Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence 180 years ago, and his spirit is still evident in this Provencal town.
As I sip my aperitif on the terrace of Les Deux Garcons on Cours Mirabeau, a café frequented by Paul Cézanne and his best friend Émile Zola around 100 years ago, I experience first hand how the famous light of Provence and especially of Aix
The honey-hued buildings across the wide, mostly pedestrianised boulevard opposite me turn golden, the plane trees shimmer, the people seem to slow in the afternoon glow and shadows move languorously across the pavement. As Cézanne once said: “Shadow is a colour as light is; light and shadow are only the
This is the town which is not only loved by tourists, French and foreign, the heart of Provence, with the light and the air verifying the mix of hilly countryside and proximity of the Mediterranean. The colours are undoubtedly
Consulting a map from the Tourist Office, I start following the golden buttons embossed with a ‘C’ on the ground, from Cézanne’s statue right there on the side of the vast roundabout that is Place Charles de Gaulle. As I dive into the much quieter side streets, past the cinema called – guess what? – Le Cézanne (but alas not on the list of Cézanne highlights), down to the school where Cézanne and Zola famously met, I am temporarily distracted by the gorgeous Arts Centre in the Hôtel de Caumont, once a private mansion, where I stumble across a film about Cézanne. Brimming with information, I am further side-tracked by a superb café-cum-bookshop called Book in Bar with plenty of English books and rather good cakes just opposite. Explorers need sustenance, right? And I did keep in mind, that these were the lanes frequented by Cézanne and his friend, Cézanne always carrying colours and a sketchbook, whereas Zola was never without a book of poetry.
hopand skip to 28 rue de l’Opéra, where Paul Cézanne was born 180 years ago and fall under the spell of old Aix”
Onward and upward through the gentile streets of this
It seems that Aix is pretty much split in half by the grand Cours Mirabeau. The lower side full of grand houses and museums, is quiet, clean, filled with grand facades in pale sandstone, whereas the northern side is centre ville, the heart of old Aix, and made up of a myriad of tiny alleyways, confusing loops and passages, cobblestones and full of life. I dive right into the tiny Passage Agard next to Les Deux Garcons (inside the Passage is the Fromagerie du Passage, with its fabulous cheese shop and rooftop restaurant) and meander along the little streets around the impressive Appeals Court of Provence. No sign of Cézanne here, he was obviously well behaved.
Pastel and burnt orange-hued buildings with shabby chic shutters and often beautifully parked bicycles or just-so window boxes make this old town a photographer’s – and Instagrammer’s – delight, everything is picture-perfect. I find a little market on Place Richelme, and a perfect café terrace on Place des Trois Ormeaux, where according to legend, the local hangings used to take place. There is a small market held here daily, not a patch on the gigantic market that stretches along Cours Mirabeau every Saturday, but more manageable and very inviting.
But Cézanne is catching up with me again with a sign by the Town Hall, telling me he married his long-term lover Marie-Hortense Fiquet there on 28 April 1886. Alas, the next landmark I find is Cathedrale Saint-Saveur, where his mother was christened in 1854, and Paul Cézanne’s funeral was held on 24 October 1906. But I was getting ahead of time and decided to hop on the local bus no.5 (direction Brunet) to the stop appropriately called Cézanne, to see his studio before I let him die.
The Atelier de Cézanne (Cézanne’s Studio) is a magical place. Time travel seems possible, and I am transported right back to those few years in which he searched out this hideaway and painted in the light-infused studio. The small house, designed by Cézanne himself and the plot chosen for its seclusion and views, is set in a lovely garden with seductively placed benches perfect for
Even to an untrained eye many of the artefacts can be recognised from his paintings. The man liked to choose a subject and run with it. The skulls, an – admittedly refreshed – bowl of apples, and the olive pot have been painted many times over. The pot reportedly features in 22 of his paintings. There is the large partition of
Instead, I clambered up the hill, some 15 minutes from the studio, and found the so-called Terrain des
While traipsing through the undergrowth off the usual path, I met Jackie from the UK who also explored the trail alone. She was a self-proclaimed painter-groupie and spent most of her annual holidays searching out sites connected with famous artists. She summed Aix up perfectly: “Here is it just as much about Cézanne as it is about Aix. They work together very harmoniously, and the combination made it into my favourite trip yet.”
Photography by Ulrike Lemmon Wolfrey
Air France offers over 65 weekly flights to Paris and beyond to its worldwide network in conjunction with its codeshare partners Etihad Airways, China Southern and Air Mauritius. Qantas operates daily A380 services from Australia (Sydney and Melbourne) to Dubai with daily connections to Paris with partner Emirates. airfrance.com.au; qantas.com.au
From Paris, Aix is a less-than three-hour train journey away. raileurope.com.au
WHERE TO STAY
Hôtel des Augustins is located in a gorgeous old building right in the heart of old Aix. hotel-augustins.com
Maison Dauphine offers lovely grand apartments on the quieter side of Cours Mirabeau, still in the centre. maisondauphine.com
WHERE TO EAT
La Fromagerie du Passage: lafromageriedupassage.com
Bookin Bar: bookinbar.com
Aix Tourist Office: aixenprovencetourism.com
Carrières de Bibémus tours: cezanne-en-provence.com