Aix en Provence in the south of France is famous for its beauty. Aix is also known for its luxurious mansions, its many fountains, its churches with Romanesque and Gothic features, and its lively squares and sidewalk cafes. It’s also famous as the home of Cezanne, the Impressionist painter. On a Context Travel walking tour of Aix, you’ll explore all of this, along with the town’s ancient Roman history, which includes the remains of the original road built by Romans.
Walking Tour of Aix en Provence, France
On our recent trip to France, my family started in Paris, explored the towns of Normandy along the river Seine on a 5-day river cruise, then returned to Paris to take a high-speed train to the south of France. A highlight in the south of France was visiting the town of Aix en Provence, where we took a wonderfully informative walking tour with a Context Travel guide.
What is a Context Travel tour?
I love the concept of Context Travel tours: in-depth walking tours with local experts, for culturally curious tourists. For each tour, a local expert guides a small group of up to 6 people and focuses on a particular topic. Depending on the subject of the tour, your guide might be a chef, historian, architect, or a different specialist.
Context Travel lets you travel deeper by learning the historical, cultural, or artistic context for the sights you are visiting. We first took a Context Travel tour of Paris. Later in our trip to France, we booked a Context Travel guide again when touring Aix en Provence.
Beautiful Colors of Aix en Provence
Can you fall in love with a color palette? Aix en Provence has gorgeous mansions and apartment buildings in yellow, ochre, and cream, with pale blue and green window shutters. The brilliant blue sky sets off the warm colors of the buildings. The famous south of France sunlight makes the stone glow. Life in Aix seems to take place outside, at sidewalk cafes, open-air markets, and on the street. My family loved this lively town.
Walking Tour of Aix en Provence
My family had never been to Aix – or anywhere in the south of France. So we wanted a walking tour that would be a good introduction to the town, the region’s history. Since Aix is famous as the hometown of Cezanne, some of its art history too. We made a good choice with the Context Travel tour Aix en Provence From Roman Beginnings to Provencal Capital.
Our guide was an American, an art history professor who has taught in Aix for many years and also lives there. Aix is a compact, walkable town, with many pedestrian-only streets and plazas.
On our 3-hour walk of Aix, our guide wound us through the pedestrian-friendly streets. She took us inside churches, showed us beautiful squares and fountains, and walked us along the tree-lined main boulevard.
All the while she explained its ancient and medieval history and pointed out architectural details. Aix was founded by Romans in 123 BC. A highlight of the walking tour was seeing the ruins of the original Roman road.
The Cathedral in Aix is a mix of architectural styles from the 5th to the 17th Century. Inside, its cool white stone and soaring arches are a stark contrast to the warm lively colors of Aix houses. The Cathedral cloisters are a peaceful oasis in a bustling town.
For centuries, Aix has been a wealthy town. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, wealthy families built mansions with courtyards and gardens – essentially palaces. One of my family’s favorite architectural oddities were the sculptures of elegant nudes guarding the front entrances of mansions in Aix.
The plague hit Aix multiple times, and as recently as 1720. On many street corners in Aix, look up and you might see a small religious statue that a family installed to protect themselves from plague or to thank a patron saint for helping them to survive.
The Impressionist painter Cezanne lived in Aix and painted the surrounding countryside. Our guide pointed out Cezanne’s father’s business.
We ended our walking tour at the Deux Garçons sidewalk café, first opened in 1792, and popular with artists and writers, including Cezanne and Hemingway. My family was pretty tired at that point, and we were all ready to stop for a cold drink.
Logistics of taking a walking tour of Aix en Provence
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking and standing for up to 3 hours, and the streets can be cobblestone.
A Context Travel tour is a good fit for families with kids old enough to be engaged by a cultural tour and comfortable with walking.
Be sure to confirm with Context Travel where you will meet your guide and leave time to walk to the spot.
Because we were not staying in Aix, we scheduled the tour for the afternoon, to allow time to take a bus from where we stayed in Arles. We met our guide at a statue in town, a quick walk from the bus station.
So far, my family has taken Context Travel walking tours only in France: first in Paris, then in Aix. But Context Travel offers tours throughout Europe, Asia, U.S. and Canada, and a few in South America. I’m looking forward to future tours with their expert guides.
Would you take an historical or architectural walking tour? Tell us about it in the comments.