A three-star hotel in a delicious location on the fringes of the Old Town of Aix, the Aquabella is an irresistibly stylish place to stay - apart from certain downsides.
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So, first the bad news: from the outside, the Hotel Aquabella is an uninspiring low concrete block. The bar, stairwells, corridors and internal public areas generally resemble those of a functional, neglected conference hotel.
But the thing that really lets the side down is the scruffy lobby with its overworked reception desk staff, tired and shabby furnishings and TV monitors relentlessly plugging the nearby casino, part of the same group, Partouche.
Enter the bedrooms, though, and things look up greatly. They are spacious, with large beds, modern-provençal furniture and wooden floors.
The cheaper ones at the front look out on to the hotel's pleasant gardens and swimming pool, framed by the ancient city ramparts and a (fairly) quiet side-street.
The more expensive rooms at the back have little terraces with a very pretty view across the rooftops of the Old Town, pictured (though your balcony is not well-screened from its neighbours). All of them - there are 110 in total - have decent-sized bathrooms with a shower, bath and separate WC.
The Aquabella has several other trump cards up its sleeve. The location is excellent: you're just a few steps from the Cathedral - and the sound of its bells - as well as the Archevêché (Archbishop's Palace), the centre of activity for the Festival d'Aix music festival.
The adjacent spa on the site of the ancient Roman baths (some of whose relics can be seen behind glass windows or under the floor) is connected directly to the hotel through an internal corridor and certain amenities are included in the room rate.
The gardens are attractive too. Set in them, with large plate-glass windows and a sunny terrace, the restaurant, L'Orangerie (cited in the Gault & Millau guide) offers good value set menus and a popular Sunday brunch with a buffet of starters and a barbecue main course. On Saturday evenings there's live music.
Breakfast costs extra, as does parking. But there is free wireless internet throughout the hotel.
Visited April 2012
Where: Hotel Aquabella, 2 rue des Etuves, 13100 Aix en Provence. Book a room at the Hotel Aquabella