Aix en Provence is considered by many to be the South's cultural & artistic centre, thanks to its ancient university and its inherent connection to the artist Paul Cezanne.
Aix is one of the most bustling places you can visit in rural Provence. Thanks to its university, art schools and it's international festivals, the city is busy throughout the year. It is a relatively small city (population 355,000), best explored on foot over several days. The old town is the heart of the city - the famous Cours Mirabeau is the main street and is one of France's most beautiful streets, with ornate fountains, pavement cafés and grand buildings.
The old town of Aix is a delight to wander around, with a range of architectural styles to admire. A warren of tiny alleyways open up into charming squares, suitably adorned with statues and bubbling fountains. You will find shops, cafés and restaurants throughout the centre, along with historical sites and museums.
To the south of the medieval centre lies the Quartier Mazarin, which was created by 17th century high society and is now home to grand houses and museums.
Aix has some of the best shopping to be had in the South of France, with designer boutiques, interior stores, antique shops and markets aplenty. Indeed, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (8.00am to 1.00pm), the whole of the city centre becomes one giant market. From the Cours Mirabeau (local produce and textiles), to Place des Precheurs & Place de la Madeleine (fruit & vegetables), the Town Hall (flower market) and Place de Verdun (antiques & bric-a-brac, arts & crafts), you will be sure to find something to consume or to take away as a memento. Of course, if shopping is not your thing, take advantage of the crowds shopping on these days and go to some of the museums instead. For high street shopping, head to Les Allees Provencal, a shopping centre at the lower end of Cours Mirabeau where you will find plenty of chains to browse in.
The tourist office offers guided tours of the city throughout the year in both French and English. Special tourist passes are also available from the tourist office if you are planning a sight seeing frenzy - the pass allows free entry into the main sights and museums in Aix and discounts in some restaurants and shops. Free bus travel in the Aix region is also included.
Aix is a great centre to base yourself if you want to explore some more of Provence. The Luberon, with it's beautiful countryside and idyllic hilltop villages is around a 40 minute drive north. Marseille and the coast, Avignon and Arles are all about an hour's drive away.