After a week of exploring Provence’s prettiest villages, we decided to finish up with a trip to one of its big cities. It was a toss-up between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence; Aix won thanks to its handy location, just half an hour’s drive from the airport.
Although we’d gotten used to driving on the wrong other side on Provence’s quiet country lanes, we weren’t quite ready to tackle big-city traffic and complicated one-way systems, so we opted to use one of the park and rides. It was pretty painless – the bus was waiting when we got there and left as soon as we boarded, taking about 15 minutes to reach the Place de la Rotonde.
We picked up a few leaflets and maps from the tourist office and decided to follow a route highlighting the city’s best fountains and squares (a strange combo, but who doesn’t love a good fountain?). We started off on the Cours Mirabeau, a wide, tree-lined avenue and Aix’s most famous street. Fountains are dotted all the way up the road, acting as fancy mini-roundabouts. The first one to tick off our list was the huge Fontaine de la Rotonde, which sat at the start of the Cours Mirabeau in the centre of Place de la Rotonde. It’s topped by three statues representing law, agriculture and art; law faces Aix’s city centre, agriculture faces Marseille and art faces Avignon.
Next up was the 17th-century Fontaine des 9 Canons, followed by the Fontaine d’Eau Chaude (supplied by hot spring water, hence the name) and the Fontaine du Roi Rene, built in 1819.
At the top of the road, we ducked into the Mazarin quarter, my favourite part of the city. Once we got off the busy Rue d’Italie, we left the crowds behind and were able to amble along the peaceful lanes lined with grand, shuttered townhouses.
At the heart of the Mazarin quarter was the Place des 4 Dauphins, a lovely square with a 17th-century fountain in the middle and a border of beautiful mansions.
After a little sit down on the edge of the fountain, we crossed back over the Cours Mirabeau and headed into Aix’s old town. Filled with dozens of shops, cafes and restaurants, this was definitely the busiest part of town. Our first stop was the Place d’Albertas, surrounded on three sides by gorgeous Baroque and Rococo buildings and crowned with a fountain from 1912.
Slightly bigger was the Place de la Marie, watched over by the town hall, corn exchange and clock tower. The fountain in the middle is topped with statues of gargoyles, which spout water from the Pinchinats spring.
We finished our mini-tour of Aix on a high, at the Place des 3 Ormeaux. Home to a fountain of the same name, it was one of the prettiest squares we saw – and I loved this display of wine-cooling genius from a local cafe…
Why can’t all rosés be fountain-chilled?!