The one-time Provençal capital is a head-turner of a destination. Travel by train to Aix-en-Provence and discover this city of a thousand fountains, filled with grand squares, manicured gardens, picture-postcard markets and home to one of Europe's greatest opera festivals. It has an art pedigree too, courtesy of its most famous son, Paul Cézanne. Travel by train to Aix-en-Provence from Paris in only 3 hours and from Lyon in only 1 hour, arriving at the Aix-en-Provence TGV station. The high-speed TGV station is 15 minutes from the city centre by bus. The city’s main station, Aix-en-Provence Centre, is on the edge of the old town so the most central of the two stations, and provides connections to Marseille (40 minutes), Sisteron, Manosque and Gardanne.
When taking a train to Aix-en-Provence, upon arrival, hop off and head for the tree-lined Cours Mirabeau which is just 2 minutes on foot from the main station. It is the historic centre’s most famous avenue and stretches all the way to the Rotonde roundabout. Exploring the side streets, visitors come face-to-face with sumptuous town houses and cafés that spill out onto the street, crowded with locals and students from the local university. Heading northwards is Mazarin, an aristocratic district that is home to the gushing Fountain of the Four Dolphins. A stone’s throw from here is the Hôtel de Caumont, a listed hôtel particulier with art exhibitions. 5 minutes’ walk from here is the town hall with its clock tower and adjacent granary – arguably the grandest setting for a post office in all of France.
On Saturdays, the square outside has a picture-postcard flower market. At the northernmost point of the old town, 2 minutes away on foot, is the cathedral, which includes a chapel and understated cloister – fans of sacred art will not be disappointed. In Roman times, the town was flush with Roman baths and today there are a number of places to have treatments from the underground springs. The city also has a serious art pedigree having been the home town of Paul Cézanne. There’s a walking tour through the streets dedicated to this master of post-impressionism, which ends up at the imposing Sainte-Victoire Mountain, immortalised in his famous painting.