Bourgeois, sunny city of the south with an air of superiority, a buzzing cafe society, tinkling fountains galore and a lively student population.

The main artery of Aix is Le Cours Mirabeau, a wide and impressive tree lined boulevard, filled with cafes on the sunny side and businesses and banks over the road in the shade cast by the large plane trees.

La Rotonde.

Le Cours Mirabeau.
Le Cours was named after Le comte de Mirabeau, a wealthy 18th century politician, who was known for scandalous love affairs. He was a good orator and was popular with the people, but he had a darker side and spent time in prison with the Marquis de Sade.

Also linked with Aix is le bon Roi Rene, the good king who reigned over Provence before it became part of France in the 1480s. A statue of Rene adorned with the muscat grapes he introduced to Provence stands in a fountain at one end of Cours Mirabeau. At the other end of the boulevard is the large and imposing la Rotonde, which spouts out streams of water as traffic circles round.

Old Aix is a fascinating maze of streets, dotted with squares and fountains, you never know what you will come across as you turn a corner. Streets are lined with all manner of shops, cafes and restaurants. Somewhere in this maze is the impressive town hall, la mairie, and le cathedral St Sauveur.

Best friends Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola, who went to school in Aix,  met and drank at Les Deux Garcons on the Cours, before they were famous. Jean Cocteau, Edith Piaf, and more recently Hugh Grant and George Clooney are among others who have allegedly dropped by for a drink. Until recently North Africans were not admitted.

Two views of Mt St Victoire painted by Cezanne.
Perhaps the most famous person to hail from Aix was the Post Impressionist artist Paul Cezanne. The building where he went to school with Emile Zola is now le Musee Granet. Eight of Cezanne's paintings are on display in the museum, along with other works of art, but it took until 1984 for Aix to finally get hold of these priceless masterpieces. It seems the city did not fully appreciate its home grown artistic genius until the whole world had labelled him as one of the all time greats.

Cezanne was fascinated by the views of Mont St Victoire, a mountain which can be seen in the near distance from all over the city. He painted the many different moods and angles of the mountain about 60 times.

Atelier Cezanne circa 1890s to 1906.
Cezanne produced much of his work at the family home in le Jas de Bouffon, but towards the end of his life created a studio in what was then open land about a 20 minute walk north of la Rotonde. Once rural with far reaching views the property is now in a built up area on Avenue Paul Cezanne. He painted many of his most famous works here. Atelier Cezanne  has been preserved as a tribute to his life and is kept as it would have been during his lifetime, strewn with artist's paraphernalia, objects he painted, easels and even his overcoats hang on the wall.

The tourist office is at La Rotonde and is very helpful, with maps and details about how to visit the places mentioned. 

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