Provence I : Aix-en-Provence, Luberon Valley Villages

For years, I wanted to see the famous Champs de Lavande en Provence , but it wasn’t meant to be until 2015! Why? The first few visits to France, I never made it down to South of France, and when I finally did make it, the lavendars were cut and done with!

Today, I can’t imagine a trip to France without a visit to my beloved Provence. I hope when you go, you fall in-love too.

Where to start!

Provence region is so big, I can write an entire website on it! Instead, I am going to break it down to Provence I, II, and III to give you a taste of this heavenly region. Soon, and then in Summer of 2017, I will add the Part II: Arles, Marseilles, and Avignon followed by Part III Provence: Cote-d’Azure and more.

So I suggest you start with the following, scroll down to read more:

  •  Lavender fields – if traveling during the summer
  • Aix-en Provence
  • Luberon Valley villages

Smell the lavenders

If you want to see the endless breathtaking, heavenly purple lavender fields with the wide open blue sky, you got to get there in June and keep in mind the following:

  • It is only about 1-2 weeks between the blooms and the harvest.
  • Be patient with the crowds, everyone is here from around the world to see the same thing, so don’t be put off and just smell the lavendars.
  • Rent a car and explore the Valcuse and Luberon Valley early in the morning, before all the tour buses arrive!
  • if you don’t want to drive request a tour from the local office of tourism.

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Welcome to Aix-en Provence

I think Aix-en-Provence is the place to start! Why? The air, the markets, the sun, the people, the food, the wine, the art, the fountains, the people watching, and the joy of walking in the foot steps of Paul Cézanne(Picasso called him the father of cubism) and his famous friends, is why Aix is a place to start!

Aix (pronounced with an X sound vs the written A) is the city  is known for its beautiful water fountains and  many art museums, galleries and of course the home of Paul  Cezanne and his artist friends have left a permanent mark on this beautiful 123 BC Roman Gallo city.  Aix is known to the French as   ville des art et du l’ eau!

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Aix is known as a chic bourgeois town in Provence, see and be seen. However, I found Aix rather down to earth and so much fun. The famous Cours Mirabeau is the main street, which is graced by 30-50 feet tall beautiful old Planes trees (Sycamore Maple),  you may think you are in heaven! The trees keep the street cool in the hot summer and bright in the winter. The many beautiful outdoor seating cafes give you the advantage of people watching like no other town in France. The annual music festivals, in August is SUPER exciting, here is one of my favorites from Music dans les Rues, it was totally worth fighting through the crowds to get a seat.

How to get there

  • If you have lots of time and want to really experience France, then take the very famous National Route 7.nr7 Long but  a beautiful drive. If short of time,  take E15/ A6  from Paris straight to Aix, about 6 1/2 to 7 hours .
  • If you are adventurous and do not have a big luggage, TGV from Paris will land you at the Aix TGV (20 Kilometer outside of the town) in 3 hours or less. Once in Aix, take bus #40 to the Gare Routier (a very nice bus depot) for 6 or 7 Euros round trip. A 6 minutes walk and voila you are at the office of tourism.
  • Use BlaBla car! A ride sharing program that is very popular in France. I have used it multiple times and loved it. You meet interesting people and the drivers are all rated by the riders. You will travel with others in a car at a fraction of the cost of TGV or car rental. Most drivers speak English and love to practice their language skill.
  • If you love to bike through France, this is your opportunity to do the Tour de France style visit of Provence!

Do not miss :

There is so much to do in Aix, I have literally spent 3 months in Aix over the 3 visits and can tell you that there is PLENTY I haven’t seen. Here is a list of what I highly recommend:

  • Office of Tourism across from the Fountain de la Rotand– the most helpful aixfountain3ombreand nicest office employees ever! There is ton of options to choose from, but do go there and check out the city’s enormous list of offerings. You don’t have to go through the office, but if you are on your own I highly recommend to pick up the brochure (here is an online version in English).
  • Cezanne’s Atelier, home (known as Jas du Buffon)
  • Musee Granet– the tea time is worth the 30 Euros, and if you don’t make sure you see the garden and all the rooms, this is above and beyond the museum or the exhibits.
  • A hike, guided is best as it is hard to get there, of the beautiful limestone Mount Saint-Victoire , this is where Cezanne painted his last painting shortly before his death. It is where you can hear the famous whistling winds, Misteral, of Provence.
  • Shopping!!! great stores along every street, don’t be afraid to step in.
  •  Hotel de Ville  and the daily market, just buy something from each farmer and do not miss the goat cheese!
  • Daily and Saturday open market on Cours Mirabeau
  • Walking without destination to discover the many fountains of Aix, my favorite (photographed below) Place des Trois-Ormeaux.
  • Wine tasting and art! Although I didn’t love the wine but the experience was superb at Chateau La Coste en Provence. A walking tour of beautiful vineyard with very large and very famous art installation. the combination of the art and the scenery leaves you wanting more in a dreamy way. Reservation is almost a must and the 12 euro is very worth it. Everyone speaks English so you will not need to know French.

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 Where to stay

Again, I love Airbnb, some hosts have really done a great job with their homes and rooms to make it hotel like. I recommend you always read the reviews and decide what suites you the best.

I will be adding couple of hotels recommendations winter and summer of 2017.

Where to Eat

The BEST food in Aix, or any part of Provence, in my opinion is at a friend’s house! My friends Elisabeth, Christian and Anne-Marie have made the BEST food for me. dsc04179So I am a bit spoiled at I don’t go to many restaurants in Provence. The 2nd BEST food is at the Market! Aix and all the small towns have an array of delicious already made food, accompany it with a loaf of heaven and a bottle of Provencal wine and YOU are set!

But if you do need to eat at a restaurant here are a few of my favorites on Cours Mirabeau:

  • Café la Roi- ask for their Provencal Salad…yummy.
  • Bistro de Roman- pretty much everything is great on their menu. But don’t miss their warm goat cheese salad! For desert ask for Café Gourmand and you will get a sampler with coffee or tea. dsc04231
  • Le Deux Garson- pricey but good, traditional old French style. Very touristy because of it.
  • Cour Mirabeau has so many restaurants, have appetizer at one, then lunch or dinner at another and desert at another!
  • Place de Verdun also has super restaurant, as well as the Hotel de Ville area. Aix is full of restaurant and they won’t be around if they aren’t good!

Daily Essentials

  • Hair cut/wash/color/blow dry in Aix-en-Provence…simple and quick, and cheap
  • Grocery shopping- Monoprix right on Course Mirabeau, Geant Casino is at Jas du Buffon shopping center for the middle class, (have to take bus number 3 as it is not in the center of the town). HUGE mega size grocery and more.
  • Beauty product- perfume, cologne, or make-up Nocibe offers huge discounts! Their friendly staff will offer you lots of help and remember that if you spend over 175 euros in certain shops, like Nocibe, you will be able refunded the TVA tax of almost 20% at the airport!
  • France posses the art of lingerie and Aubade offers the best of the best!
  • Take a cooking class in Provence! Madame B’s 4 hours cooking class in her adorable provincial home is a perfect way to learn how to make Pie Saladier. You can organize this through the Tourism Office.
  • Take a pottery, painting class at Chez Catherine and she will let you use her pool!

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