France is the world’s most visited country and rightfully so. The things to do, see and experience in the western European wonderland are innumerable. I enjoy visiting France and have been lucky to go back the past two summers. While a stop to Paris is always included on my itinerary so too, a visit to the south and Aix-en-Provence where the quaint charm of provincial France is still quite strong.
Many times, travel itineraries are filled to the brim, a constant movement from one sight to restaurant to the next. In cities like Paris this is understandable- there is so much to see and often too little time to do it. And while I love Paris, it’s also the reason I love to leave the city and venture South. While there are things to do in Aix-en-Provence- Cezanne was born and raised there- I delightfully chose to ignore them all. Instead, I play the role of a local visiting markets, buying fresh artisanal foods, wandering the streets, lingering at a cafe, taking an extended afternoon nap and doing not much else.
In the sun-drenched corner of France life moves at a slower pace, one that allows you to appreciate the worn pastel colored building walls that line the street. One of the most cherished daily activities is waking up early to buy baguettes for the day, which will be eaten at breakfast lunch and dinner with hand crafted terrines, foie gras and other meats and cheese. The rosé here flows like water, stores close for a prolonged lunch and people make a point to remember to sit out and enjoy the sun.
Aix-en-Provence is the antithesis of harried New York and a city I am determined to make a consistent part of my annual travel plans. Walking through the narrow winding streets of the city is my ideal way to spend the afternoon, taking in all the charm of this ridiculously charming place. In the summer the scent of lavender lingers in the air, and as opposed to other cities, one actually has time to stop and smell the roses, literally.
To visit the south of France is to escape reality and Aix-en-Provence is the capital of that abdication. The city is big enough to get lost in, but small enough to learn quickly as well. Daily markets are a fun morning activity and numerous restaurants make sure that when you don’t want to go home you always have a place to linger for a while. The food is good and there are lots of choices. When you want to partake in a cultural or active pursuit, there are plenty of activities for you do to. But unlike in big cities like Paris where one feels they have to be constantly on the go, in Aix-en-Provence the choice remains completely your own.
A three hour train ride from Paris, Aix-en-Provence is easy to reach. For those who prefer to fly, the international airport in Marseille is only 20 minutes away and well connected to the city via bus and rail. If you’ve got a while, Aix makes for a good hub to explore the rest of southern France. The city is within easy reach of popular destinations such as Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez or Toulouse and is the perfect place to make your home while exploring the lesser known towns and villages that dot the French countryside.
Even without leaving Aix-en-Provence one is completely enveloped in the pressure free south of France way of life. As the sun leaks through the weathered walls of Aix’s pale colored homes and onto the slim city streets, the only worry here is whether you’ve purchased enough of the crispy aforementioned baguettes to make it through the day.