Meet the provencal locals

Unexpected Aix: our curious ancestors


A walk full of funny and sometimes wicked anec- dotes ...“Unexpected Aix” is a walk through the city with street storyteller Jean-Pierre Cassely. Using the names of streets and monuments and the commemorative plaques on buildings, he will describe great and small moments in the life of Aix past and present: anecdotes that are some- times unheard of, sometimes surprising, at times comical, but always fascinating.

Let him take you back in time like an unseen observer, listening to the people and stories that stirred "the loveliest city in France".

Behind the thick walls of the Cours Mirabeau mansions flows a history that is sometimes as warm as the water of its fountains ...

Aix, city of water, city of Zola


The city with many fountains owes its reputation to the thermal water which feeds them. Even in the time of Zola and Cézanne, official analyses had already shown that it could be drunk or used for bathing in the treatment of illnesses.

In 1858 Emile Zola, who was then only 18, left Aix-en-Provence for Paris. He had grown up in Aix from his early childhood to the end of his teenage years, and it was the place of his best and worst memories.

"Aix, City of water, City of Zola" is your chance to discover the world of the young Zola before his decisive departure for Paris which was to mark the start of his writing career. "Stubborn and unsociable, puny and pensive", Cézanne wrote of his friend Zola. As you sit at the edge of the most beautiful fountains listening to a storyteller, you will relive Zola's young years, discovering events in his life that will give you a better understanding of his work and personality. The tour of Aix and its fountains will offer you a glimpse of the artist's passionate relationship with the city, and particularly with its water, the recurring theme of his youth, a symbol of both pleasure and suffering.

Listen to the gentle, soothing sound of the water of the fountains and embark on a discovery of Zola as you never imagined him.

"I have already swum in the water of the Seine. But here, there is no cool spring to freshen the wine; here, there is no Cézanne with his great imagination, his cheerful and spicy conversation!" (Letter from Emile Zola to Paul Cézanne, 14 June 1858).

Wine in Provence

(From the romantic property of The XVIIIth to the contemporary architecture of Jean Nouvel)

Two very different approaches to life in a vineyard today. The domain Val Joanis was founded in 1730 by Jean Joanis, secretary to King Louis III of Naples and today the Chancel family continues to exploit the vineyards in the same meti- culous way. A short history of the domain and its running will be explained, followed by a tasting of the different wines produced. The tour of the gardens, classified as "outstan- ding", will make a spectacular end to your visit to the estate. In the afternoon: Château La Coste will show you how a traditional vineyard has been transformed into a unique place of art and contemporary architecture.

The walk through the estate's woods, hills, olive groves and vineyards shows how the agricultural site has been transformed into a carefully designed itinerary so that visi- tors can see agriculture intimately linked with works of art and installations by internationally renowned artists such as Tadao Ando and Louise Bourgeois.

The creation of the cellars by Jean Nouvel will transport you into the futuristic world of the wine-grower.

NB: The Art and Culture walk lasts for approximately 2 hours and suitable footwear is recommended.

At the end of the afternoon you can taste the Estate's wines as an aperitif.

Provençal Cuisine

At 8.30 a.m. Marc Heracle will meet you at the hotel to drive you around the food markets in the old town of Aix. A transfer to the Arnajon bastide will allow you to be entertained by our host and discover while watching his preparation, a typical local Provencal meal

An aperitif and lunch in the wonderful dining room, or if weather prevailing under the plane tree, situated in front of the orange grove.

The afternoon will be spent meeting another Provencal family, owners of several gardens created in 1751 known as the Albertas gardens. With great architectural ability, showing terraces, walls, water features, giving references to the traditional French gardens with an Italian influence. Late afternoon back to the hotel, dinner.

The Provencal Cloth

The Souleiado Museum has been created in a private mansion which housed an indian cloth-printing factory from 1806. This social museum blends the history of Provence with the tradition of cotton cloths. These textiles, printed with coloured motifs known as "indiennes", are today's "Provencal fabrics". Accompanied by the curator, you will see rare examples of Provencal costume, wonderful piqué work, charming recreations of old daily life in Provence, and an exhibition of 18th century plates.

Various workshops: "boutis" (fine quilting), embroidery, lace, "santon" figurines, available throughout the year. Lunch in a Provencal restaurant will allow you to taste the Provence-style “farniente” before a guided visit of the town of Arles to the Arlaten Museum, where Frédéric Mistral set up the Grand Museum of Provencal Culture and where, in particular, one can admire the traditional costumes. In the oldest part of the city, you will notice that a lot of shops are specialised in Provencal clothes.

Castle living at La Barben

(from the Middle Ages to the 18th century)

General tour: Guides in period dress bring the past to life throughout your visit. Arriving on the state balcony after climbing a monumental staircase is a thrilling moment for anyone who loves Provence. The tour of the chapel and 12 fully furnished rooms shows the history of Provence and the castle: its architecture and furniture, as well as the lives of famous people of Provence and France.

Marius Granet and Chateau de La Barben

Visit the boudoirs painted by this famous painter, his bedroom (first self-portrait in front of the mirror), the bedroom and boudoir of Pauline Borghèse, and a superb drawing-room decorated with mural paintings of Versailles and its copses. Light meals are available at the Château, or eat at one the restaurants in the village.

In the afternoon, medieval tour of the underground passages, "the corridors of time". Sir Thibault de Saint Hilaire will lead you through the underground rooms and passages dating from the Middle Ages. Through the guided tour of the guard rooms, the dungeons, the bread oven and the secret passages, you will learn fascinating facts about daily life in the Middle Ages and the history of chivalry, weapons of war, and the equipment of knights.

Then enjoy a tour of the one hectare French gardens: the romantic sound of a waterfall as you walk along the box-tree avenues, the perfection of the classical design and the beauty of the ponds and statues, the 17th-century outer ramparts and the Vallon de Maurel River flowing below ancient plane trees.