It's not so much off the beaten track as one would imagine; not in my oppinion. Walking through Aix is a wonderful experience as long as you enjoy old, rustic, decay (Yes, alot of it too!!!) and very narrow, very tall very secluded alleyways that ordinarily would scream warnings but here... seem to becon you in with a welcome atmosphere of calm and tranquility.
Many of the tourists I saw stuck to the usual Markets, shops and hard loud open squares. Nothing wrong woth that. But... a few paces to one side; walk down one of the tiny styreets and simply slip off left or right into one of those unassuming alleyways and find old aix in all its glory. Tall, narrow semi lit in a wonderful pastel sunshine that tries to get to the ground but only manages lighting the tops of the buildings. Thereafter everything is bathed in Ambers and peach light.
Its history can be seen down these walkways and many of them , quite unexpectedly, are painted. Wall Art I call it. Some just a three by three foot square. Some fifty feet wide by ten high. Massive murals on the plasterwork itself.
All types shapes and sizes, styles and colours. Some old masters, some 1950's replicas and, if you look really closely, all through the last century people painted these walls as you can see the old 1930 and 1945 adverts still on the walls here and there. Faded, just a ghost of what was, but still there.
Travel is NOT just about the statues and clocktowers. Its about atmosphere and getting in touch and just keeping your eyes open for more than the giant 'attractions'.
Aix is small enough to see in a day but big enough to miss all the best parts even after several months of walking through and round it.
In St. Alexandre, not far from la Chartreuse de Valbonne, there is a village church. I was staying in the area when I found myself in need of something old churches can sometimes provide. I wandered into an early mass - it must have been about seven o'clock in the morning. The service was in a chapel set in a corner of an ancient fortification, with stout stone arches and heavy columns throughout. The intimate open space felt comfortable and appropriate with a tomblike cool.
There were about twelve of us that morning and I expect everyone but me lived within walking distance. When it came time to respond to the prayers and sings the hymns, I joined in with English words to the familiar choreography and melodies.
At the end of mass the priest shook my hand and addressed a question to me in French and I asked him to pardon my non-existent French. Given the size of the room, it had been impossible for him not to see me participating in the service, but he had been unable to hear that I was speaking English.
We exchanged pleasantries and I walked back to the nearby vineyard where I was staying ... feeling I had briefly connected with a handful of otherwise strangers. We shared an hour together thinking good thoughts –albeit in different languages- and that surely counts as time well spent.
That experience enhanced my appreciation of the value of people coming together to express their beliefs, give voice to their highest aspirations. It happened that Sunday in a quiet way in that ancient church in the south of France ... but it can happen anywhere ... in classrooms, coffee shops, dinner tables and the street.
99% of the activities, museums, fairs, etc... are located in the historical town centre.
Nevertheless, a quiet, peaceful and rather spectacular place is the Vasarely Foundation.
This huge building shelters 5 m high works of art.
Vasarely is an artist who played with geometrical form and optical effects. Not so visited a place you can sit for some time admiring and letting your sight being fooled.
Villages Around Aix
I really like to visit the small villages around Aix like Trets with his old medieval center, Ventabren and Jouques, pretty hill-top villages with picturesque narrow streets and Rognes with his beautifull stones, widely used in Aix en Provence for building and decoration.
Not even that many people who live in Aix know about this park, but the Parc Villers in the west of town, past the Fondation Vasarely, is a nice place for a stroll or a picnic. I first discovered it when my flatmate Ben took me up here on a cold snowy day, and I was surprised mostly by the huge open-air theatre just sitting in the middle of it. It's a theatre-in-the-round, and carved into the ground like a Greek or Roman amphitheatre. I never heard of any performances being there, but I would often go over there to do a bit of acting, or read a book. It's called the Theatre de Verdure.
Also in the park is a smallish duckpond, which is nice to sit beside when you are having a picnic on a Sunday, as long as you don't mind the large but beautiful dragonflies.
It's not really off the beaten path, in fact the path is so well beaten you could scramble an egg on it.
However, I know many people who have lived in Aix for years who have never done it. The mountain was the muse for Cezanne, as is well known - he painted it about fifty times.
It is surprisingly easy to hike up. It is very very high, and topped with a monk's retreat (you can spend the night here, if you so desire), and a huge cross (I would love to meet the man who lugged that thing up there). I climbed up in January, when it was surprisingly warm, and it ook me about two hours to reach the peak. At the top, you look down and it is WHOAAAH!!!! Bring a camera! It was as little hazy when i went, but i am assured that you can see the sea.
There are not many buses out there from Aix. There's one at 8.15 and one at midday, and coming back there's one at about 1 and one at about six - check the timetable, but you should have enough time to go there, go up, look about, come down, get the bus. Oh, get the bus to Vauvenargues.
alternatively, hire a bike from by the Tourist Office and cycle out there.
Cassis is a small seaside resort, snuggled at the foot of a tall cliff called Cap Canaille. With its picturesque fishing port, lined with cafes and restaurants, Cassis is a wonderful place for a walk. The city, built with its streets going up and down, has lovely old quarters with an elegant Hotel de Ville on a shady square, where the inhabitants came to cool off and play Petanque on summer nights. Lombard Promenade offers a good view ot the Grande Mer beach all the way to the cove of Courton. The route des Cretes, high above the sea, is impressive and offers a great panorama of the area. This road links Cassis to La Ciotat.
you can travel to manosque,a very nice little city 50 kms to the north.The whole area has the nostalgia of the provençal writers,like marcel pagnol or jean giono;it is possible to visit jean giono's house in manosque;I spent my very early childhood in manosque,in the house of a spanish woman,anita,who was my baby-sitter
A few remnants of the 14th century walls and ramparts can be found around Aix. There are a few remnants that are marked with plaques.
My sister, a friend, and I rented a car and drove througout Provence. I don't remember the names of the places we went to, but no matter where you go you are bound to see beautiful sites.