A five-star hotel on a grand scale, with a classy, arty theme and impressive attention to detail, the Renaissance is a welcome addition to the range of accommodation on offer in Aix.
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The city's other two top-flight hotels - the Hotel Le Pigonnet and the Villa Gallici - are both boutique-style. By contrast the Renaissance - part of the Marriott group - has 130 bedrooms and three suites (the only hotel of a comparable size in Aix is the four-star, slightly run-down Roi René).
A spacious and inviting business centre on the garden floor makes it particularly attractive for conferences and receptions.
Compared to the Pigonnet and the Villa Gallici, the Renaissance is also relatively close to the centre of the action. About a five-minute walk from the Cours Mirabeau, it sits at the end of a pedestrian plaza in Aix's Forum Culturel surrounded by a cluster of stunning architect-designed buildings devoted to the various arts.
At first sight, though, the Renaissance is a bit corporate and nondescript. The façade doesn't purr, "five-star". It mutters, "sales reps' hotel". The professional photographer who produced the official images has tried hard to make it look interesting but here's how it looked through our more modest lens on a sunny May morning.
Designed by the Marseille architects Claude Sabin Nadjari and Rémy Saada, the Renaissance is certainly not up to the level of its distinguished neighbours, Kengo Kuma's Conservatory of Music, Rudy Ricciotti's Pavillon Noir and Vittorio Gregotti's Grand Théâtre de Provence. At least, not from the outside.
Step through the door, though, and you're in different world, with an exuberant explosion of colour and art. Pictured top left: L'Avant Scène lobby bar.
Some 400 original works - paintings, sculptures, installations - have been commissioned from artists living in Provence and around the Mediterranean and are displayed all over its public areas and bedrooms. There are even little original lithographs and prints dotted along the corridors around each individual bedroom door.
A handful of these pieces will be retained on a permanent basis, while the others are all for sale (prices from 900 €uros - if you're staying here you can probably afford it). The hotel also promises a programme of regular cultural events featuring visits from artists.
The bedrooms are just gorgeous. Even the lowest, "standard" category is a generous 30 square metres / 323 square feet, though you'll have to upgrade if you want a separate bath and shower and most bedrooms don't have a terrace.
The high-quality furnishings are ultra-modern, with traditional touches such as calisson shapes on the padded headboards. Much more luminous than you'd think from their smallish windows, the rooms have a yellow, off-white, grey and taupe colour scheme that evokes the landscapes of Provence. The interior design is by Christian Ghion and Julie Fuillet. Pictured below: a twin standard room.
The views vary, but none are stunning. Some rooms look on to an unlovely freeway (they're well soundproofed at least).
Some look over the plaza towards the Grand Théâtre de Provence or the Conservatoire and some towards the blocks of flats and garden at the back of the hotel (the legendary Mont Sainte Victoire can be glimpsed, albeit in the distance).
The 1,000 square metre / 10,760 square foot Mediterranean garden is planted with the sort of local, "dry" shrubs that thrive in Provence's hot, rain-less summers: oleander, olive trees and lavender. Pictured: a view of the garden from the terrace of one of the suites.
When we visited in spring 2014, just a couple of months after the hotel first opened, it still came across as a little empty and formal: more like a park than a garden. This space is also very overlooked by the surrounding blocks of flats. Still, that should change as the plants and shrubs mature.
We were surprised not to see an outdoor bar - though perhaps it's set up in summer. Still more surprising was the absence of an outdoor swimming pool, very odd in a hotel of this category.
The land in this part of Aix is quite hilly and the garden of the Renaissance is one level down from the lobby. The 700 square metre / 7,530 square feet business and conference centre opens out on to it via its main reception room, the Salle des Pas Perdus.
Dominated by a swirling spiral staircase, this area has a playful garden theme, with hanging chairs, reclining loungers, and even birdcages (with artificial birds!) which you can just about see in the top left-hand corner of the photo, below. This business space is definitely one of the Renaissance's trump cards.
There are seven meeting rooms here and, though we didn't see them all, we're told they all "enjoy daylight" - by no means always the case in hotel conference facilities, which can often be bunker-like.
The hotel's bistro-restaurant is called Le Comptoir du Clos and is under the executive supervision of Jean-Marc Banzo, formerly the Michelin-starred chef at La Villa Madie in Cassis.
The bar offers cocktails and English afternoon tea. The daytime muzak in the lobby was annoying, though presumably the sounds are more sophisticated later at night.
The Ymalia spa feels cramped - oddly, since the hotel doesn't seem short of space elsewhere. The (indoor) swimming pool is a meagre 11.5 metres / 38 feet long: maybe for this reason, it's one of those exercise pools where you swim against an artificially generated current.
There's a small treatment room, a steam room and a fitness centre. Apart from individual treatments, its use is included in the room rate.
Hotel amenities include wheelchair-accessible rooms and free wi-fi. There's very ample underground parking space too. It costs extra, but then so do the municipal car-parks.
Visited May 2014
Where: Hotel Renaissance, 320 avenue Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 86 91 55 00. Book a room at the Hotel Renaissance