A Day in Aix-en-Provence: Three Must-Dos

Aix-en-Provence, France

The smart, attractive southern French town of Aix has quite a different vibe to it’s neighbour, Marseille.  It’s sleepy, it’s refined, it gave birth to the delightful confection, the calisson… and it’s served as an inspirational spot to paint for countless artists.

Certainly if you are a fan of Cézanne, Aix is worth a visit.  He was born in the town and went back to live there – you can even visit his atelier.  If you want to find out more about his association with the town, you can check out this website: www.cezanne-en-provence.com

But if you, like me, find the whole Cézanne thing not interesting, then there is still plenty to get out of a leisurely spent day in Aix.  Even without having any particular place to make for, you can have a great day, lounging about having ice-creams, coffees, and… yes, calissons.  The laid-back atmosphere of the town encourages you take the day slowly, and if you go in the summer, the heat will beat you into it too.

Calissons of Le Roy René

Okay, so until I came to France, I’d never seen, or heard of, calissons.  Now I think they’re God’s gift.  They’re basically made of local candied melon and orange peel and almond, and topped off with a thin layer of icing.  They don’t look, or sound, too prepossessing, but that’s before you try one.  The plain version is jolly nice, but the flavoured ones are incredible.

There are many companies who make the calisson, and I sampled them from a couple of shops.  My favourite was Le Roy René – founded in 1920, the company initially specialised in nougat, before taking on Aix-en-Provence’s famous calisson in 1947.  The staff in the shop are friendly and circulate with trays of goodies for you to sample.

The legend of the calisson is based around the wedding of Jeanne de Laval and King René, in 1454.  Their pictures as donors are on the triptych on show at the Cathedral.  Anyway, the Queen was not of a cheerful disposition, so the King’s confectioner created a new sweet and served it to her at the end of the wedding feast.  These finally brought a smile to her lips – she asked what they were called, and the answer, in Provençal, was ‘Di calin soun’ (these are little cuddles).  It’s a cute story, and doubtless untrue – its origins appear to be Italian – but what is true is the fact that people have loved this diamond shaped treats for centuries – a famous French troubadour, Claude Bruyes, sang about them in the 16th century, and a century later Madame de Sévigné took the time to thank her daughter for a shipment of calisson to her in Paris.

But they’re not just a treat; in 1630, the city was ravaged by a plague. When the epidemic came to an end, an Assessor named Martelly pledged to have an annual thanksgiving service dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint-Marie-de-la-Seds.  Calissons were distributed during that first service and have been ever since.  On the first Sunday in September calissons are blessed before being distributed.

There are many shops selling the calissons – a number have been going longer than La Roy René, but I was particularly drawn by the aesthetic of this shop, and preferred the flavour to the other two I tried.  But it’s personal taste.  Knock yourself out – try them all!

Cathedral

So now you’ve gorged on enough sugar to keep you going for… like forever, you are now ready to go do something cultural.  Say hello to the Cathedral.  It’s grand, beautiful and has some cool art on show.

Musée Granet and Granet XX

If you like your art, then the Granet Museums are worth visiting.  The Musée Granet has an interesting – though not that exciting – collection of paintings, including some Cézannes.  The Granet XX is basically 20th century art, which is from the collection of Jean Planque, and has a fine selection of Picassos.

Further Information

For further tourist information, you can get information in English here: www.aixenprovencetourism.com

The city hosts various musical events and exhibitions – you can get information about both from the above website.

How To Get There

Getting to Aix-en-Provence from Marseille is very easy.  The best way is by no. 50 bus – it goes every five minutes from the bus station at the back of St Charles (and the website info is in English!): www.lecaraixmarseille.com

DO NOT make the same mistake as me, and go to the TVG Station thinking it was the main train station of Aix-en-Provence.  It’s literally in the middle of nowhere and you still have to get a bus in, which costs the same as the whole journey from Marseille to the city by the 50 bus.

Stupid, stupid me.  We wasted so much time and money because I didn’t look into the trip properly.  So seriously, go by the 50 bus!!

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