From the foot of Cours Mirabeau — some call it France’s most beautiful avenue — in Aix-en-Provence I make my way past history and beauty intertwined. Richly decorated, Italianate-style hôtels particuliers (private mansions) hark back to the sun-kissed city’s 17th-century golden age, these days filled with boutiques, cafés, and restaurants.
I note fabled Café Les Deux Garçons and, next door, the faded sign indicating the former location of Paul Cézanne’s father’s hat shop. (The Post-impressionst spent most of his life in Aix, though locals never really appreciated his talent.)
Beyond the split in the road, I veer left off the boulevard and, after awhile, end up in the pedestrians-only old town, where the weekly market is unfolding. I run past antique dealers and artists setting up their booths, and stands overflowing with flowers and honey and aromatic soap. I eye a stall billowing with gorgeous tablecloths and curtains made from les Indiennes de Provence—Provence’s famous, brightly printed fabrics. It’s probably a good thing I left my wallet behind.
I loop down through narrow lanes, some dating back to Roman times, admiring Cathédrale Saint Sauveur – home to Nicolas Froment’s Burning Bush triptych – and the city hall’s belfry and astronomical clock.
Mileage: 1.5-mile loop
Best time: Saturday morning market day
Start: La Rotonde, at the base of Cours Mirabeau
End: Café Les Deux Garçons on Cours Mirabeau at Rue Fabrot
- Starting at La Rotonde (one of four fountains that line the avenue), run up Cours Mirabeau
- Beyond the split in the boulevard, turn left on Rue Thiers (which becomes Rue de Montigny, then Rue Matheron, then Rue Pierre et Marie Curie)
- Turn left on Boulevard Aristide Briand
- Enter the pedestrian-only old town at Rue Gaston de Saporta
- Go through Place de l’Hôtel de Ville
- Make your way south on Gaston de Saporta (which becomes Rue Aude)
- Go right on Rue Espariat, then left on Rue Nazareth
- At Cours Mirabeau, turn left to end your run with coffee at Les Deux Garçons (53 Cours Mirabeau)