Aix-en-provence is a very vibrant and youthful university city, but it’s so little you can pretty much see the most there in one single day. If you happen to spare 72 hours for Aix already, here is my two cents:
Day 1: Squeeze Aix’s top attractions in one day
Granet museum is a must-see because it houses hundreds of works by famous painters including François Granet, Paul Cézanne, Van Gogh and Picasso. Bring along student ID (if you have) to get free entrance, otherwise the tickets are between 4.5 and 8 euros — not bad either! Please note that the museum has two locations : the main one at Place Saint-Jean de Malte and its extension Granet xxe is at Rue Maréchal Joffre, just 5 mins walk away. Both are located in the heart of the Old City so you can combine the museum visits with a walking tour around the historic quarters, the picturesque boulevard Le Cours Mirabeau, the major cathedral and the open market. Don’t bother buying a metro pass. As I said Aix is really tiny you can explore the whole city on foot!
Me, at the Granet museum
Day 2: Hiking in Sainte-Victoire mountain
Sainte-Victoire mountain is just 40 mins from Aix by bus. The famous French artist Cézanne was obssessed about its landscape so much he used to come here for a walk and “spent his whole days on the mountain tops, reading Virgil and looking at the sky” (Paul Gauguin – 1885). Picasso even bought a villa at the foothills of the mountain — Château de Vauvenargues, where he stayed between 1959 and 1962 and later returned to rest in peace. You don’t need to be art-savvy but it’s worth paying a visit to the place where the greatest painters of all time found inspiration. It’s free anyway!
How to get there? Take the bus line #140 from Aix’s central bus station — just €2 for a round trip! Prepare some snacks and water for a day trip. If you can, bring along trekking shoes and poles too!
Best time to go? Anytime but summer. Since the massive forest fires in 1989, access to Mont Sainte-Victoire has been largely restricted every year from July to September. Please hurry up, enjoy the authentic views as much as you can before the French Government builds a new high-speed railway line from Marseille to Toulon at the foot of the mountain!
Day 3: Visit the old villages in Luberon
If you still need more nature, get out of Aix for a little adventure back in time. Luberon claimed itself as France at its finest, with spectacular vineyards and ‘perched ‘hilltop villages dating a thousand years or more. One of my favourites is Lacoste, a pretty medieval village that seems unspoiled and not overly rennovated. The town is best known for the castle of the Marquis de Sadeis which is now a private property of fashion designer Pierre Cardin, but tourists can feel free to discover the town’s ancient paths, enjoy the stunning mountain views and admire beautiful comtemperary art sculptures from the rooftop of the castle (for free). It’s like a ghost town during this low season!
How to get there? Since there is no direct bus from Aix to Luberon villages, I suggest you to couch-surf with a local who is happy to show you around. I was very lucky I found a host in Cavaillon who was on vacation so he drove me and another surfer to the villages (we paid for the food and fuel expense which cost almost like nothing!)