Ah, Provence. I imagined myself waking up in front of a window that framed chalky mountains cutting like teeth into a brilliant blue sky. I imaged myself riding a vintage Vespa through rolling fields of gold and lavender in search of a baguette. I would throw my hands up in the air and exclaim “C’est belle la vie!” I came back to reality when I saw the accommodation prices in Aix-en-Provence. For all its beauty, the south of France is not the place for a cheapo backpacker. Yet I was determined to visit. After several nights of research, I figured out a way to visit Aix-en-Provence for cheap(ish). Here’s how to spend a day or two in Aix-en-Provence on a shoestring budget.
If you’re coming from Marseille, getting to Aix-en-Provence couldn’t be easier. Head to Gare de Marseille and hop on a train to Aix-en-Provence. It will take you straight to the central train station. It’s a short walk to the town centre from there. It was about 6 euros for a one-way ticket and trains come every 30 minutes. Note: Many tourists come to Aix-en-Provence after visiting Marseille. Argue with me if you want but I think Marseille is a cesspit. If you’re coming from farther south, I would just change trains in Marseille and go straight to the charming streets of Aix-en-Provence.
If, like me, you’re coming from another part of France, getting to Aix-en-Provence isn’t as straight forward. You have three options: TGV (high-speed rail), bus, or Blablacar.
I came from a pretty rural area so my only option was the TGV. The high-speed train is great but it cost me over 100 euros! It broke my budget a little. The other downside of the high-speed train is that the TGV station is not in the centre of town. You have to get a Bus 40 to the centre. It costs 4.30 euros. Follow the bus sign to a little bus stop underneath the station. Everybody else will be getting the same bus.
There are limited Flixbus services from major cities. They cost between 5 and 30 euros.
You can share a ride for the cost of a tank of fuel with Blablacar for 15-40 euros depending on the distance. This would definitely be a fun option if you’re organised and speak a little bit of French.
Where to stay
When you step off the train and your shoulders ache under the weight of your backpack, you’re going to want to find somewhere nice to lay your head. Unfortunately, if you’re a poor backpacker, finding accommodation is the trickiest part of staying in Aix-en-Provence.
Goclands is the only hostel in the area. Their ‘dorms’ are actually shared tents and they cost upwards of 30 euros per night. It’s also over 2km from the centre of town. I didn’t stay there because I wanted to be in the town centre.
I am mindful of how badly AirBnB affects touristic towns like Aix-en-Provence, so I am always a bit reluctant to rent AirBnBs. However, hotels were out of the question in Aix, so I went ahead and booked a little Airbnb studio owned by a lovely woman named Valerie. When I say little, I mean I actually thought my room was a broom closet. But it only cost 30 euros a night for a place of my own literally right in the middle of town, across the square from the town hall. There were plenty of options available, so take your pick!
Your boots are made for walkin’ and that’s just what they’ll do. The main charm of this medieval town is walking around the narrow, winding streets lined with delightful yellow buildings. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from one side to the other on blissful flat ground. A local bus system exists but why waste your time being a bus nerd?
Where to eat
The amount of restaurants in Aix-en-Provence is mind-boggling. Many of them are expensive. Many of them have Michelin stars. Few of them met my budget. It goes without saying that your pockets will be extra light if you eat out a lot in this little town. Your saving grace will be the wonderful market that takes place every day in Place Richelme. Someone who isn’t me just loaded up on cheese and bread there and lived off that for a few days. The accompanying wine ensured that that person did not get scurvy. If you’re after a cheeky dessert after a cheese and wine binge, head to Patisserie Weibel on the corner of the square. There you can stuff your face with all kinds of delicious and well-priced pastries.
What not to do
Impressionist extraordinaire, Paul Cezanne, had his studio in Aix-en-Provence. Visiting Cezanne’s studio sounds romantic, but I wouldn’t bother. It was a waste of time. It costs upwards of 7 euros (depending on your situation) to visit one small room. You don’t see any of his art. You are given a pretty uninformative piece of paper with some vague information. You are done in about three minutes. It was really not worth the money. Most people left looking annoyed. You can, however, catch a glimpse of this beautiful mountain peak from his rather overgrown garden for free.
What to do
Roam around. Seriously, just roam around. I guarantee you’ll come across all kinds of cool fountains, shops, markets, and festivals. Aix-en-Provence is an incredibly beautiful town to just be
. It’s the perfect chance to get around to practising some of that mindfulness stuff. And it’s free! If you’re itching for stimulation (blech), head over to the art gallery. It is somewhat deceptively called the Hotel de Caumont but it is not a hotel. I tend to wax poetic about art galleries, but for a small town, this gallery really held its own. There is currently an incredible exhibition there featuring some of the major works usually found at the NYC Guggenheim. From Manet to Picasso, many of these art pieces were painted in Provence. Many have not returned to Provence since they were painted. It’s a special thing to see. Ticket prices range from 9.50-14 euros. Once you’ve gone through the art gallery, you’ll want to rest your feet. Cross the road and go to Book in Bar, a little foreign language bookshop/cafe. It’s one of the best foreign language bookshops I’ve ever been to and the carrot cake is to die for. That should do you for activities for a day or two. Aix-en-Provence is very much an eat-and-relax kind of place. It’s beautiful and despite its expense, if you play your cards right, you can have a pretty nice budget weekend there for under 200 euros. Bring a partner or friend along and you can halve those accommodation prices.