dinner at Le Môme. Unfortunately, tables were all booked up for the day. So if you are thinking of dining there, reserve ahead! 

8. Marveling at 18th century “Hotels Particuliers”

       Hôtel Particulier is a free-standing property that is located between an entrance court and a cour at the front, and a garden behind. While hôtels particulars can also be found in other cities, such as Paris, Avignon, Toulouse and much more, if you are fascinated by French architecture, do make time to visit the listed Hotel Particuliers in the city: 

  • Hôtel d'Arbaud-Jouques
  • Hôtel de Boisgelin
  • Hôtel Boyer de Fonscolombe
  • Hôtel de Caumont
  • Hôtel de Forbin
  • Hôtel de Gantès
  • Hôtel de Grimaldi-Régusse
  • Hôtel du Poët
  • Hôtel Silvy
  • Hôtel de Simiane
  • Hôtel de Valbelle
  • Hôtel de Villeneuve d'Ansouis

9. Visiting The Churches

Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d’Aix-en-Provence is hands down the most interesting cathedrals I've come across in France. Firstly, it is a very old building raised in the 5th century, however, it's construction only ended in the 18th century. For that reason, the architecture style is influenced by a mixture of Gothic and Neo-gothic's (Roman, Baroque, Merovingian) element. The interior design is rather simple if compared to other famous churches in the country, and it was tastefully ornated with timeless artworks. Entrance to this Cathedrale is free. 

Read more: Daytrips from Aix-en-Provence
For other destinations in Provence, check the official website of Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur tourism

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Thank You for Reading! 
My trip to Aix was supported by Aix-en-Provence tourist office and Bouches-du-Rhône tourism board. My program were arranged by Vaucluse en Provence and Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur Tourism Board. 
However, all opinions are as always, my own.

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