Leonard Parli calissons AixIt's a pleasure to go shopping in Aix en Provence with its varied street markets and quality stores, all within an easy stroll round the elegant city centre.

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You do need to know where to go, though. The Cours Mirabeau is Aix's most famous boulevard and might seem like the place to head to.

But, lined mainly with banks on one side and cafés on the other, it's not particularly good for shopping, though there is a couple of bookshops and classy pâtisseries, as well as a Monoprix department store (details below).

The pickings are also sparse in the Mazarin Quarter, apart from a sprinkling of antique dealers.

Instead, plunge straight into the Old Town, whose winding streets are a real treasure trove of clothes, shoes, furnishings, crafts, food and tourist souvenirs. Or head to Les Allées provençales, a pedestrian street near the Tourist Office, for a good choice of more conventional stores.

Shops in Aix are generally open from Monday to Saturday between 10am and 7pm non-stop, though some smaller boutiques may close for lunch and/or on Mondays. A few stores in the Old Town and Les Allées provençales open on Sunday but so far Aix has not embraced Sunday shopping in a big way.

Colourful basketwork at one of Aix's street marketsThe best days for street markets are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, but there's something going on every day of the week. Click here for details of where and when to find Aix's street markets and a visual preview of some of the goodies on offer, such as this vivid basketwork, pictured.

Aix is also especially alluring at Christmas, when there's a succession of excellent seasonal craft and food markets, the streets and squares glitter with festive illuminations and local stores pull out all the stops with their lavish window displays.

FOOD AND DRINK

One of the glories of Aix is its food shopping. The street markets are the first port of call for fresh produce, of course, but if the timing is wrong, or if you want packaged items to eat later or take home, there's a great range of stores to choose from.

Calissons d'AixCalissons d'Aix, the elegant lozenge-shaped sweet speciality created in 1454, according to legend, by Good King René to woo his young bride, is the edible gift to buy for your friends and family (or eat yourself).

Choose them in the traditional box, also lozenge-shaped, if you're not intending to eat the calissons right away: they will keep longer - up to ten months - in this packaging than in a cellophane bag.

You can find these all over town, for example at Béchard, the oldest and perhaps the most traditional patisserie in Aix (12 cours Mirabeau). The master-pastissier Philippe Segond recently opened his own cake shop / salon de thé at 67 cours Mirabeau.

La Confiserie du Roy René (13 rue Gaston de Saporta) is the largest manufacturer of calissons with a huge factory-shop on the edge of Aix (there's also a small "museum" in the basement of the downtown shop).

Léonard Parli (35 avenue Victor Hugo), whose inviting Christmas display is pictured top left, is just along the road from Aix Centre train station.

All these establishments produce other temptations. Béchard does a mean Tropézienne, a speciality brioche from Saint Tropez supposedly created for a peckish Brigitte Bardot while she was filming And... God Created Woman there. Segond offers a tarte Cézanne based on calisson ingredients (almonds, cream, apricots).

Le Roy René has multi-coloured fruit calissons (not just the classic white ones) and even savoury variants, while Léonard Parli produces a deliciously decadent and boozy Swiss fruit cake called Kirschbescué.

The best place in Aix en Provence for a general range of food shopping is the bustling rue d'Italie on the edge of the Mazarin Quarter and the Old Town. It has the atmosphere of a village high street lined with tempting displays.

L'Italian delicatessen Aix en ProvenceYves Thuriès (no. 1) is the place for top chocolates, La Jardinière (no. 13) has fruit and vegetables and also a great range of cheeses, the Confiserie Brémond (no. 16) has yet more calissons and La Chambre aux Confitures (no. 16 bis) is the go-to shop for gourmet jams, with some unusual local flavours such as apricot and lavender or clementine and calisson.

Hédiard (no. 18) is a fine grocery and caviste, or wine merchant, L'Italien (no. 20), pictured, is a delicatessen with panettone, fresh pasta, tiramisù, charcuterie (cooked meats) Buffalo mozzarella and huge wheels of parmesan and other Italian cheeses.

Further along, you'll find organic and wholefoods at La Vie Claire (no. 49), cheese at La Fromagerie Lemarié (no. 55) and olive oils, tapenades and other condiments at La Place aux Huiles (no. 59, with another branch at 14 rue Gaston de Saporta).

There's a super (though rather expensive) speciality cheese store at the top of the Cours Mirabeau (duck down the little alley off to the left just after Les Deux Garçons brasserie). It's La Fromagerie du Passage, passage Agard, 55 cours Mirabeau and also serves food at midday and in the evenings.

If you're simply after some cheap groceries, head for one of Aix's two branches of Monoprix, a budget supermarket with a large food hall, at 27 cours Mirabeau and on Les Allées provençales by the Tourist Office just off La Rotonde, the large roundabout at the bottom of the cours Mirabeau. Both are open on Sunday mornings.

Even better, Monop', a Monoprix-owned chain exclusively focussed on food and drink, opened a branch in Aix in 2013. This three-floor emporium can be found at 17 rue des Bouteilles and is open daily, including Sunday, until 12.50am.

Aix teems with excellent bakeries, but a personal favourite is just up the street from the rue d'Italie: Le Farinoman Fou at 5 rue Mignet.

Benoit Fradette Farinoman Fou Aix en ProvenceBenoît Fradette, pictured, who hails from Quebec and is the "mad flourman" in question, has a superb range of crusty breads employing all sorts of different flours and unusual ingredients such as squash, chestnuts, pecorino cheese or Matcha tea. Be warned, however: he doesn't do croissants or pastries.

Also in this part of town, La Cave d'Yves at 10 rue Portalis is a good spot to try and buy local wines. This little bar serves light snacks such as cheeses, terrines and charcuterie as well as a small selection of very good hot food, along with sage advice, and wines are available by the bottle to take away.

Another bar which offers wine-tasting is Au Pet't Quart d'Heure on the Forum des Cardeurs, still in the Old Town, though here the range of nibbles is limited to a small selection of dips.

If you covet a bottle or two of Château Miraval, the sought-after, award-winning provençal wine produced by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at their vineyard in the Var, you can buy it at the estate shop in Aix for considerably less than you'd pay online. 1 place Forbin, at the top of the Cours Mirabeau.

HAUTE COUTURE, HIGH-STREET FASHION AND INTERNATIONAL CHAINS

Surprisingly perhaps, Marseille has a better range of high-end designer outlets, particularly since the arrival in 2014 of the city's enormous new shopping mall, Les Terrasses du Port.

But you'll find some of the big name luxury stores in Aix's Old Town such as Hermès (2 rue Thiers), Yves Saint Laurent (7 rue Thiers) and Piaget (11 rue Fabrot). Agnès B, typically, is based a little way from the pack in the Mazarin Quarter at 2 rue Fernand Dol.

For more conventional mall-style retail therapy at familiar outlets such as Swarkowski, Sephoria and H&M, go to the Allées provençales. The Monoprix there also has a budget clothes and accessories section.

In 2014, after many months of building work, a very large new Apple store opened on La Rotonde, selling computers, iPhones and other accessories.

 

 

SOUVENIRS, GIFTS AND TRADITIONAL HANDICRAFTS

The two top manufacturers of indiennes, the colourful fabrics of Provence, both have retail outlets just round the corner from each other in the Old Town, Souleiado at 5 rue Marius Reynaud and Olivades at 12 rue Granet. Or try Sud Etoffe at 57 rue Espariat, just off La Rotonde.

Musee Granet Aix en ProvenceYou can buy cheap and cheerful everyday indiennes at stalls in the street market on the place de Verdun, which is also a good place to browse for pottery and earthernware, woven baskets, olive wood artefacts and other small gifts as well as, on some days, books, records and second-hand bargains.

Art-lovers should stop by Aix's largest gallery, the Musée Granet, pictured, or the classy new Caumont Centre d'Art. Both have a very good selection of books, posters and other arty gifts.

You can shop at them without buying an admission ticket during the galleries' opening times.

Paul Cézanne, the city's most famous son, figures prominently here, and his studio at Les Lauves also has a small gift shop.

In its cavernous new premises on the Allées provencales, the Aix Tourist Office now houses quite a large shop selling santons, mugs, books, T-shirts, jewellery and the usual trinkets.

For guide books, maps and books about the region, try the Librairie de Provence at no. 31 cours Mirabeau or the Librairie Goulard a few doors down at no. 37.

If you happen to be in Aix at Christmas, there is a santons market at La Rotonde. At other times of year, the best selection of these traditional crib figurines is found at Santons Fouque, one of the oldest santonniers in town. The museum-shop is a 10-15 minute walk from the centre, at 65 cours Gambetta, past the Hotel Le Mozart.

 

 

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