Aix-en-Provence: Prepare to Be Charmed!
Updated: Jan 27
Aix-en-Provence is often referred to as “The City of a Thousand Fountains”. The name 'Aix' comes from the Latin word 'aquae' meaning 'water', and the city’s many natural thermal springs were the main reason the Romans settled here. During the Middle Ages, free running water was a sign of prosperity and the hundreds of fountains in Aix were a way for the town to display its wealth to the rest of the region. Today, thirty fountains remain, and as you stroll the streets it feels like they are around every corner. You will see them at intersections, in squares, and tucked away, almost hidden, on quiet cobblestone streets. The largest fountain (pictured above) is called Fountaine de La Rotonde – and is one of the most recognizable sites in Aix.
Aix-en-Provence is very much a university town and is home to just over 143,000 residents. The Aix Marseille University has exchange programs with dozens of American Universities including Vanderbilt, Wellesley, and the University of Wisconsin. Carla went to Vanderbilt and was a student at the University in Aix for a semester. She has always spoken fondly of that time . . . being able to travel around France and the rest of Europe and truly having the time of her life. Our visit to Aix was a homecoming of sorts for her. I had the best tour guide one could hope for as we wandered about this beautiful and charming town, and it was a pleasure just watching Carla rediscover such a cherished part of her past.
If you’re on a mission looking for the quintessential tourist attractions - cathedrals, ancient Roman ruins, museums, or the like - then Aix may not be your best choice. What Aix does offer is the opportunity to experience a city whose entire essence oozes charm and beauty and whose streets feel as magical as any you will ever see. Getting lost as you meander through the town is a true pleasure. The narrow winding streets offer a surprise at every turn with galleries, boutiques, and cafes in abundance.
While Paris has its Champs-Élysées, Aix has its Cours Mirabeau. It’s a wide pedestrian avenue that runs through the center of Aix-en-Provence old town and culminates in the Fountaine de la Rotonde. It is packed with restaurants, clothing stores, chocolatiers, patisseries, and gelato stands. It’s also where they have their lively Christmas market, where we bought many Holiday presents for family back home.
Provence has over 300 days of sunshine a year, and it’s easy to understand how that light was an inspiration to its most well-known citizen - the artist Paul Cezanne, otherwise known as the father of impressionism. He was born in Aix in 1839 and spent his entire life here. He had a studio on the edge of town where he painted every day until his death in 1906. The studio is now open to visitors and is well worth the visit. In fact, we walked there from town and were able to catch glimpses of Mount St. Victoire, which Cezanne painted more than 180 times, along the way. It was quite the uphill hike but very rewarding.
Aix is a foodie paradise, whether you are dining in or going out. The daily market in Place Richelme is always bustling and features tasty local products. Delicatessens, cheese shops, and bakeries are everywhere, and if you like chocolate, wine, and olive oil, Aix will delight you. And that’s just the shopping . . . if you enjoy eating out, the dining scene in Aix features over 700 restaurants.
Aix-en-Provence is a delightful break for those who have been traveling and trying to capture every major site in every city they visit. With Aix, there are no lines to stand in, no advance tickets to scramble for . . . you slow down and enjoy the beauty of the streets, eat delicious food, and relax into the charm that permeates this gorgeous French town. The town itself is a museum.