The Lac du Bimont Dam was built as a drinking water reservoir for the region of Marseille and Aix en Provence in the event of a drought. As the region is very dry in summer it also serves to hold water to put out fires. The dam is near the Sainte Victoire mountain. You can get there by bus, which leaves from the center of Aix en Provence, in front of the tourist office. The bus drops you 3 minutes walk away from the entrance to the dam. The walk around the dam is easy and you can experience a little rural Provence. Find out when the bus goes back as it is quite early. You can fish, but swimming is prohibited since it is water, and could get to tap someone else to take it! It's pretty secure and you can be fined if you bathe. Anyway the water is quite cold. Many people arrive on the weekend because the nature around is beautiful, and is the starting point for various excursions to the mountain Sainte Victoire, but also the beautiful villages of Provence.
The Cours Mirabeau is the most prestigious avenue in Aix en Provence. It was built in 1649, where the medieval walls of the city once stood. It is famous for its four fountains and the trees growing in summertime give and amazing coolness to the place (it gets hot in Provence). It is a place for walking and, in fact, was once one of the gateways to the city. It was called (in Provençal) "The Path of the Floats" and was one of the more aristocratic and prestigious areas of the city. Most fashionable things was to have a house on the same avenue. The shops and trendy cafes in the 18th century were all located on this street. In that time, the artists of the region come from all around to have a coffee in one of the cafes. Cézanne, Picasso, are just some of the names. It is the pride of the city and was recently renovated to give priority to pedestrians which has made it much more enjoyable.
The walk starts at Bimont Dam, half an hour by bus from Aix en Provence. People are quite open for hitchhiking, but not many cars drive along. The trail leads to the top of the hill of Sainte Victoire, which is described by the famous French writer Marcel Pagnol in the stories of his childhood. Upstairs is a shelter where you can sleep, without much comfort, you will have to bring it all with you, water, sleeping bags and you might need to light a fire because it's cold! The shelter is free, but they may have other groups there and therefore no enough room. The views of the hills of Provence are wonderful and the weather is great from March to October. Sleeping bags have to be thicker for spring and autumn for obvious reasons.
The Fontaine des Neuf-Canons is also on the Cours Mirabeau, the most prestigious avenue of Aix en Provence. This was the old road from Arles to Italy, passing next to the walls of Aix. In the twelfth century there was only a small fountain for cattle that passed on the way to the Alps. Built in 1691, this fountain served as a watering hole for animals, you can see a lower level of the fountain for easy drinking, and the cross-shaped stack allowed numerous animals to drink at the same time. With the extension of the avenue, two jets were cut off, to give way to cars. The fountain of nine jets, is arranged on two batteries. The city receives water from this fountain.
The Fontaine de la Rotonde is located at the end of the Cours Mirabeau, the most famous avenue in Aix en Provence. It forms the boundary between the historic and modern parts of the city. The fountain itself is a mixture of marble, stone and concrete measuring 12 m x 32 m. It was created by four different artists in 1860. Nowadays a recycling system is used to save water.
One of the most crowded places in Aix en Provence. I recomemend coming here in the afternoon rush hour. You'll see birds in the large maple trees, and it's lovely to see how the branches shake under their weight! Try a glass of pastis or some chocolates ... the choice is yours. There's also a post office here, if you want to send a postcard back home.
Aix, in Provence, is a beautiful city. It's very student-oriented and animated, with the incomparable touch that only Provence has. There's a market that happens twice a week, but there are always fruit and vegetable vendors, and they sell handicrafts and regional delicacies in the Cours Mirabeau. You can try the lavender honey for example, or very dry boar sausages and pork, and delicious Calissons, which is a pastry made out of almond powder. Aix is also where there's some good olive oil, as well as Grasse perfume. The traditional brand is Fragonnard them. The craft market also has Provincial objects made from olive wood, or tablecloths with the famous wasp, found in every household. There are also linen napkins. A typical brand in the region is Souleiado. We also found the same wasp on the Laguiole knives, which is another brand from Southern France, which has now expanded offering holders and utensils. When you leave the market with your arms full of juicy tomatoes and peaches, don't miss the best Southern tradition: l'aperitif! The appetizer, which in Provence means a glass of Pastis or Pernod, as well as pastis from Marseilles.
Walking through the center of Aix is beautiful. There are two parts, which are divided down the middle by the Cours Mirabeau. The Cours is the most prestigious street in the city. It's where all the rich people just had to have their houses in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now it's mostly banks and posh cafes. On the left side when you get there by taking the roundabout, you'll see a shopping area. Some ancient paved medieval streets are paved for pedestrians. There you'll find a lot of different brands of clothing and local artisans. Then on the other side of the Cours is a residential area, with typical Provencal houses and art galleries. One evening just to see quickly the center, but I recommend a couple of days because there are museums and shops are worth.
The Count of Provence's palace was located here until 1785. It was a very complex mixture of styles, linking the Renaissance to the Antiquity and the Romans. The palace had two Roman towers from the Sextias door opening to the Aurelian Way, which led to Rome. Today, this place is still called the street of Italy! In the Middle Ages, the counts of Provence had a castle for the defense of the city. Within held the court and the whole administration of the region. It was replaced by the parliament of Provence and its other services, after the integration of Provence with France in 1481. It's now the city's courthouse is located in the square. Therefore, since the Middle Ages, the power of the city has not moved.
The Church of the Holy Spirit was built over a hospital for abandoned children in the eighteenth century. Constructed by the architect Vallon, it was baptized in the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Catholic reform era. The council of thirty, named several spiritual norms, found in the baroque style. This church is a good example, with its Corinthian facade and baroque interior. The main altar is by Chastel and is a true work of art. The church's painting of the Assumption is fifteenth century, sourced from the ancient palace of the Count. Jean Daret's The Pentecostal, is also of interest, him being an important artist of this region. Mirabeau held a marriage here in 1772.
The museum is located in the pedestrian streets of the city centre, hidden under a porch. The building dates back to 1672, and the baroque facade retains its original charm. However, due to lack of resources, the wings of the building were never completed. Inside you can see a staircase, and the Natural History Museum with many treasures, the most interesting in my opinion being the dinosaur exhibition with the presentation of skeletons and eggs.
The Fontaine d'Eau Chaude, is also called the green fountain, because it is always covered with vegetation. Built in 1667, it was first decorated with a newt, but was destroyed by bandits in the seventeenth century. In 1670, four angels holding up a pile of stone were aggregated. This fountain was especially important because it was located on the Cours Mirabeau, where the rich went, to see and be seen. In the background, the Mazarin quarter was the new residence of the nobility of parliament. Then in 1687 they decided to make it a hot spring fountain, with water coming out from the Bagnier fountain. With lime and water temperature, it is layered in green all year. It has been prohibited since 1708, to wash your clothes in this place!
It's said the the fountain was used in Roman times for thermal baths, and that's where it got its name. This fountain was renovated on several occasions. The hot water from this spring was used by another fountain in the center of the city 1685. This was placed on the side of a building to give easy access to people on foot and in horse carriages. They later started using hot water in other fountains and this became a cold water fountain. The angels and the marble basin are from this period. But the portrait of Paul Cézanne in bronze and was created by another famous artist from the region, Auguste Renoir. It was donated by a gallery in 1926.
The first guilds of Aix arrived in 1520, with the Gray Penitents coming a little later in 1677. The Penitent brotherhood are like monks - they are a lay association with rules, which began to appear in the XIII century. They engage in a profession or a special charity, which generally is to bury the poor, those ve died of epidemics, or to serve the rejects of society. The Penitents normally dressed the same, but there are some privileged ones, like the poor, in the order. This uniform makes them all equal in their work. The Gray Penitents were engaged in burying the poor and strangers. They are called this because they wore a gray jacket, which they were also buried in. The people of the city really respected them. In the chapel you can see beautiful works of art, like Posted Tomb, from 1510.
This square, also known as the Place du General de Gaulle, stands on several main streets and features a newly installed statue of Cezanne. There's a beautiful fountain in the middle, adorned by figures representing Agriculture, Justice, and Fine Arts. It is one of the most beautiful places in the city.
The central clock in Aix en Provence is an iconic monument of the city. It's next to the town hall which is crowned by a bell and a wrought iron top which keeps it still during the strong winds which occur. There is a small balcony just below the clock but you can no longer visit it to see the sights of the city. The Astronomical Clock dates back to 1661 and is decorated with four wooden statues which represent the seasons of the year. During each season, a metal plate turns and the statues come out and face the tower. The town hall is right next door and the plaza is a popular place to have a drink at a terrace.
Aix en Provence's beautiful town hall dominates one of the most beautiful squares of the city. It was built in the mid-XVII century by Pierre-Pavilion. It has a beautiful wrought iron fence, and you enter on a staircase of honour. In the summertime couples get married in this romantic place, but you have to be a resident of Aix to do so. Right next to the city hall is the town clock, one of the most famous landmarks of the city. People often gather for a drink on the several terrace cafes in the square. The council manages the affairs of the city, but for the many foreign students, the don't do much.
Not far from the centre of Aix-en-Provence, in the Mazarin neighbourhood, this is a lovely square; when I visited, the autumn colours made it really nice. In the centre of the square, I was struck by the fountain with dolphins. It was built in 1667, by a sculptor named Jean-Claude Rambot. Around it are beautiful Provencal buildings, some belonging to wealthy landowners, others businesses for doctors or law offices. Peaceful and tranquil, it's a great spot to go for a bit of quiet.