Lauren, a young American girl, came to Aix-en-Provence, a famous university town, to study French. She splits her time between classes at IAU College and an internship at Tour Designer and decided to share her experience about this town that she loves. If you are an American student and are hesitating to make the “big leap”, this account should change your mind!
Arriving only two months ago in the sunny Provence region of France, I am an American student in my junior year of college from the suburbs of Philadelphia, spending my semester abroad in Aix-en-Provence. I came to France planning to see everything I could, and soon realized I needed the help of the university staff in Aix, many who are natives of the Provence region. Without them, and the bit of insight from my French host mother with whom I am living, I would not have been able to see nearly as much as I already have in Aix and the surrounding cities.
Like every city, Aix-en-Provence has its unique, personal feel, fluctuating with the hours of the day. During the morning and afternoon, Aix is a bustling hub of food markets, cafés, and boutiques. The food markets sell local, fresh produce and handmade treats, including calissons, the Aixois specialty made with ground almonds and candied fruits topped with a royal icing. Bakeries (called boulangeries) and pastry shops scatter the streets of Aix and add a wonderful aroma to the air and a lively feel to the morning atmosphere. The cafés of Aix feature all kinds of delicious French food including the French favorite: crêpes! This snack can be filled with anything, savory or sweet. The boutiques throughout the center city make for wonderful shopping or browsing. The stores of Aix have been compared to those of Paris, but with far less of a crowd.
Aside from food and shopping, I love to take time strolling the streets to gaze at the wonderful architecture, and on one of my leisure walks, I stumbled upon an art museum, The Granet Museum, I previously did not know about. On Sunday afternoons I like to explore the many number of parks within the city and engage in one of France’s favorite past-times, people-watching.
By night, the city is still alive with people who fill the restaurants and bars that line Aix’s main street, the Cours Mirabeau. A well-known restaurant and café sits here, called Les Deux Garçons, frequented by famous personalities including Winston Churchill, Pablo Picasso, Edith Piaf, and many more. Even as a student with a limited budget, I was able to take an evening to stop in. The seating and atmosphere of the place was wonderful and even better was the taste of their rich and creamy hot chocolate.
Restaurants and bars are not always everybody’s favorite way to spend an evening, but there is always a concert, show, exhibition, or film showing happening in Aix. Aix-en-Provence has many cultural and entertainment venues, small and large, and it’s easy to find an interesting performance around, either by catching a glimpse of a poster in the street or by stopping at the Office of Tourism in town.
Aside from Aix, I have had the opportunity to travel to a few other cities in the Provence region and see some of the sights the countryside has to offer, including the neighboring town of Marseille, the ancient Romanesque city of Arles, and the beautiful city on the coast, Nice. All three of these places have something different to offer, whether it is the new Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations and the beautiful Old Port in the center of Marseille, the ancient Roman amphitheater which hosts present-day bullfights in the small town of Arles, or the breath-taking view of the city from a mountain-top promenade or the extravagant carnival in Nice every year, there are so many hidden treasures throughout the Provence region.
Even after spending two months in this gorgeous corner of the world, I am always finding new surprises and places of interest. Even just taking a bus ride can seem like a magical experience when you can see the towering Alpes with glittering snow-caps or the vibrant yellow mimosa flowers on the mountain sides that line many of the highways in Provence. Each town is a little part of France’s culture and has a little part in its history. Treat each one as if it were a story to read—touch, smell, feel, and definitely taste everything!