10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Aix-en-Provence
A slow-paced lifestyle and sultry Provençal charm make Aix-en-Provence an appealing tourist destination. Bathed in the sunshine of its wonderful climate, the beauty of Aix-en-Provence is visible everywhere - especially in its lively streets and squares. In summer, languid days are easily spent strolling the shady boulevards. The balmy evenings are perfect for sitting at outdoor terraces and cafés.
Aix-en-Provence has an elegance that reflects its noble heritage. Known as the "City of Counts" because the Counts of Provence once lived here, Aix-en-Provence has several impressive old aristocratic palaces. There are also hundreds of fountains; Aix-en-Provence is called the "City of a Thousand Fountains." The city boasts two interesting historic areas: Vieil Aix and the Mazarin quarter divided by the beautiful avenue Cours Mirabeau. Other cultural attractions include the world-class Garnet Museum, Cézanne's art studio, and a trail of sites that Cézanne frequented.
1 Vieil Aix (Old Town)
One of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting Aix-en-Provence is wandering the charming streets and squares of Vieil Aix. At the center of the Old Town is the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville. Visitors may begin a tour at this square to admire the 17th-century town hall building with its beautiful Italian-style façade and ornately carved wooden doors. Another monument on the square is the 16th-century Tour de l'Horloge, the old city belfry with an astronomical clock from 1661. Like most squares of Aix-en-Provence, the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville is adorned with a monumental fountain. The square is also where the colorful flower market is held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings. A walking tour may continue along the Old Town's peaceful streets and quaint cobblestone lanes to the Place d'Albertas. This 18th-century square has a special Old World charm. Surrounded by elegant Baroque and Rococo buildings, the square was completed in 1745 for the Marquis d'Albertas and designed in the style of royal squares in Paris. The square features a simple fountain that dates from 1862. On the south side of the square stands the Halle aux Grains (former grain market now the post office) with a magnificent gable that was built in 1759-61 and embellished with sculptures by Jean Pancrace Chastel.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Aix-en-Provence
2 Cours Mirabeau
A top tourist attraction and one of the liveliest streets in the city, the Cours Mirabeau is a beautiful avenue shaded by giant plane trees and lined with cafés, restaurants, and boutiques. This bustling promenade is the perfect place for a stroll or to enjoy an alfresco lunch or coffee stop at an outdoor terrace. Many locals meet here after work to bask in the late-afternoon sunshine and relax in the early evening. One recommended establishment is the celebrated Brasserie Les Deux Garçons, located at 53 Cours Mirabeau. Since 1792, this brasserie has offered exceptional classic French cuisine. With its sophisticated ambience and polished wait staff, the Brasserie Les Deux Garçons has served famous patrons including Cézanne, Picasso, Piaf, and Camus.
Originally laid out in 1651 and once used as a road for horse-drawn carriages, the Cours Mirabeau links the Old Town with the Mazarin district. The elegant 17th and 18th-century mansions along the Cours Mirabeau give this street a special beauty. Some of the most impressive buildings include the Hôtel de Forbin (number 20) built in 1656 and the Hôtel de Maurel de Pontèves (number 38) built from 1647-1650. In keeping with Aix-en-Provence's fondness for fountains, three beautiful fountains grace the Cours Mirabeau. The center one, the "Fontaine Chaude," is fed with warm spring water. The fountain at the end of the Cours Mirabeau in the Place du Général de Gaulle, the Fontaine de la Rotonde, is a monumental fountain featuring a statue of the Three Graces, bronze lions, and multiple tiers of waterworks. At the east end of the Cours Mirabeau stands the 19th-century Fontaine du Roi René, the work of David d'Angers, and the Chapelle des Oblats, which is part of the Carmelite Monastery designed by a pupil of Puget and restored about 1700.
3 Quartier Mazarin
One of the most charming areas of Aix-en-Provence's historic center is the Quartier Mazarin. The neighborhood was built in 1646-1653 at the suggestion of Michel Mazarin, the archbishop of Aix and brother of the famous cardinal and politician. The development of this quarter required the demolition of part of the town walls to create the Cours Mirabeau. The quarter follows the line of the Old Town Walls, along the Boulevard Carnot and Boulevard du Roi René. The quarter's rectangular shape is characteristic of 17th-century town planning. At the center of the Mazarin district is the Place des Quatre Dauphins with the famous Fountain des Quatre-Dauphins, created in 1667. This charming fountain features whimsically styled sculptures of four dolphins. The square houses several private mansions, including Hôtel de Boisgelin with a fine coach yard decorated with monumental friezes.
4 Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur
Located north of the Old Town, the Saint-Savior Cathedral is an ornate display of various architectural styles. The Cathedral was built in stages from the 12th to 17th century and dedicated in 1534. The original Gothic entrance featured beautiful walnut doors carved from 1508 and 1510 by Jean Guiramand with decorative motifs influenced by late Gothic to Early Renaissance designs. These doors are now held behind protective shutters and are shown at the request of a sacristan. Upon entering the newer Romanesque doorway, visitors are awed by the serene beauty of the Early Christian Baptistery, dating from the 6th century, with its pleasing round shape and classical columns. On the right of the main nave is the famous triptych "Mary in the Burning Thorn Bush" painted by Nicolas Froment from 1435 to 1484. Further exploration through the left wing leads to a portrayal of "Good King René" created from 1434 to 1480. In the nave and south aisle are exceptional 6th-century Flemish tapestries representing the Passion and the story of the Virgin, that include the likenesses of English courtesans. Behind the High Altar lies the Chapelle de Saint-Mitre, dedicated to the patron of the town. The Romanesque cloister, adjoining the south wall of the Cathedral, is also worth visiting to experience a sense of tranquility.
Address: 34 Place des Martyrs-de-la-Résistance, Aix-en-Provence
5 Musée Granet
Situated in the former Palace of Malta just off Rue d'Italie near the Cours Mirabeau, the Granet Museum is considered one of the finest art museums of its kind in France. The museum houses an extensive collection of more than 300 works from the 14th to the 20th century, including pieces by Rembrandt, Ingres, and Cézanne. There are also Impressionists paintings by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, and Redon as well as Post Impressionist paintings by Bonnard, Rouault, Picasso, Braque, and Dubuffet. In addition, the Granet Museum hosts major international exhibitions.
Address: Place Saint-Jean de Malte, Aix-en-Provence
6 Musée des Tapisseries
Housed in the Ancien Evéché (state apartments of the former Archbishop's Palace) near the Cathedral, this museum displays a rich collection of tapestries from the 17th and 18th centuries as well as contemporary textile art. The museum's collection features tapestries from Beauvais in Picardy dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, which include scenes from "Don Quixote de la Mancha" by Cervantes.
Address: Palais de l'Archevêché, 28 Place des Martyrs-de-la-Résistance, Aix-en-Provence
7 Atelier Cézanne
Admirers of Paul Cézanne will enjoy a visit to his atelier, to get a sense of his work space and see where his creativity took shape. A visit opens the door to Cézanne's private world and illuminates his artistic genius. The artist worked at this studio with great intensity throughout the year. On sunny days, he painted outdoors at the scene. On rainy days, Cézanne would stay inside his atelier and paint ordinary objects for still life paintings: bottles, pottery, vases, flowers, and fruit. Many of Cézanne's renowned works were painted in this studio.
Visitors can also walk in Cézanne's footsteps through the city of Aix-en-Provence on the Cézanne Trail, beginning with the house where the artist was born. The city of Aix-en-Provence has indicated the most important Cézanne locations with a trail of studs (nails shaped like the initial "C"), allowing visitors to see the places once frequented by Cézanne and to appreciate how he experienced the world. The Atelier Cézanne offers a brochure listing the Cézanne Trail sites.
Address: 9 Avenue Paul Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence
8 Fondation Vasarély
Fondation Vasarély was created in 1976, and the building itself is a stunning work of modern art, fitting of the pieces displayed inside. In this unconventional building, visitors can see 42 huge wall-paintings, "integrations murales," and 800 studies by the Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely who was part of the Abstract Constructivist school of painting. The foundation also hosts exhibitions throughout the year. The Vasarély Foundation is located outside of the historic center on the Avenue Marcel Pagnol in the Jas de Bouffan district of Aix-en-Provence.
Address: 1 Avenue Marcel Pagnol, Aix-en-Provence
9 Pavillon de Vendôme
Surrounded by French-style gardens not far from the city's historic center, this elegant 18th-century residence was built for Louis de Mercoeur, the Duke of Vendôme. The pavilion is in one of the loveliest "follies" (pleasure houses) from the 17th century. A place of peace and beauty, the Pavillon de Vendôme reflects the splendor of a bygone era. The pavillion contains everyday objects, paintings, and furniture from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The decorations allow visitors to imagine the lives of the people who once lived there. Since 1990, the Pavillon de Vendôme has also shown exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.
Address: 13 Rue de la Molle and 32 Rue Célony, Aix-en-Provence
10 Terrain des Peintres (Painters' Park)
Outside of the historic city center, about a ten-minute walk from the Atelier Cézanne, this beautiful hillside site was popular among Impressionist painters including Cézanne. Now a public park, the Terrain des Peintres exemplifies the characteristic terrain of the Provençal landscape with an exceptional view of the Mont Sainte-Victoire and a contrast of colors so typical of the countryside. Cézanne would set up his easel here on the Chemin de la Marguerite, where he would paint the Sainte-Victoire Mountain and surrounding landscape. In many of Cézanne's paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, it is easy to recognize the pathways, shrubs, and red-roofed houses that are still visible today. The Terrain des Peintres is a wonderful place to take a leisurely walk and to soak up the inspiration of Impressionist artists.
Address: Avenue Paul Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence
Day Trips from Aix-en-Provence
A symbol of Provence and the major landmark of the Aix Region, the Sainte-Victoire Mountain is considered Cézanne's muse. The mountain reaches an impressive altitude of 1,011 meters, which allows it to dominate the surrounding scenery. The area has pleasant paths that are perfect for relaxing nature walks and leisurely rambles. Along the way, there are several sites of religious heritage: the Sainte-Victoire Prior, built in the 17th century, the Saint-Ser Hermitage, a tiny chapel in a cave (to preserve the memory of a 5th-century hermit who sought refuge in this place), and the Cross of Provence, perched on the western tip of the massif. From the Pic des Mouches, the highest point, there is a spectacular view stretching out over the rolling plains of the Aix region as far as the eye can see. On a clear day, you can glimpse the sea, Mount Ventoux, and the Alps.
Outside of Aix-en-Provence about 15 kilometers, Ventabren is a picturesque "village perché," (hillside village) with an interesting ruined castle. In its unique situation, high above the Valley of the Arc, this little village perfectly portrays what is meant by the term perché: like a bird perched high up in a tree. There is a magnificent 180-degree view from the castle ruins over the idyllic landscape to the north of the Etang de Berre and Martigues, on the southern bank of the river. The village also has a noteworthy 11th-12th century parish church dedicated to Saint Denis.
A few kilometers south of Ventabren, along the charming Valley of the Arc, is the Roquefavour Aqueduct. This imposing three-story structure conveys the Durance Canal over the valley towards Marseilles. The aqueduct was built between 1842 and 1847 and has a perfect construction that offers a powerful visual effect. The upper level of the aqueduct is accessible from the D64 highway coming from Ventabren, taking the first left turn towards Petit Rigoués just before reaching the D65 highway, and then a right turn at the watchman's house.
During World War II when France was occupied by the Germans, approximately 3,000 German Jews who had fled from Nazi Germany were interned here in the local brick-works building. Some escaped but the remainder, along with another 2,000 Jews betrayed by the Vichy Government, were sent to German concentration camps. There is a plaque in their memory, near the loading bay at the railroad station.
A visit to this château is a journey back in time. Overlooking the Aygues Valley, this 12th-century château was an important medieval military fortress. Fitted along the terraces below the chateau are a series of lush gardens. From the gardens, there is an excellent view of the Alps in the distance. The gardens and terraces are designed in perfect harmony with the scenery. The château is decorated in authentic furnishings that evoke the styles of historic eras.
Address: Rue du Cartel, 84240 Ansouis
This splendid little village has a fascinating cultural heritage and an exceptional natural setting. The location has been inhabited for 4,000 years including during Roman times. The most interesting recent history included the visit of Napoleon on his route from Elba to Paris. A wonderful place to relax and wander around, Sisteron boasts picturesque streets, beautiful 16th and 17th century houses and a medieval Cathedral built between 1160 and 1220. Sisteron also has an ancient citadel that is classified as a historic monument. The citadel is open for visits daily and during summer evenings, hosts classical music concerts. The village of Sisteron and the surrounding are also well-known as a place for outdoor activities and camping. It is possible to participate in nature walks and hikes as well as adventure sports such as rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, and rafting. Water sports including swimming and tubing are also popular.