The chic boutique Hotel de Gantès sits in the heart of Aix, right at the top of the Cours Mirabeau, with all the fantastic advantages (and a couple of drawbacks) of this location.
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The building started life as a 17th century hôtel particulier owned by François de Gantès, the Crown Prosecutor to King Louis XIV. In 1750 it was acquired by a Monsieur Guion who used it as a base for his royalist Club Guion, a meeting place for anti-revolutionaries.
In 1840 the ground floor was purchased by two waiters and has been the legendary Les Deux Garçons brasserie pictured below, ever since. Above it, the Hotel de Gantès in its present form opened in July 2011.
The entrance to the Hotel de Gantès, pictured top, is not on the Cours Mirabeau itself but down a narrow side-street, which is closed to traffic at certain times of the day: you will need to get the hotel to unlock the bollard if you arrive by car.
Vehicular access is a bit tricky altogether here - but then this is a problem everywhere in central Aix. Still at least the hotel offers valet parking, at an extra charge.
A small, colourful first-floor reception area is decorated with Warhol-style images of Cézanne, Picasso and the other luminaries who inspire the decor, a mix of traditional Aixois elegance and ultra-modern design by the likes of Philippe Starck.
Each of its 11 rooms and suites is individually conceived around a different personality or concept and stylishly equipped, with prices to suit.
The Pablo Picasso room has a painting, by Karine Romanelli, of the artist hanging out on the terrace of Les Deux Garçons, while the Cinema room has a retro black-and-white theme with images of Casablanca and Marilyn Monroe.
The Suite Étoilée (Star Suite) has a large skylight window with a remote-controlled electric blind, so that you can watch the stars while lying in bed.
Five of the 11 rooms look out on to the Cours Mirabeau and while they are stoutly double-glazed and soundproofed, you may experience late-night noise from street revellers. The other rooms have a rather unexciting view on to the side street.
Some suites have terraces and rooms on the top (second) floor boast exposed wooden ceiling beams. Room 101, the Émile Zola, is fitted out for disabled visitors and is right in the reception area, next to the lift / elevator - which may be a disadvantage if you don't require these facilities.
All the accommodation is open-plan. Some bathrooms are behind glass screens and in certain cases, such as the Suite d'Eau (Water Suite), pictured, the bath is actually right in the middle of the bedroom. So the Hotel de Gantès is not for you if you want to wash in privacy.
In fact the Gantès is not really a traditional hotel at all. Its rooms come well-equipped with free wi-fi, mini-bars, safes, hair-dryers, flat-screen televisions and all the usual comforts, but there's not much in the way of public spaces, apart from a hammam and smoking room on the top floor.
Breakfast (for which, as usual in France, there's a supplement) is served in your room. If you want room service, you can get it sent up from Les Deux Garçons. But it's cheaper - and more fun - to go down to the brasserie itself, and anyway in this unbeatable location, you'll want to be spending most of your time out and about.
Visited March 2013
Where: Hotel de Gantès, 1 rue Fabrot, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 90 31 60. Book a room at the Hotel de Gantès