Aix-ex-Provence—or just Aix, as it’s known by the cool kids—is quite possibly one of the most charming towns in the south of France. The Provençal city-commune is an inevitable destination for honeymooners making their way through the Provence region or those seeking a more relaxed weekend away from the City of Lights. Birthplace of Paul Cézanne, the father of modern art, you’ll find art galleries, quaint markets, and beautiful gardens in this historic town. It’s somehow relaxed, but also buzzing with energy at night thanks to the local student population.
Newlyweds can start their day with a coffee and a croissant at one of the town’s many terrace cafés before taking a slow stroll through the sunlit narrow stone streets. Afternoons, in our opinion, are best spent relaxing in one of Aix’s glorious spas before ending the day with a lovely meal and a glass of Côtes de Provence vino.
How to Get There
Aix is 20 miles north of Marseille and the Marseille Provence Airport. A 30-minute shuttle bus ride will set you back 9€ each way. About a dozen trains make the trip from Paris to Aix daily with the high-speed option taking less than three hours. Book in advance as the route tends to book up quickly and get increasingly expensive, especially in the summer.
What to Do
Aix’s natural hot spring baths date back centuries. Themes Sextius is a modern spa built above an ancient Roman bath downtown at the Hôtel Aquabella. The “They Love Each Other” package, which includes a massage, a scrub, and all-day spa access, can fill a whole day when you and bae are just looking to relax.
Spend the rest of your time together in Aix exploring the Musee Granet, an impressive museum—and one of France’s first—which houses works from Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, and Matisse, and of course local celebrity Cézanne. The post-impressionist painter’s studio is small but also worth a visit. Afterwards, make your way past the bustling shops of the Vieille Ville, or Old City, until you reach Brûlerie Richelme, a one-of-a-kind spot that any coffee lover will admire. Here, you can watch the roasting process and take in the café culture of France at its best by sitting outside and trying one of their 20+ excellent coffee varieties.
If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a car to explore the nearby countryside and—if you’re lucky enough to be there in June—to get a coveted shot in one of the region’s many lavender fields. One of our favorites is at the front of the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque, a 10th century abbey which is worth budgeting in time to tour as well.
Where to Stay
Housed in an 18-century country estate, Le Pigonnet has been a hotel for nearly 100 years. You’ll love the location—walking distance from central Aix—and the gorgeous grounds. It’s like a French fairytale has come to life here, being built on four acres of floral gardens, blooming arches, chestnut trees, pergolas, and fountains. The romantic property boasts 45 rooms and suites of various styles and sizes, priced from around $300 a night, guests rave about the service and the mix of modern luxury and old-fashioned charm. Warning: you may not want to leave the property.
Named for Aix’s most famous son, the boutique Hotel Cezanne is a less pricey option, with rooms starting at about $150 a night. Smack in the middle of central Aix, the Cezanne’s location is the hotel’s main draw. Some of the hotel’s 55 rooms are a little on the small side (it’s Europe after all!) but the price and top-notch service make up for what the rooms lack in size.
Where to Eat
Chef Ronan Kernan uses the best ingredients that Aix’s local markets have to offer for the creative and spirited cuisine found at Côté Cour. Fresh, seasonable dishes are paired with a large selection of wines in a modern setting, complete with an intimate courtyard. Think: grilled foie gras, crispy sweetbreads, local confit lamb, and fillet of sea bream.
Without sounding too cliche, the words “hidden” and “gem” certainly come to mind when thinking of how to describe Les Caves Henri IV by le Formal. Jean-Luc Le Formal’s secluded eatery is tucked away in a 15th-century cellar on Rue Espariat in the center of town. Our advice: opt for the seven-course tasting menu.