|Cours Mirabeau - the street around which Aixs
different areas are situated - is the citys main thoroughfare. The left
side of the Cours leads to the Palais de Justice (Law courts) area, which
carries onto the Town Hall area and Aixs old town before coming to the
citys Sextius district. On the Cours' right side, Mazarin is the first
area you come to and thereafter the area of Carnot, which is sandwiched
between Sextius to the north and the university district to the south. The
immediate outskirts of the city are divided up geographically and are
described here as Aix north, south, west and east.
A walk along Cours Mirabeau (laid out in 1651), with its many fountains and abundance of greenery, is an essential part of a visit to Aix. In the depths of winter, hot water flows from the Moussue fountain in the middle of the Cours, enveloping the immediate surroundings in a shroud of mist. At the far end of the Cours, Place de la Rotonde is home to the fountain of the same name - an imposing cast-iron basin topped by cherubs from whose lips water continuously trickles. Both sides of the Cours are lined with luxury boutiques (including the jewellers Cartier), as well as smart brasseries modelling themselves on the Deux Garçons café-brasserie and its famous terrace, now a listed building. Art lovers are catered for with the nearby Galerie d'art du Conseil Général (county council art gallery), which favours works by regional artists, and not far from here, Rue Espariat is where the Muséum d'histoire naturelle (natural history museum) is situated, inside the magnificent Hôtel Boyer d'Eguilles.
Palais de Justice
The Palais de Justice (Law courts) area on the right side of the Cours Mirabeau took shape in 1590 and began to look much as it does today around 1790. Previously the site of royal gardens, these were transformed during a spate of town planning orchestrated by rich city worthies and merchants. After renovation, the former prison next to the current Palais de Justice, became Aix-en-Provences Cour d'appel (Court of Appeal), second only to Paris' Court of Appeal in terms of importance. However whats really worth seeing here happens every Saturday morning! This is when the square - taken up on the north side by the huge flight of steps leading up to the Palais de Justice and on the south side by the église de la Madeleine (Madeleine church) - is transformed into a huge open-air antiques market: a big favourite with the locals and an integral part of Aix life. The Verduns terrace is the ideal vantage point from which to watch strollers idling by, and in the same square, the Makaire bookshop - an Aix institution! - is close by for you to pop into.
The oldest part of the city is situated on the western boundary of the
Palais de Justice area. Tucked away in a seventeenth-century town house is
the Musée du Vieil Aix, a museum that captures the very essence of Aixs
past and a treasure trove of information on local tradition and customs.
Aixs old town
This part of the city is the continuation of the Town Hall area.
Situated around Boulevard Jean-Jaurès - the street marking the
boundary between this area and the old part of Aix - Sextius is situated
on the site of the old medieval town. Excavations have revealed old Roman
baths here, on top of which the Aquabella hotel complex (offering visitors
thalassotherapy treatment in luxury surroundings) now stands. Graced with
a magnificent formal garden, the Pavillon Vendôme (built in 1655),
remains Aix locals' favourite place for a stroll.
Named after the seventeenth-century archbishop who designed it, the Mazarin area on the left side of Cours Mirabeau is filled with town houses. Although the area was in the past inhabited exclusively by members of Parliament and the upper middle classes, today it has become a favourite location for haute couture fashion houses such as Inès de la Fressange, Agnès B and Laura Ashley. In the heart of Mazarin, Place des Quatre-Dauphins is home to the fountain from which the square gets its name: an elegant basin surmounted by dolphins in mid-leap. The Cardinal and the Quatre-Dauphins are just two of the many hotels here, in which you're guaranteed a pleasant stay. Close by, the Musée Arbaud, home to one of the biggest Provençal pottery collections, is also worth a visit.
Carnots Cours St-Louis runs alongside the citys outer ring road on the edge of the Mazarin area. Situated in Cours St-Louis, the Théâtre de la Fonderie is a showcase for talented local actors, while not far from here, the Fontaine d'Argent is more geared towards stand-up comedy and humour. Provences oldest Gothic building, the St-Jean-de-Malte church, built in the 13th century, is also here; its neighbour, the former Palais de Malte, is today the Musée Granet, which exhibits important archaeological and art collections.
Avenue Robert-Schuman, situated in the south part of the Carnot area, is the areas main road and a large student population is spread over the various university campuses here. The areas Théâtre Antoine Vitez is well known for its original productions.
The citys south side contains the Aix-les-Milles business enterprise zone, shopping complexes such as Carrefour, and a range of leisure activities. Get your skates on for a visit to the Mégaglace ice rink or if you're into rock climbing, the Grimper sports association is the place to head for. Meanwhile the Cité du Livre (which you pass when coming here on your way out of Aix-en-Provence) is an attractively laid out complex filled with row upon row of books and audiovisual material.
The Cours des Alpes, situated on the northern edge of the city, is the first point of contact with the surrounding countryside. Painter Paul Cézanne fell in love with its beauty, building a house here, (today the Atelier Cézanne museum), which allowed him to paint the northern slopes of Mount Saint-Victoire to his hearts content. A visit to the citys inner suburbs invariably includes a tour of its vineyards, such as Château Revelette in Jouques or gives you the opportunity of learning more about the art of cement tile making - still made the traditional way - at the Carocim factory situated in the nearby town of Puyricard.
Fans of motor sports and the great outdoors are catered for by shops located in the citys western suburbs (where businesses dealing in these activities tend to gravitate) such as Crocodil Motor, Moto Hall and Cycles Naddéo. Heading for Saint-Cannat, the route des vins or wine trail attracts connoisseurs and tourists alike, and a visit to vineyards such as Château de Beaupré or Château-Bas more often than not includes an enjoyable wine-tasting session! Also here is the Fondation Vasarely (named after its illustrious creator Victor Vasarely, the visionary painter of Hungarian origin), which has a permanent exhibition of his works.
Mount Saint-Victoire looms on the horizon to the east of Aix. Travelling through local villages like Le Tholonet or Beaurecueil on your way there not only takes you through sublime scenery but also provides the ideal opportunity for stopping off for a delicious meal on the way in gourmet restaurants such as the Relais Ste-Victoire or the Mas de la Bertrande. Experiencing for yourself the fragrant pathways and wild moorland that were so dear to Cézanne remains an essential part of any visit to Aix.