It’s not half bad to be in Aix-en-Provence at any age, but to be a student in this ancient university town must be a wonderful experience.
We would hope it is a fairly egalitarian and diverse academic community, but judging by the American students we saw, along with their parents, it might have become more of an extended shopping venture for those from the US. This town is an interesting combination of old architecture and the brands-of-the-moment. We never saw anything like a hardware store, but the opportunities in Aix for cosmetic application are numerous, along with any number of clothing distractions.
We began our stroll through Aix at la Rotonde, the hub of modern Aix, site of a monumental fountain from 1860 beneath three giant statues representing art, justice and agriculture. Directly across from it are the very modern tourist bureau and the iconic store of the Apple. Guess it all works together.
Away from the retail frenzy, off the main avenue, the Cours Mirabeau, there are quiet and magical streets to explore in the lovely quartier Mazarin, built in the late 17th century for the gentry of the day. Some fountains – in this city of fountains – remain from Roman times.
Along the Cour Mirabeau is the Deux Garçons, the most famous brasserie in Aix. Built in 1792, it has been frequented by Cézanne, Zola and Hemingway. We couldn’t get to close to photograph it as the guidebooks warn that its Mafia owners do not care for that. Message received.
We saw two churches of special note: the Cathedral and the 13th-century church of Saint-Jean-de-Malte, which contains valuable pictures and a recently restored organ.
The Cathedral was spectacular. Built on the site of a former Roman forum and an adjacent basilica, it contains a mixture of all styles from the 5th to the 17th century, including a medieval cloister, a gothic-style portal,16th-century tapestries, a 15th-century triptych, as well as a 4th-century Merovingian baptistery, its Renaissance dome supported by original Roman columns. Stunning.
Nice things to eat in Aix, we found. We started at a famous bakery, Bechard, where we just had to sample the pastries. Lunch was yummy and leisurely in a square just around the corner from the law institute where Cézanne studied. We assume he ate in a predecessor cafe often.
All in all, a lovely city, with youth and charm all around. We intend to return to pursue the trail of Monsieur Cézanne in the near future.