For the last leg of our Provence trip, we decided to stay in Aix En Provence, given that we might need to have some ‘city life’ after a few days of countryside and small towns. And it’s convenient to depart from here back to Paris via the TGV.
I acknowledge we didn’t thoroughly explore Aix, but our first and last impressions of this city is we really hate the traffic, enough for me to strike it off my list of cities to visit in Provence. It’s notorious for its high traffic and constant jams on the town roads and highways during summer and this runs on till maybe autumn when both the domestic and foreign tourists have dissipated.
Sculpture in the square at Cours Mirabeau.
Given we spent the afternoons driving out to Cassis and Cucuron for one of my best meals (yes, my Provence post on best restaurants will be coming up soon), our time to explore this old town was left mostly in the mornings or early evenings.
Cours Mirabeau is the main wide boulevard flanked by big brands such as Longchamp and Apple, with many side off streets which I prefer to walk in. One is better off just heading back to Paris for shopping rather than to want to do it in Aix. Ironically for me, in this city, some of the really mass retail shops only detracted and took away the old charm of what Aix is known for.
But don’t get me wrong, there are some nice streets and places worth checking out such as the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur (also known as Aix Cathedral), which is hard to miss, since the town isn’t really big, and you can see the tip of the church from a distance. I learnt that Aix En Provence’s nickname is “City of A Thousand Fountains” owing to the ancient water sources that the Romans once used. Well, I wasn’t expecting to see literally a 1000 fountains while walking around, but there were still some pretty ones that flanked the streets as we walked around and explored the town.
There is some kind of market running daily in Aix Old Town, but we heard the Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are one of the busiest. Great timing that we were here on a Thursday, and we decided to explore. The market sells anything from cheese and jams, to fruits and vegetables, and even clothing, hats and more.
Given this was already our 3rd market for the week, we were pretty “market-out”, and did a quick walking spree of what was new and noteworthy. We arrived at the Rifle Raffle and Monclar square area, where there were lots of textiles, hats and clothing for sale. The standout store for us were these happy colourful cotton throws and towels from Tunisia sold by this jovial and friendly lady – Dominique (see picture below). Known as Foutas, which are like Hammam Towels, they were traditionally used by people in Tunisia to lay on in order to dry under the sun or to cover themselves when using the public baths. Since then, it has evolved and different lengths are sold, enough to be a sofa throw or a table cloth. What’s great about it, is they are rather light, and as absorbent as a traditional towel, making it a great travel item to have.
In the end, we walked away with 6 towels, and 1 sofa throw, yes please don’t ask me why do I need 6 towels, but am sure I will find some use for them. And please remember to bring enough cash as most of the stall owners don’t take card, otherwise you can draw cash from the nearby BNP Paribus bank along Cours Mirabeau.
Too many choices, which ones should I buy?
It was very wise indeed of CG to book Hotel Le Pigonnet located about a 5 – 8 mins drive from Cours Mirabeau, as it was at least tucked away from the maddening crowd and traffic after we experienced the rush hour on our first day getting into this city.
The front entrance can be easily missed, but we found it finally thanks to Google Maps, and a long driveway with lush trees greeted us as we drove in. We already had a good feeling about this place!
The dramatic driveway and vintage Rolls Royce at Hotel Le Pigonnet.
This 5 star hotel is set on 1.5 hectares of landscaped gardens and the hotel premises is housed in an 18th-century manor house. We saw a posh vintage Rolls Royce at the front of the entrance, which looked more like it was for display rather than anything else.
After we checked in, we were shown around the premises before we made our way to our room. The most enchanting part of the hotel is probably their lush gardens, and it’s wonderful to sit out in the terrace for a morning cuppa and just smell the fresh air.
Our ‘home’ for the next 2 nights.
Our room was comfortably furnished in shades of blue and beige hues. Brownie points for having a coffee maker we could use – very important for us caffeine addicts! A nice touch in the room was each armchair had a nice pink Fouta, which we could purchase if we wanted to. I couldn’t resist and convinced Y to buy one to match my furry body.
We checked out the gym, which probably was rather lacking in terms of size and equipment options considering it was a 5 star hotel, hence we didn’t use it in the end.
Overall, I find the rates here a tad expensive, but we realised by now, it seemed all the good hotels in Provence in the peak periods of summer, can go up to 300 or more euros a night, and this cost us 365 euros a night for a classic room. But it gave us a nice respite from the otherwise chaotic traffic and crowds in Aix.
5 Avenue du Pigonnet, 13090 Aix-en-Provence, France, Tel:+33 4 42590290, Website
Having my daily coffee fix at the hotel terrace.
Tips on visiting Aix En Provence:
- If you plan to visit in summer, as mentioned be mentally prepared for the bad traffic. Buffer plenty of time to get from one place to another.
- If you plan to take the TGV train to Paris, it can take around 60 minutes to get there during the rush hour, so again buffer enough time so that you don’t miss the train. In this case, don’t trust Google Maps which says it takes about 20 mins. Thank goodness our car GPS was quite smart to direct us via the alternative routes to escape the traffic. The locals use Mappy, which seems to give a more accurate estimation of the distance and time.
Early glimpse of the evening after sunset.