#2 Wild Roving – Living Word’s City Guide.
The French from ‘le sud’ have a bit of a reputation as being rather ‘nonchalant’ to say the least – it’s just their way. To get a smile from a waiter, flight attendant or potential client, it’s best not to ramble on in English too much, but to actually try your hand at a bit of French. Whilst they do speak English to a so-so level, in making the extra effort, you’ll find it much easier to enjoy the city and its people.
‘So what’s here for me?’, you may ask.
Thanks to its myriad of fountains, boulangeries, spas, boutiques, cafés, churches, restaurants and, of course, sunshine, Aix-en-Provence (or as locals call it, Aix) is a historical tourist magnet. And the fact that it’s a 30-minute drive from the behemoth city of Marseille makes it a popular destination for international business people too.
Stay: get pampered or be independent
If your trip is going to be stressful and jam-packed with meetings, then book a room at the Aquabella Hotel. It’s right on the edge of town and mere minutes from the town’s best haunts. Its rooms have free WIFI and access to a safe where you can keep your valuables. The hotel also happens to be an annex to an incredible roman spa, the Thermes Sextius. So once your meetings are over, let off some steam in the hammam or go for a run in the gym.
For a little more freedom, stay at the central Aparthotel Adagio, a very business-like but homey space. Rooms have a kitchen (don’t worry, there’s a breakfast buffet), a proper office space and free WIFI. Employees speak English and can assist with your housekeeping, laundry and even your dry cleaning.
Eat: feast on bagels and sushi, or local cheese and wine
Aix is for foodies: you can’t go 10 metres without walking past a trendy looking café or restaurant. If you’re meeting up with a client for breakfast, book a table at the Brasserie Le Bidule. You’ll have the choice between a French (think buttery croissant), English (think eggs and bacon), American (think bagels and donuts), Corsican (think cheese and jam) or Swedish (think salmon and cranberries) style breakfast.
For lunch, head to the clean-cut sushi bar, Geisha, on the Cours Mirabeau. They make the best sushi in town, and if you opt for the €13.50 lunchtime special, it won’t be too pricey. Whether you’re entertaining clients or alone, head to the Fromagerie du Passage, a bustling little restaurant on the Passage Agard, for a dinner of cheese, charcuterie and Côtes de Provence.
Do: have a stretch, jump on the mini-tram, or sip on a cup of hot tea
Spent the day hunched over your computer or sealing business deals? Go relax and clear your head. The Aixois are very much into their work-life balance, so head for a dynamic yoga class at the YAMA Yoga Aix Centre, a 10-minute walk from the centre of town.
If you’d rather disconnect with a decent cup of tea and a book (in your own language), go to ‘Book in Bar’, an international library and bookshop that also happens to be a cozy café. A short walk away is the stunning Granet Museum. There’s always some quirky exhibition on – from Picasso to Warhol – so just stroll in.
If you want to do something more outdoorsy, jump on the mini tram that leaves in front of the Rotonde fountain. And if you’re feeling energetic (and have a rental car), go for a brisk walk around the Mont Sainte-Victoire – the mountain made famous by the acclaimed local painter, Cézanne.
How to engage with the locals: always greet a French person with a friendly ‘Bonjour!’ Not saying hello is very impolite. Past 5 or 6pm, make sure you switch over to ‘Bonsoir!’, ‘good evening’. If you’re meeting up with a client or a colleague, stay business-like. Whilst the French are famous for doing ‘la bise’ (greeting someone with a peck on both cheeks), this isn’t actually acceptable in a more formal context. Go for a firm handshake. And use the formal ‘vous’ when addressing someone, not ‘tu’. So it’s: ‘Comment allez-vous?’ and not ‘Comment vas-tu?’
How to show your thanks: say ‘Merci!’ And if someone – be they a client or part of the hotel staff – has been very obliging to you during your trip, you can say ‘Merci, c’est gentil’, meaning ‘Thank you, that’s very kind.’
How to order your morning coffee: ‘Bonjour, un café s’il vous plait.’ (Good morning, a coffee please.’) Brace yourself; the ordering and getting served process may take some time…
Aix is a market town – the food and flower stalls around the Place de la Mairie (town hall) are open every single day from around 7am to 1pm. Fruit and vegetables tend to be cheaper and of better quality than in supermarkets, but more luxury produce is a tad more expensive (but delicious). So just stroll past the wonderful cheeses, breads and cakes, or buy a box of Calissons, a local sweet made from orange blossom, almonds and candied melon. What’s more, there’s a clothes and accessories market on three days a week: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Bon séjour et au revoir!