A guide to living in the picturesque and sunny southern city of Aix-en-Provence in France.
Ultra chic Aix-en-Provence has been called the city of a thousand fountains and the city of water and art…and no wonder, it’s gorgeous. But living here comes at a price.
Aix-en-Provence, or ‘Aix’ (pronounced like the letter ‘X’) as the locals call it, is an elegant Provençal city about 25km from Marseille. It’s got it all: tree-lined boulevards, parks, squares, bubbling fountains, magnificent Baroque architecture, swanky shops, restaurants and cafés, art galleries and museums – all surrounded by stunning countryside, famously painted by Cezanne. It’s also a great university city with a lot of educational institutions and international schools, especially for students from the US. Out of a population of about 140,000, around 30,000 are students.
Cal came here as a student in 2007 and stayed on. “I love the vibe in the city, the culture, especially during the summer music festivals, the markets – and the patisseries. The cakes, mousses, pastries and chocolates of every shape and size are to die for.”
If you want to buy right in the centre of Aix, you’ll need a lot of money, as prices can be extremely high. According to one estate agent, at the top end of the market an apartment in one of the 18th-century mansions near the main boulevard Cours Mirabeau (once described as ‘Europe’s most captivating’ street) can set you back about EUR 2 million; even a miniscule top floor apartment can cost EUR 400,000. A country house within easy reach of the city will be exorbitant too but go a little further afield into the Lubéron and prices are lower.
It’s an expensive place to live too. “Everything seems to cost a lot – clothing and food,” says Cal, “especially if you try and buy the things you’re used to having at home. The cheapest way to eat is to buy food from the markets and to eat what the locals eat – it’s all part of the experience of living abroad anyway.”
Aix has gorgeous sunny weather almost every day of the year with very little rain. In the winter, it seems to escape the worst of the cold Mistral winds blowing across much of the province because it’s protected by the hills to the north of the city. According to Cal, “Much of Provence seems to go into hibernation in the winter months, although it’s great for winter sports with bright clear blue skies, amazing landscapes – and, big plus, there are almost no tourists – but Aix seems to buzz all year round.”
The summers can be extremely hot. Too hot for Brits Jane and Tim: “We rent out the house during July and August. There’s a huge demand for rental property here from tourists in the summer and luckily for us people are willing to pay a lot for it.”
Transport links are excellent. You can get here by plane to nearby Marseille or Avignon airports, while the TGV travels down from Paris in under three hours; London via Lille takes about six and a half hours.