If I am sure of nothing else, I am certain of this: Aix-en-Provence is a magnificent city! It is truly one of France’s gems. And unless you’ve been here to experience first hand, you may never truly understand or appreciate its worth.
La nourriture is of the utmost importance. All of the things you’ve heard about France in terms of good food is 100% true! Yes, there is truly fresh bread made each and every morning (bakers start their days around 4:00 a.m. to ensure that they are ready and able to serve customers with the best quality). Whether it’s a fresh baguette, pain au chocolat or croissants, it’s magically delicious. Places that you simply must check out that are considered to be staple eateries of Aix are as follows:
- Hippopotamus (delicious burger joint)
- Pizza Capri (although this isn’t the best pizza I’ve ever had, it’s one of the most popular, and something to try at last once. The nutella pizza from here, however, is quite good.)
- Geisha (salmon salad)
- Snack Bar (conveniently located on Bar street- which you’ll read more about momentarily- this is the place to find the best falafel at a great price!)
- Les Deux Garçon
- Burger Bar (the perfect place to go if you’re craving a more authentic taste of home)
- Boca Loca (it’s not Chipotle, but don’t sleep on it! It’s insanely good for an incredible price)
- Pasta Cozy
Even if you don’t get around to trying these places, you’ll definitely find something you like. There’s a bit of everything in Aix.
Quite unlike the US, there’s a fresh market readily available in the town squares near Hotel de Ville almost everyday of the week. Vendors can be seen setting up around 8:30 in the morning and are open until the early afternoon. In one square there is nothing but gorgeous flowers, while in the other fresh produce spills out and over top each table and stall. Incredible fruits and vegetables of every kind can be found, along with other useful ingredients, like honey and spices. There’s even homemade soaps!
Right across the avenue, next to La Brûlerie (where some of the world’s richest hot chocolate can be found), is a fresh fish market. Being in the south of France, with a number of cities laying right on the sea, it’s guaranteed that this product is some of the freshest around.
Given the relatively small nature of Aix, it’s amazing the number of bars and discotheques that they’ve managed to fit into the vicinity. Here are some of the most popular places you might want to check out, should you ever find yourself in the area.
IPN, Bounce, Le Mistral and Le Scat are my personal favorites if I’m looking for a night of boogieing (don’t laugh at my usage of old slang). These clubs are extremely popular, especially with students. The majority of the bars and discotheques (clubs) play American music. This is nice because chances are there will hardly ever be a time when you don’t recognize a song. Le Scat is unique in that it’s the primary spot to go to if you are looking for live music. Typically, performers are fluent in the genres of Jazz or Reggae. However, if you’re into a more modern sound, you simply walk through a corridor and instantly are in the other part of the club, which caters to lovers of pop or electronica.
IPN is where everyone goes when they want to hear Hip-Hop or Rap music. This is a blast; at least for the first week or two. Be warned that although it’s cool, with friendly personnel, it’s not the most spacious club, and is located underground. Because of this, and the fact that everyone enjoys going here, it tends to get very hot, very quickly.
I love IPN, really I do. But, as a woman who enjoys branching out, it didn’t take me that long to discover another great club, Bounce. Lying just on the outskirts of Aix, this is a club that everyone won’t be as familiar with. But, it’s huge! And the DJs, who tend to play only Hip-Hop, R&B, Reggae and Rap, are incredible! (Confession: I only went to Bounce once, but had a phenomenal time. I even got to meet a famous French music singer! Sadly, I can’t recall his name. But maybe you’ll recognize him from the picture below.) Le Mistral is just great all around, but one of the more “posh” venues.
For hanging with friends...There is a rue, or road, known simply as “Bar Street” in the heart of Aix. The actual name of the road is Rue de la Verrerie but as I’m sure you’ve deciphered by now, this is where the majority of the bars are located. With at least four bars, a few clubs, and several small eateries, it’s no surprise that this lane is one of the more popular parts of town. People, especially students, can be found milling up and down the road during the week days and nights. A few bars to check out both on and off this street are: O’Shannon’s, Manoir, Guinness and Sextius Bar. Woohoo, which is known for it’s impeccable peach beer, is located just down the street from IAU, and is a nice, small hangout if you’re looking to catch up with friends and rendezvous after class.
The fun while studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, like any other city, is what you make it. Judging from everything I’ve said you can find one thing or another to occupy your time. You can go out and experience the nightlife with friends, or test out different restaurants. But, to ensure that you have a spectacular time, I suggest you go out and expose yourself to French culture and people. (It’s especially easy to meet French students here). The more immersed you become in the culture and city, the more you learn the ins and outs.
But to offer a little more help, a few things to check out during the semester are the markets held on the Cours Mirabeau and Rue de Sextius each week/ month respectively; the Christmas marché is set up in late November. There are also different music festivals and theatrical performances around the city. And you can't forget about the sporting events! While over here, try to check out an official "football" (soccer) match. I went to my first one in Avignon but just the other day went to my friend's American football game in Marseille. It's not nearly as biggest as soccer over here, but definitely has a small following. It's also never a bad idea to just kick it and hang out at the house with a group of friends. (Sometimes those nights turn out to be the most fun.)
Keep an open eye and an open mind- you’ll find what you’re looking for and the people who’ll make your experience that much better.
Kara Henderson is the Fall 2013 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a junior at the University of Pittsburgh.
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