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Must-sees, must-dos, must-eats of Aix-en-Provence.
This city is so bent on shopping, it has directional signs for stores! A multitude of expensive boutiques as well as budget clothing shops await you. Where are they? 1) In the Old Town 2) By la Rotunde (biggest fountain), near the Post Office. - this one is more like an American mall. There is a FNAC and an H&M among other things.
The city itself is fun to navigate because of its listless, winding streets. The "center" (cultural, not geographical) of town is Place de la Rotunde, a giant fountain. From La Rotunde, several avenues radiate to other parts of town, including the Cours Mirabeau, the most famous street in Aix. There are two major sections of the city: Vieux Aix (Old Aix) and the Quartier Mazarin (Mazarin Quarter).
Wander into the bookshops, anglophone and francophone alike. For francophone books, check out the Librairie de Provence on the Cours Mirabeau. For English books, visit Book in a Bar in the Mazarin district (south of the city). They have a little café and give you cookies with every order.
Le Castel, on Avenue Victor Hugo, is a swell, small night club on Avenue Victor Hugo with no cover charge. Themed nights, disco ball, pool table, bar - and an exciting atmosphere. People start coming in after midnight. Peak time: around 1am.
Cathédrale Saint Sauveur - this cathedral was built over several centuries; its architecture reflects the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The cloister (le cloître) is beautiful. Getting in is tricky. If you spot a tour group gathering around the door, follow them in! It's a great church with a gorgeous sounding organ. If you see a guide, ask him/her to show you the magnificent wooden doors. They are intricately carved. Because of their fragile nature, they remain covered most of the time.
Fountains - they're everywhere in Aix! The most famous is La Rotunde, in Place Charles de Gaulle at the end of the Cours Mirabeau. They make great meeting places.
Rated the second most beautiful street in France, right after the Champs-Elysées. One side has ATMs, the other has cafés, including Les Deux Garçons, frequented by literary giants. Appreciate the beautiful trees that line the Cours. At the end of the street, say hi to Le Bon Roi René, the last king of Provence before it became a part of France.
A. Crêpes. At. Every. Corner. Yum. Who makes the best crêpes? That's a fierce debate. I recommend Crêpes a Go-Go in the underground passage near La Rotunde or a VitamFruit stand. The stand in Place des Prêcheurs serves good crêpes, too. The vendor gives candy with them.
B. French meals. Can get rather pricey. As a general rule, the closer to the Cours Mirabeau, the higher the prices will be. I would poke around Forum des Cardeurs, right around Place de l'Hotel de Ville. It's this almost hidden "street" filled with cafés. Chez Laurette has excellent lasagna. If you are looking for an authentic Provençal lunch, visit Le Carillon on Rue Portalis, near Place des Prêcheurs.
C. Sandwiches. Plenty of sandwich shops around Place des Prêcheurs. Great food for lunch at a nominal price.
D. Ethnic Food. There is a hidden alleyway somewhere off of Rue Maréchal Foch with a dizzying array of ethnic food right around Place Ramus, including an excellent Chinese-Vietnamese place - Anh Dao. Anyway, this alley/place has Chinese food, Vietnamese food, Indian food, Thai food....everything - all priced extremely well.
E. Pizza Capri - the best pizza I've ever had.
Location: off of Cours Mirabeau or in Place Richelme.
A. Pavillon de Vendome - a mini-Versailles of sorts. Meticulous flower gardens, petit chateau. Make sure you use the rest room BEFORE you visit, lest you prefer taking care of your business in a hole in the floor...
Location: Off of Rue Van Loo off the Cours Sextius.
B. Parc de la Torse - giant recreational park. Great for jogging and biking. It's a bit of a walk from the city center, but it's worth it.
Location: Take the Cours Gambetta. Turn left on the Travers Saint Pierre. Walk past the stadium. The entrance will be in front of you.
Aix-en-Provence has a great tourist office right by la Rotunde. They can give you maps, information on tours, excursions to nearby places, upcoming events...they possess a wealth of information.