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).

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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
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

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?