Aix en Provence's museums range from a foundation dedicated to Victor Vasarely, the father of Op Art, to a secret 17th century love-nest, a major museum of natural history, and the city's flagship art collection, the Musée Granet.
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Many of Aix's inner city museums are based in beautiful hôtels particuliers or other grand historic buildings which make for stunning settings in their own right.
Note, however, that not all of the older houses have been adapted for wheelchairs. We have indicated those venues where we know there is no disabled access, but it's worth enquiring with the individual museums ahead of a visit to see if things have changed.
A number of French museums offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month. Watch out, too, for occasional late-night openings (nocturnes) when entry is also free.
This happens systematically once a year in mid-May on the Nuit des Musées (European Night of the Museums), when a number of venues remain open until very late, often offering special events as well.
To avoid the crowds and long queues for popular shows, turn up around 12 noon. The lunch hour is sacred for many French visitors!
Many museums are closed on certain days of the week, mostly Mondays, though some private museums are open every day. As opening hours can vary widely throughout the year - and certain places are closed for part of the winter season - please check the links to the museum websites for current details.
THE CAUMONT CENTRE D'ART
L'Hôtel de Caumont, pictured, a magnificent 18th century hôtel particulier in the Mazarin Quarter has been converted at great expense into a cultural centre called the Caumont Centre d'Art.
Some of the period rooms have been beautifully restored and the centre hosts two major exhibitions a year. It also has large formal French gardens and rococo tea rooms. Read a full review of the Caumont Centre d'Art.
Where: The Caumont Centre d'Art, 3, rue Joseph Cabassol, 13100 Aix-en-Provence.
The Fondation Vasarely
Created by Victor Vasarely, the father of Op Art, in 1976, the Fondation Vasarely has suffered from a troubled history. But it is currently undergoing complete refurbishment and remains a must-see attraction for art-lovers.
The display consists of 44 enormous pieces by Vasarely in his distinctive, dizzy, geometric style, while the building itself - also designed by the artist - is remarkable in its own right. There is also a very lively programme of children's workshops, conferences and other special events. Read a full review of the Fondation Vasarely
Where: Fondation Vasarely, 1 avenue Marcel Pagnol, 13090 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 20 01 09
The Musée Granet
The Granet Museum is the main art gallery in Aix en Provence and, though it has only a handful of small pieces by Paul Cézanne, has built up an impressive collection.
As well as staging several major shows a year, the Musée Granet houses nearly 600 archaeological pieces, paintings and sculptures including work by Giacometti, Picasso, Léger, and Klee, plus Old Masters such as Rubens, Ingres and Rembrandt. Read a full review of the Musée Granet
Where: Musée Granet, place Saint Jean de Malte. Plus a new annexe at the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, rue Maréchal Joffre, 13100 Aix en Provence, Tel: (+33) 4 42 52 88 32
The Vendôme Pavilion started life as a love nest. This bijou baroque hideaway was built in 1665 on the orders of Louis Mercoeur, the Duke of Vendôme, for his mistress, Lucrèce de Forbin Solliès.
Despite the fact that the Duke was a widower, their passionate affair needed to be kept secret. To ensure total discretion, the Pavillon de Vendôme had two entrances, through one of which the Duke's carriage could be driven right into the house under a series of arches (these have since been sealed off).
Built of honey-coloured stone from the Bibémus Quarries that inspired Paul Cézanne, the Pavillon de Vendôme is set in lovely, spacious, peaceful grounds. There is a large formal French park in front of the house and a rose garden and small children's play area adjacent.
Open to the public, it's a favourite refuge for locals to stroll, gossip and play, just a stone's throw from the city centre, as well as being a great spot for a picnic.
The façade (pictured top left) is certainly imposing. The entrance is flanked by two burly caryatids, while the pensive female face above the door, sculpted in white stone, is said to be a likeness of Lucrèce de Forbin Solliès.
Though the Pavillon de Vendôme looks beguiling in the tourist pamphlet, it's really best appreciated from the outside. Inside, paint peels off the walls of the magnificent stairwell. The shabby rooms - three on the ground floor and a handful more on the first floor: the second floor is now closed off - have seen better days too.
In them are a few stray items of furniture and paintings, including portraits of the two lovers and works by minor provençal artists such as Jean Baptiste van Loo, who lived and maintained his studio here in the mid 18th century. Today the Pavillon de Vendôme is used mainly to host temporary exhibitions of modern art.
This museum has a steep staircase to the upper floor and no wheelchair access. The toilets are closed (for these, you need to go out and across the park to the children's playground).
Where: Pavillon de Vendôme, 32 rue Célony and 13 rue de la Molle, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 91 88 75 Website for the Pavillon de Vendôme
The Atelier Cézanne
Cézanne's studio at Les Lauves is listed by the Aix Tourist Office and the Town Hall among the museums, though it's more like an installation.
The high ceilinged, north facing room, painted a particular shade of grey that Cézanne took five weeks to get just right, displays the artist's painting materials and personal effects, for all the world as though he had just stepped outside for some fresh air.
Exhibits include a huge easel (used for, among other things, Les Baigneuses), a ladder, brushes, palettes, a folding stool, an old stove, a smock, a coat and a couple of hats, a walking stick and (in the cabinets) a clay pipe and a notebook with all the local train times carefully recorded in Cézanne's sloping hand. Plus three human skulls, procured for Cézanne by a friend who worked at the Museum of Natural History (see below).
The gardener's shack next to the house has been transformed into a videotheque where you can watch a 20 minute film. The main studio is on the first floor, which might present difficulties of access. Read a full review of Cézanne's studio at Les Lauves
Where: The Atelier Cézanne, 9 avenue Paul Cézanne, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 21 06 53 Fax: (+33) 4 42 21 90 34
Founded in 1838 by the geologist Henri Coquand, the Natural History Museum claims to be one of the oldest museums in Provence. Cézanne sourced human skulls for his paintings from a friend who worked there.
Its important palaeontology collection includes skeletons, fossils and dinosaur eggs while the geological holdings focus on Aix's dominant local landmark, the Mont Sainte Victoire. However the Natural History Museum of Aix has moved out of its previous premises in the Hôtel Boyer d'Eguilles in the Old Town and the greater part of its collection is currently in store.
It's closed to visitors until its new home is ready, but continues its educational activities and temporary exhibitions at guest venues elsewhere in Aix. Website for the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle
Where: Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle, Parc Saint Mitre, avenue Jean Monnet, 13090 Aix en Provence.
The Planétarium Peiresc
The Peiresc Planetarium is named after Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1631), an astronomer who lived in Aix. It recently moved to new premises and has almost doubled in size, making it one of the largest planetaria in the region.
It organises regular scholarly conferences but is also at certain times open to the public: phone in advance to check and reserve (details below). The Planetarium has disabled access.
Where: Le Planétarium Peiresc, Villa Clair Matin, 166 avenue Jean Monnet, 13090 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 20 43 66 Website for the Planetarian Peiresc
The Tapestry Museum is housed in the Palais de l'Archevêché (Archbishop's Palace) in the Old Town of Aix en Provence. On the ground floor, a vaulted Gothic hall harks back to the building's origins in the Middle Ages. From there a grand, sweeping baroque staircase (pictured right) leads up to the first floor, which was constructed between 1650 and 1780.
Here, you get the chance to inspect the cleric's humble abode and you can peer through the windows into the vast inner courtyard which every July becomes a 1,300-seat theatre, a principal venue for the Festival d'Aix, the city's annual Festival of Lyric Art, one of Europe's leading celebrations of opera and classical music.
The museum's permanent collection is really of interest only if you're seriously into tapestries. It comprises some two dozen large pieces from the 17th and 18th century, mainly from Beauvais, including a rare series of nine tapestries illustrating the story of Don Quixote.
Dotted between the tapestries are items of period furniture and displays of sets, props and maquettes from past productions at the Aix Festival as well as temporary exhibitions of photographic portraits, contemporary art or even graphic novels (bandes dessinées).
Where: Musée des Tapisseries, Ancien Palais de l'Archevêché, place des Martyrs de la Résistance, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 23 09 91 Website for the Musée des Tapisseries
The Musée Arbaud
In the Mazarin Quarter, this elegant late 18th century mansion houses paintings, provençal pottery and manuscripts amassed by Paul Arbaud (1831-1911), a bibliophile, collector and patron of the arts.
The paintings include a 16th century triptych from the School of Van Aelst, The Adoration of the Magi, and a set of portraits of the ubiquitous and powerful Mirabeau family.
The collection of pottery and porcelain specialises in pieces from Marseille and Moustiers Sainte Marie, while the very large library (pictured left) contains books, manuscripts and private documents comprising an invaluable local archive.
Where: Musée Paul Arbaud, 2a rue du 4 septembre, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 38 38 95 Website for the Musée Paul Arbaud
The Musée Estienne de Saint Jean
Formerly known as the Musée du Vieil Aix, this recently refurbished museum is found in the 17th century hôtel particulier of that name in the Old Town.
The exhibition evokes the history and traditions of Aix and includes furniture, santons, costumes, paintings, musical instruments, architectural maquettes and ceramics as well as wooden puppets in a "talking crib" and screens which used to feature in Aix's annual Fête-Dieu (Corpus Christi) celebrations.
Where: Musée Estienne de Saint Jean, 17 rue Gaston de Saporta, 13100 Aix en Provence Website for the Musée du Vieil Aix
The Site-Mémorial du Camp des Milles
Between 1939 and 1942, Les Milles, a brick factory on the outskirts of Aix, was an internment camp for political dissidents, artists and intellectuals and, finally, Jews about to be deported to Auschwitz.
It has now been restored as a memorial centre, whose displays include the subversive frescos the painters created there and panels inviting reflection on the Holocaust. It also hosts temporary exhibitions. Read a full review of the Memorial Site of the Camp des Milles
Where: The Memorial Site of the Camp des Milles, The Ancienne Tuilerie des Milles, 40 chemin de la Badesse, 13547 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 39 17 11.