Thursday, September 29, 2022

Aix-en-Provence Dos and Don’ts: Guest Post by M.L. LONGWORTH


Today I welcome mystery author M.L. Longworth,  author of the Verlaque and Bonnet mystery series set in Provence. This essay reminds me how special Aix-en-Provence is. Oh to be in France! I'm more of a Francophile than Anglophile, so I've taken the liberty on that quote
. Amusez vous bien!

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M.L. LONGWORTH: Aix-en-Provence Dos and Don’ts

Many of the emails I receive from readers ask about what to see and do when visiting Aix-en-Provence, a small city in southern France where I have happily lived since 1997. Aix (the ‘x’ is pronounced), founded by the Romans and renowned for its fountains, art, and celebrated opera festival, inspired me to write a mystery series: for me, it was a small university town like the Oxford of Inspector Morse, and beautifully preserved like the Venice of Commissario Brunetti. Luckily the editors at Penguin agreed.

 

Do begin your visit at either end (the bottom is beside the fountain, La Rotonde, to top at the statue of Good King René) on Aix’s tree-lined main street Le Cours Mirabeau. Walk up and down it once or twice, before settling in on the terrace of Le Grillon (Le Mazarin in my books) to people watch. Go in and look inside; the interior is gorgeous. The coffee isn’t good, I’m afraid.

 

Do, later in the day, have a much better coffee at Aix’s only coffee roasting house, La Brulerie, on the Place Richelme.


Don’t eat in any of the cafés or restaurants on the Cours Mirabeau, save for the Patisserie Béchard (Michaud in my books). I love their brioche glacée, and their Chantilly-filled brioche cake Le Tropezien.


Do visit Cézanne’s atelier, left exactly the way it was found in 1906 when the artist died. If it’s a nice day, walk (twenty minutes uphill) there and back. 

 

Do visit Le Musée Granet, not necessarily for the Cézanne’s (there are few) but for its permanent collection of regional painting, and whatever temporary exhibit is on.

 

Do try to get same-day cheap seats for the opera festival if you’re visiting in July. If you can’t get an opera ticket, find out from the tourist office (at the Rotonde) what free music concerts are being offered over the summer.



Don’t think that the more expensive restaurants, or the Michelin-starred ones, are the best places to eat in Aix. I think that one of the city’s best is an inexpensive Moroccan restaurant on the tiny Rue Van Loo.

 

Do visit the Cathedral Saint-Sauveur and have a guided tour of its medieval cloister.

 

Do try and get east of Aix to see Cézanne’s obsession, Mont Ste-Victoire. If you don’t have a car, check the local bus schedule (available at the tourist office).

 

Don’t waste any time or money walking around Aix’s latest mistake, a shopping mall called Les Allées de Provence, located at the foot of the Cours Mirabeau. It’s full of chain stores that can be seen in any city, including probably yours.

 

Do wander into some of Aix’s mom-and-pop stores, greeting the employees with a “bonjour” when you enter and an “au revoir, merci” when you leave. The best ones are on the rue Thiers and the rue Boulegon.

 

Do buy picnic food at the market. There’s a market every morning on the Place Richelme, and on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday is the giant market on the Place des Prêcheurs. Avoid the fruit and vegetable stands selling asparagus in December or strawberries in October. Also on this square is the white pillared Palais de Justice, work place of my own character Magistrate Antoine Verlaque and featured in the television series Murder in Provence.

 

The Hôtel Caumont holds first-rate temporary exhibitions in a newly-renovated eighteenth century mansion. Across the street is Aix’s much-beloved Anglo bookshop, Book in Bar. Air conditioned, it’s a cozy place for a tea, scone, and to buy a vacation book.

 

If you like sports, and want some local color, do go to an Aix rugby game (no hooligans in sight), or go to the Stade Yves Blanc (on foot from downtown) to watch the Argonauts, Aix’s amateur American football team.

 

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M.L. Longworth has lived full-time in Provence since 1997. She has written about the region for the Washington Post, the Times (UK), the Independent, and Bon Appétit magazine. She writes a mystery series, set in Aix-en-Provence, for Penguin USA: the tenth book, Disaster at the Vendôme Theatre, will be released in October of 2022. The books have been adapted by Britbox and ITV as a television series, Murder in Provence, starring Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll.

 

 

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