Aix marks the spot for Impressionists

Cézanne and Matisse star in a new exhibition in this Provençal gem. Mick Webb gets the picture

As strawberries go with cream, so the name of Paul Cézanne is inseparable from Aix-en-Provence. Rarely, if ever, has a painter been as closely identified with a single place. Next week, a much-heralded exhibition, From Cézanne to Matisse, opens at the Musée Granet in Aix. Part of the celebrations for nearby Marseille's year as co-Capital of Culture 2013, it provides a good excuse to pay a visit to this attractive little city where the "father of modern art" was born, worked and died.

The vast tourist office (00 33 4 42 161 161; en.aixenprovencetourism.com) at Avenue Giuseppe Verdi, where you can pick up brochures on the painter's life, makes an apt starting point for a Cézanne walk. Join the main Avenue des Belges and follow it to Place Général de Gaulle, the roundabout at the heart of Aix-en-Provence. It's adorned with a bronze statue of Cézanne, with hat, walking stick and canvases.

Take Avenue Victor Hugo back off the roundabout and peel off left for Rue Mazarine and the much quieter Rue Villars, passing Cézanne cinema (Aix's other one is a Renoir) and into the 17th-century Mazarin district, filled with elegant town houses with spacious gardens. Among them, at 41 Rue Cardinale was the secondary school, now the Collège Mignet, which Cézanne attended between 1852-58.

Continue along Rue Cardinale to the Musée Granet. This was the art school where Cézanne studied drawing and received the second prize for a painted figure study in 1859. Now, it's the city's main museum (00 33 4 42 52 88 32; museegranet-aixen provence.fr; free for permanent collection, temporary €11/£9.40). Although hosting the new exhibition, its permanent collection has only nine of Cézanne's 1,000 or so works.

At the end of Rue Cardinale, turn left into fashionable Rue d'Italie, with its speciality food shops, then left again into Cours Mirabeau, the broad boulevard, lined with plane trees, where the well-to do of Aix have paraded since the 17th century. Among the cafés and restaurants is Les Deux Garçons, whose green and gold decor recalls the period when Cézanne would meet friends here. To the right of the café, an arched alleyway, Passage Agard, takes you into the Old Town, where narrow streets open on to impressive squares. At the end, the Place du Verdun, with a bustling market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, links with the Place des Prêcheurs, whose church of La Madeleine is where Cézanne was baptised in 1839.

Bear left along Rue Matheron, where Number 14 is one of several houses in which the Cézanne family lived. A right turn at the end into Rue Boulegon takes you past Number 13, the site of the bank where Cézanne worked briefly and reluctantly for his father, the owner. Number 23 was the painter's last home, where he died of pleurisy in 1906. A left turn, however, will bring you to the Hôtel de Ville, the Town Hall, where Cézanne married Marie-Hortense Fiquet in 1886. It was not a very happy union, as the portraits of her seem to suggest. Behind the Hôtel de Ville, the Place des Cardeurs is an ideal place for lunch: restaurants range from the smart Epicurien (00 33 6 89 33 49 83) to the pizzeria Prima Pasta (00 33 4 42 21 33 00) with its sunny terrace.

Turn left off the end of the square for the main axis of the old town, Rue Gaston de Saporta, which leads uphill towards the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur, an endearing hotch-potch of styles and periods (00 33 4 42 23 45 65). This is where Cézanne attended mass and where his funeral was held in October 1906. The cathedral's best painting is a 15th-century triptych entitled the Burning Bush. According to Cézanne's friend Emile Bernard, the figure of Moses bore an uncanny resemblance to Cézanne.

To capture the real spirit of the painter requires more of a walk, 1km northwards out of town, up Avenue Pasteur. The Atelier Paul Cézanne is the house which he had built in 1902 with the inheritance from his father.

In the peaceful studio, surrounded by woodland, and flooded by light from the huge window in the northern wall, Cézanne worked every morning of his last four years, producing masterpieces such as Les Grandes Baigneuses. On a guided visit (00 33 4 42 21 06 53; atelier-cezanne.com; €5.50/£4.70) you can see the clothes, palettes and the fruit bowls used in his still-lifes. Most striking is the huge slot, like a vertical letterbox, through which Cézanne dragged his enormous canvases as he went out to paint directly from nature.

A further 500m up the hill, past the Paul Cézanne retirement home is the Terrain des Peintres. It's the vantage point from which, day after day, Cézanne observed and painted the ever-changing colours of Mont Sainte-Victoire, which rises starkly in the distance. It's fascinating to sit and compare the real thing with the nine panels showing reproductions of the master's stunning takes on the mountain, which he painted more than 80 times.

Fresh cuts

Aix's opera festival, with its open-air performances, is one of the cultural highlights of the Provençal summer. It runs from 4-27 July and new for this year is a special package of three performances: Elektra, Don Giovanni and Rigoletto (00 33 434 08 02 17; festival-aix.com).

In September, Marriott will open the new five-star Hôtel Renaissance in Aix at 320 Avenue Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (00 33 4 425 905 79: marriott.co.uk).

Travel essentials

Getting there

Mick Webb visited Aix-en-Provence courtesy of British Airways and the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Tourist Board.

Fly to Marseille from Heathrow with BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com), from Gatwick with easyJet (0834 104 5000; easyJet.com) or on Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Edinburgh, East Midlands and Stansted. Shuttle buses to Aix leave the airport every half hour, from 5.30am to 11pm; €7. 60 (£6.50) single.

 

Staying there

The Hôtel St Christophe at 2 Avenue Victor Hugo (00 33 4 42 26 01 24; hotel-saintchristophe.com) is well placed for the start of the walk. It has doubles from €97 (£83), with breakfast an extra €6 (£5)pp.

 

More Information

Aix tourist office (00 33 4 42 161 161; aixenprovencetourism.com) or the UK French Tourist Office (090 68 244 123; 60p/min at all times; uk.franceguide.com).

News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing