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A Month in Amazing Aix-en-Provence

September 2021
Aix-en-Provence

I thought I posted this but went to send the link to someone here on the France Travel Forum and couldn't find it. So, here is a long overdue bit of a trip report about our month in Aix-en-Provence last fall. I won’t go into all of the details day-by-day but will provide an overview and am happy to answer any questions other travelers might have. I had so much help from this group, and I truly appreciate all of the support. Special shout-out to Darcy :)

And we're off!

We had a 5:30 a.m. car pick us up for the drive to LAX. Our 8:30 am flight left on time and we departed from LAX, connected through Chicago on United. LAX was a breeze but O’Hare was a bit unorganized. Still in the height of Covid, airlines didn’t have a buttoned-up process in place to check paperwork and vaccines. With a 3-hour layover in Chicago, there was no reason for us to stress. After standing in a long line at our gate to receive the proper bracelet, we boarded our plane bound for Paris. As we were ready to push back, our female captain came on the intercom and said there were a few people whose connection got in late and we were going to wait for them. With such few flights to Europe, this seemed the humanitarian thing to do. Life had slowed. Priorities had changed. No one had a problem with departing late. Upon landing, I sought out this female captain and told her how proud I was to be a passenger on her plane.

The long haul – 19 hours – was complete! We landed in Paris!

Quick and efficient process at CDG. No one checked our vaccine cards, only our passports. But our journey wasn’t over yet -- we were off to catch our train to Aix. We had built three hours into our schedule to get our bags and to the train station at CDG. It was more than enough time. Our TGV left for the Paris Disney station where we were supposed to have just under an hour until our next train. However, our OUIGO train had a mechanical problem. It pulled into Marne-la-Valle Chessy an hour late. But there it sat. There we sat. We waited on the train, we waited off the train, we finally got a new train and departed three hours late. Arriving at the Aix-en-Provence TGV Station after dark, we followed people to the bus to take us into town.

30 hours later we were finally at our destination. C'est la vie.

Our apartment was a dream! Located in the heart of Old Town on a beautiful street it was exactly what we wanted. We woke up with a bundle of energy to go explore what we be our hometown for the next four weeks. The chatter on the street was beckoning so we ventured out to the picturesque Place Richelme with its warm-colored buildings, plane trees and many cafes surrounding a bustling market. We picked up some orange bread then walked along the uneven winding streets to the Place de Justice where another market was in full swing. There were several vendors selling from big pots of paella, large ovens roasting chickens and many other delicious-looking dishes. We picked up paella and poulet bio basquaise with pomme de terre to have dinner that evening. Then back to Place Richelme where we settled into Café l’Unic for café sitting, people-watching and coffee. It was the perfect French morning! Week one highlights to come.

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My granddaughter spent her Fall college semester a year ago in Aix-en-Provence. She absolutely loved it. I was there for 5 days this past June and can’t wait to return one day. I am so envious of your month in such a wonderful place and look forward to more of your adventures there. Thank you for posting.

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Thanks Tammy and Andi. It was such a special place during Covid before people were traveling much :)

The beauty of having four weeks is that, although I am an obsessive over-planner, we didn’t have to plan every segment of every day. We always take walking tours early into our adventure and this was no different. Most tours were in French; I think this was due to Covid and tourist activities were not up and running completely. And although I had studied French on and off (more off) for two years (this trip was postponed from 2020), a tour in English was what we pursued.

A little history
The history of Aix starts with the Roman consul of Caius Sextius Calvinus in 122 B.C. Just fascinating! We roamed the Old Town, the “new” Quartier Mazarin, heard about the rise, fall and rise of this vibrant city. And vibrant it is! We met a lovely German couple; the wife spoke English. It was nice to spend time with them a couple of nights, and of course, now we are friends on LinkedIn and such. One of the many reasons we travel, right?

Well-dressed people everywhere, a very clean pedestrian town, darling expensive clothing shops, some touristy restaurants but some very good local restaurants and wine bars, and a fantastic Indian restaurant called Delhi Delice. We found a charming boulangerie that fast became our morning routine. Actually, my husband’s morning routine. He would venture out early and come back with two pain au chocolat from Jacob’s Boulangerie then make coffee in the little Bialetti espresso maker. Simple pleasures.

A few grand sights

-The Cathédrale Saint Sauveur is a don’t miss. Dating back to the 12th century, construction spanned seven centuries and combines various styles that are Baroque, Gothic and Romanesque. https://www.cathedrale-aix.net/

-We also walked to Le Terrain des Peintres, Cezanne’s favorite vista of Sainte-Victoire Mountain (11,000 steps there and back!)

As luck would have it, this week was Aix’s back-to-school/summer clearance sale. My husband was the luckier and scored several shirts from Peter Polo Saint Tropez and two pairs of suede loafers from Bocage Homme. 

But the highlight of this week, and the memory still in my mind six months later is a young gentleman pianist who came to the elegant 18th century Place d’ Albertas a few evenings and played the most marvelous classical music. Listening from the open French doors of our apartment or sitting on the wall of the elegant cast-iron fountain built in 1912 that rests in the middle of the square, I still hear Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in F-sharp major, Op. 15 No. 2.

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Week Two

A town of fountains AND gardens
After a week of living life on Rue Espariat, we were ready to plan a bit more sight-seeing and venturing out. We walked to the Pavillon de Vendôme just outside of the Old Town. Built by Louis de Mercoeur, Duke of Vendôme and grandson of King Henry IV, the façade is a beautiful example of classical architecture with beautiful gardens. Inside this smallish manor is an art exhibit and while we were in Aix, there was an exhibition by Eric Bourret of his Sainte-Victoire photos. It made for a nice afternoon but not a must-see if short on time.

We continued to explore outside of the Old Town and hiked six miles to Parc Jourdan, Promenade de la Torse, Stade Georges-Carcassonne and Saint-Pierre Cemetery. Strolling through the old cemetery where the French artist and Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne is buried, one remembers how old most so many civilizations are.

Roman ruins
With the intent of living normal life in France, we ventured out on another hike the next day, something we do regularly at home. Today, we went seven miles to and from Oppidum d’Entremont. The gate was closed, but a staff member opened it to drive in so we (and another couple) followed the car in. This area was inhabited by the Celto-Lingurians who arrived from the north in the 7th Century B.C. Entremont was created in 175 B.C. on a key route used by the Romans between the Alps and the Greek colony of Massalia, present day Marseille. There we were, overlooking ancient stone ruins with Cezanne’s Mountain in the distance… yes, just living normal life! HA!

On the way home, we stopped at L' Alsace en Provence on Rue Jacques de la Roque. We bought a traditional Alsace region pork pie with cheese in a pastry to have for dinner. Such a delight! We also stumbled across Mausolee Joseph Sec, a lovely garden with monuments built in 1792 to honor the French Revolution. The statues represent heroes of the Bible and mixed with inscriptions about freedom and equality.

Day trip to L'Isle sur la Sourgue
Perhaps the highlight of the week was a day trip to L’Isle sur la Sourgue. Ralph, the most helpful young man at the Aix tourism office, gave me detailed instructions on how to take the Zou LER 17 bus on an hour journey to this lovely town. Bridges, flowers and waterwheels are dotted through it. Ducks were paddling and people strolling through the boutique-filled streets.

-We followed a path along the river to Partage des Eaux and had a lovely lunch at La Gringette with smoked trout and a delicious Rosé wine.
-The Eglise Notre Dame des Anges is jaw-dropping stunning. Built in the 12th century and renovated in the 18th century, it is an impressive example of baroque style.
-We bought some homemade Pistou to take back with us and a traditional burlap market bag from the darling shop Olive et Raisin.

Caught the 4:55 p.m. bus back to Aix. Highly recommend a visit!

Camp des Milles
On Saturday, we took a tour of Camp des Milles, a French internment camp opened in 1939. Thanks for the suggestion acraven! The audio guides told the story of the cold, dark halls and rooms which were the base from which more than 2,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. There also is lovely memorial in Old Town Aix. It was important and interesting to learn the French perspective. http://www.campdesmilles.org/home2.html

As with many days, we finished the day evening at L'Unic with a glass of Kir.

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Week Three

Two weeks have come and gone. Sunday is typically very quiet in Aix, however today there was an Iron Man event in town. We followed some of the runners to and from Promenade de la Torse, the beautiful green park and walking trail that follows a bubbling stream.

On the way back, we stopped at Stade Georges-Carcassonne and watched the soccer games. The club president took us inside to show us the photos of the first team based at the stadium in the 1940s. My husband, being a soccer referee in the U.S. loved watching a local game. I appreciated the chance to sit before we continued on back toward town.

The 37th annual Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days) takes place on a September Saturday and Sunday in cities and villages all over France, and Aix-en-Provence was no different. Our Sunday was topped off with a tour of L’Hotel d”Olivary, a 17th century mansion in Quartier Mazarin. Jean Pierre’s grandson lived in it just prior to the French Revolution. He had to flee France to Germany because he was an aristocrat under Louis XVI. Upon his return, he sold the mansion to the family who lives in it today. Mind-boggling, right? But don’t despair! The U.S. has approximately 170 17th-century homes – not bad given there were very few building materials and supplies to work with back then.

Changing apartments mid-month to Quartier Mazarin
We changed apartments during the middle of this month. Our 24-year-old daughter was coming to stay with us for a couple weeks then celebrate her 25th birthday in Paris. So we rented a charming 2-bedroom 2-bath apartment in Quartier Mazarin, rolling our suitcases across the Cours Mirabeau about five blocks. Out our new living room window, we could hear the bells of Saint Jean de Malte. There are no words to describe the magnificence of this special experience each evening. Out our back window was tranquil green gardens and patios of the neighbors. We were quite close to Musee Granet and Rue d’Italia, the oldest street in Aix, was two blocks away.

While Aix is a small town, this new neighborhood also had a Boulangerie Jacob so our morning ritual could continue. We made coffee at home, also in a Bialetti Moka Pot (and yes, we bought one once we returned to California.) I would head out to one of the daily markets, roam the streets and window shop, pick up something for dinner. We went out on several long walks to Promenade de la Torse and I would work from a lovely French dining table each evening staying in touch with my West Coast clients. The schedule was fantastic to have our days free and work in an idyllic setting each evening.

Don't blink as the bus approaches
We took another bus trip to the local town of Le Tholonet. Our plan was to catch the bus to Vauvenargues for lunch but we watched the bus whiz passed on so we quickly pivoted to Plan B. In 1887, Cezanne began to paint here. The view of Mont Sainte-Victoire from here is breathtaking. After a lovely lunch, we walked the 3-mile Cezanne Route back to Aix.

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Week Three Continued

A visitor!
Thursday of Week 3 brought our daughter from Washington, DC. She flew nonstop to Paris, landed late, then raced to change planes to continue on to Marseille. There is a large and very efficient bus terminal just outside of Old Town and it is super easy to take a bus to and from Marseille Airport. So after we got her situated in the apartment, we walked a mile across town and up the hill to Atelier de Cezanne, Paul Cezanne’s studio for a lecture on his work here. Seemed like longer than a mile.

Squares filled with cafes
Have I mentioned the pizza in Aiz? On many corners in Old Town are pizza takeaway spots with 15-20 different kinds of pizza. Once you select which kind you want, it is heated, neatly folded and wrapped in paper so you can eat it as you stroll. Convenient, fast and cost-efficient!

We chose Le Petit Bistrot at Place Richelme for our first French dinner as a family of 3 (older brother had to work and little sister was studying in Florence). Kitty corner from our L’Unic Café, we had watched packed tables nightly. It also was listed in Rick’s Provence book. The highlight of the place was our lively bartender Jack who made us his specialty, Amaretto Sours. He and the other wait staff saved the evening but the food was only fair. I do not recommend.

Our daughter also had to do some remote work so we both worked into the night. Being late birds, it was lovely to enjoy the next morning at the market, have rose’ and biere at one of the many cafes on Place Hotel de Ville while we watched a group of 100 youth on a climate change march. Friday night was a working night but it was nice to have another person at the "conference table." Church bells ringing in the background...

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Week Three Continued

This week came to a close with one of our favorite days! I was excited to show our daughter the market at Place des Precheurs. My favorite French food truck run by a lovely female chef had become my go-to for dinners a couple of nights a week. Today, we selected roasted potatoes, courgette gratin and ratatouille provencale. After taking it all to the apartment, we set out to the very helpful Aix Tourism Office to meet our driver who was taking us to the Luberon. As luck would have it, we were the only ones on the tour so had a private guide for 8 hours.

https://www.aixenprovencetourism.com/en/

Day trip to the Luberon
-The first stop was Lourmarin in the vine-filled lowlands of Southern Luberon. I loved it! Driving up to this charming village, plane trees line the road with beautiful green fields. This is Peter Mayle’s Provence. Lourmarin is not a typical perched, hill-top village, but it is one of the loveliest Luberon villages and also officially one of The Most Beautiful Villages in France. Of all the villages we visited today, this is the only one that I think I could stay in for an extended period of time. These villages are tiny! But with a few buzzing cafés, lots of little boutiques, a 12th-century Chateau to tour and a Provencal apartment, I’m not sure what else we need – at least for a week! ;) Note that there is a twice-daily bus (Line 9) that runs between Aix and Apt stopping at Lourmarin, Bonnieux and Lauris.

-From Lourmarin, we drove to Bonnieux. We only stopped for a half hour to taste “the best ice cream in the Luberon.” Enjoying a wonderful perch with my honey/thyme treat and taking in the Petite Luberon was mesmerizing. Built into a hill, we had a view of Lacoste. Leaving Bonnieaux, we came to Pont Julien Roman Bridge. Its three arches span the Cavalon River. The bridge was built in 3 BC on Via Domitia, a key road that connected the Roman territories of France with Italy.

-Roussillion was next. It is a stunning town to come upon as we drove to another part of Luberon. I did not notice a big difference in the landscape -- vineyards and green fields on all sides of us during the drive from village to village. Also one of The Most Beautiful Villages in France, ochre is everywhere in Roussillion. We hiked up to the top of the village where Eglise Saint-Michel sits. This catholic church has roots that go back to the 11th century. On our way down, we settled into a cozy café as a short bout of rain came in. It was lovely to sit on the back terrace and enjoy the landscape and ochre hills. This village was the most crowded of the four during our Saturday tour. I might consider Rousillion as well for a week's stay.

-The perched on the top of hill Gordes was the last stop of our tour. The jewel of the Luberon, Gordes was founded in 1031 – another one of the many mind-boggling moments that we love about Europe. We toured the Castle of Gordes that also had an art exhibit, and enjoyed the large square and lovely shops. With a population of 2,000 and few tourists in 2021 due to Covid, it was quieter than I had expected.

We had planned to rent a car for a couple of days to explore the Luberon but my husband didn’t feel comfortable driving. It turned out that this tour was a great idea. We saw more, and learned about the history, agriculture and geography of the region without worrying about driving and directions.

Next up, our final week "living like a local" in Aix.

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Next up, our final week in Aix.

A quiet and rainy Sunday
Late September, and it was our first cold, rainy day. The weather, combined with it being a Sunday, made for a very quiet town. We went for an early lunch at La Pizza on Rue Aude. Good food and wine and wonderful service. Funny how each week, my expectation for wine has gone up and up. We had some outstanding wine in France. Our go-to shop was Mademoiselle Wines. They were very helpful and had wines at all different price levels. Oh, and I definitely recommend the restaurant (and I think it might be listed in Rick’s book as well.) Speaking of Rick’s Provence book, I had spent a couple hours reading and reviewing it on our flight across the Atlantic, and unfortunately left it in the seat pocket. AHHHHH!

There is the most charming market on Rue d'Italia called La Jardiniere. I love the charm and character of the small grocers. There is a Monoprix right on Cours Mirabeau which also came in handy. I found the prices for groceries in Aix to be better than my LA suburban markets.

Cezanne on display in his hometown
We spent the afternoon at Musee Granet. It is quite an impressive little museum with Cezanne, Giacometti, Van Gogh, Picasso and much more. The “Pharoh, Osiris and the Mummy, exhibit was there – a collection of ancient Egyptian art pulled together from museums in Glasgow, Copenhagen, and Turin.

https://www.museegranet-aixenprovence.fr/en/homepage

So much to see and do

Also, to see in Aix, is St. Jean de Malte, the first Gothic Roman Catholic church in Provence. It was built in the 13th century, mostly in the 1270s. There is quite a bit of art to see inside, including the Crucifixion by Delacroix.

https://paroissesaintjeandemalte.fr/

Monday brought sunshine and warmer temperatures. We walked over to Hotel de Caumont and decided to go in for champagne and dessert. Most people were seated on the patio overlooking a marvelous garden but the stunning wallpapered over-the-top aristocratic-feeling dining room was beckoning. The 1646 home was designed by Archbishop Mazarin. He also laid out the checkerboard pattern on the Mazarin Quarter with Place des Quatre Dauphins at its heart. We did not tour the home, although they have a lovely, well-stocked gift shop that anyone can go in and see. We also enjoyed the garden since were guests at the restaurant.

https://www.caumont-centredart.com/en

We saved our best meal and restaurant in Aix for the last week. We had a marvelous lunch at Jacquou le Croquant. Owned by Antonia Sarasal, and just off the charming Place Ramus, we were able to get in without a reservation on the late side of the lunch service. Note that reservations are necessary at the good restaurants. Together, we had Supreme of free-range chicken with morel sauce, the fish of the day with garlic cream sauce and a goose dish. Antonia came out of the kitchen and talked with us about her restaurant. Her son is a chef at a high-end restaurant in San Francisco.

https://www.jacquoulecroquant.com/

Day trip to Marseille
Later in the week, we decided to take a day trip to Marseilles. The bus leaves Gare Routiere for Marseilles every 5 minutes. Yes, every 5 minutes! It was super easy, and a short 35-minute ride. We took a walking tour with a friendly knowledgeable guide who gave us the history about the founding of Massalia. Strolling the charming cobblestone streets of Le Panier (the old town), we passed some darling shops, beautiful architecture, and the Accoules Church that dates back to the 14th century. The tour ended at old port, which is a stunning view of the yacht basin and the inlet that leads out to sea. The wind had kicked up so we decided to walk back to the gorgeous Gare de Marseilles - Saint Charles with its grand staircase of 104 steps that leads up to the train and bus station. Standing at the top, we took a last look at the sweeping views of the city, then were off to find a bus back to Aix.

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Our Last Day

Beautiful weather for our last action-packed day in Aix. We walked to Promenade de la Torse for a final stroll in the wooded green park with running streams, a darling playground and walking paths. This has been a great walking trail for us to continue our exercise routine from home.

Market shopping
Straight from the walk, we headed to Cours Mirabeau and Place des Prêcheurs to finally shop – I mean really shop – the market. After four weeks, decisions had to be made -- nothing like market shopping with one’s daughter. There are three main markets in Aix. The daily food market that I’ve mentioned is in Place Richelme, is a beautiful square near the Town Hall. Surrounded by restaurants and bars, it’s the perfect starting place to have a coffee and croissant before browsing all the divine local produce, bakery items, soaps, oils, cheeses and sausages.

My favorite market was the one at Place des Prêcheurs. In addition to the produce, there are many vendors who are selling prepared French dishes. This market has a nice arts and crafts section, selling everything from pottery and handmade wicker baskets to anything scented with local lavender.

The Cours Mirabeau market is the largest in Aix and doesn’t have any produce or food items. It runs the entire length of the street is and had linens, soaps, clothing, antiques, and art. I’d call it more of a flea market than a charming French market.

Librarie de l’Hotel Boyer d’Eguilles
We had our last lovely lunch at Librarie de l’Hotel Boyer d’Eguilles. With us working every evening (on US time), our lunches have been our time to sit and savor. This is another place I would recommend visiting. It is a stunning setting in the courtyard of a mansion built between 1672-75. The bookstore comprises mostly French language books but has some in English, beautiful cards and few other items. The restaurant ambiance is amazing. Ella Fitzgerald music playing in the background. Just dreamy.

The next morning, we were up early to catch a 6 am taxi to the Aix-en-Provence TGV Station. We were off to Paris for three nights, then onto Florence for a week to meet our other daughter studying there for the semester.

Very grateful for being able to spend a month in Provence, and to all the people here who helped me with sights, transportation, schedules, maps and apps. There is something about Europe that is rich for the soul. Very appreciative that we were able to enjoy this wonderful slice.

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Loved, loved your report. About 7 years ago, I told my husband I want to spend a month in the south of France. Alas, I’m still waiting, but your report definitely has me dreaming again. If we get there soon ( retirement is on the horizon), I may hit you up for the places you stayed.
One question-did you have any problems with language barrier?

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We stayed 3 extra nights in Aix after the RS Eastern France tour and also loved it. We used the TI and signed up for a tour to Cassis and boat tour of the Calanques that ended up being just the 2 of us and the guide, and another day walked to purchase santons from Fouque. Strolling those streets and markets was utterly charming. Lucky you to do it for a month!

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Hi Tammy,
No problem with the language barrier. Everyone spoke in English in Aix. I even took French for a year prior to and rarely used it. I would start, but then the waiter or store clerk or guide would immediately switch to English. HAHA!

Luv2Travel, yes, it was glorious!

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What a lovely time you had! I enjoyed a short time in Aix pre-pandemic and really liked it. I am not much of a Rose drinker but wow...I really got in to drinking it there!

Thanks for taking the time to post.

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Thanks Pam! If you talk to Darcy, tell her I finally posted this with a special shout-out to her! She was a huge help :)

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Thank you for this wonderfully detailed trip report. I'm inspired!

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Thanks for this delicious report of your month in Aix. Did you visit Paul Cezanne's studio while you were there?

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Thanks for the comments both!

Yes, we walked up to Paul Cezanne's studio and had the lecture in English. It was interesting, but most interesting was how the studio was set up exactly like his paintings. We came home and went to the Getty. There was a beautiful still life that looked right out of his studio. :)

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No mention of the fabulous Vaserely museum. We spent hours there, mesmerized. We are spending a year in Italy, and are planning a trip to Aix to spend time there again.

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Hi Susan, No, we never made it to the Vaserely Museum -- I think I completely forgot about it. I am looking for my next "Aix-in-Provence" in Italy right now and have it narrowed down. I will private message if that's okay!

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Bonjour CaliMom, thanks for your wonderful report. I thoroughly enjoyed it but it caused me to want to immediately plan my next trip! As I was reading it, our daughter who attended the Université d’Aix for a school year called. She had just discovered on BritBox a series that takes place in Aix with many fabulous sights of Aix so we’re both anxious to go back!
Thanks again for the outstanding report!
Edit: I’m so glad you enjoyed our favorite apartment too! (and we agree about the sofa comfort too.)

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Bonjour Darcy!

I hope you are well! Happy New Year… thinking of you!

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Your month sounds like it was wonderful. I would like to take the same type of trip in 2023. How did you find your apartments?
Valerie

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Hi Valerie, I found them both on Airbnb. I have used them all over Europe and have had good luck. There also is a fantastic tourism center and they may have local companies that manage apartments.

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I would suggest Florence for a months stay. There is so much to see and tons of day trips to make it a fantastic base. We love all the villages in the Tuscan countryside, as well as a lifetime of places to see within Florence. I would be happy to recommend a wonderful inexpensive apartment to stay in as a home for a month . We currently are in one of the 2 private garden apartments this fantastic family has on the ground level of their large home. Very upscale gated neighborhood 10 minute drive outside city center. A real find. Let me know. Best Susan

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Thanks, CaliMom for this great trip report!

I will be in Aix this July for the opera/music festival. Traveling solo but will meet up with friends there. Rented an apartment in the Cours Mirabeau area. My first time there. Your report was so helpful since I won't have a car and your day trips sound like they were relatively easy. Also really appreciate the details about places and restaurants!

Todd
Los Angeles