Les Deux Garcons, Aix en ProvenceNo visit to Aix is complete without a trip to Les Deux Garçons, the city's legendary brasserie known informally as the 2Gs.

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You don't go there for its food or its service (though both are perfectly adequate) but to soak up its rich history, marvel at the ornate First Empire interior and bask on the terrace, a wonderfully pleasant spot simply to sit and watch the passing parade.

An old inn, The White Horse, stood on this site at the top of the Cours Mirabeau before the creation of the Cours itself. It was bought by Jean François de Gantès, a local dignitary, in 1660 who razed it to construct the present building.

In the following century this became The Guion, a chess club for gentlemen, which turned into a focus for Royalists - Les Amis de la Religion et du Roi - during the French Revolution and was the scene of violent clashes with the insurgents in December 1790.

In 1840, the establishment was purchased by two waiters who gave the current brasserie its name, and it became a haunt for the beau monde of Aix.

Paul Cezanne, Self-Portrait with Bowler HatPaul Cézanne - as he wrote in a letter to his son in 1906 - came here on occasion to enjoy a very leisurely three-hour apéritif between 4pm and 7pm with his friend, the novelist Emile Zola, or with other artists or local businessmen. Cézanne (pictured: Self-Portrait with Bowler Hat, 1885) was also partial to a meal here of the simple peasant dish aïoli.

Very many other famous names have downed a glass here too, including Picasso, Churchill, Mistangett, Edith Piaf, André Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, Raimu, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Cocteau.

More recently, Sophie Marceau, Jean Reno, Hugh Grant and Georges Clooney have all dropped by. Sketches of some of these clients decorate the walls on the staircase up to the toilets.

Today the classy ambiance remains, though the clientele is just as likely to consist of tourists and students, described thus by Peter Mayle in A Year in Provence: "Aix is a university town, and there is clearly something in the curriculum that attracts pretty students.

"The terrace of the Deux Garçons is always full of them, and they are taking a degree course in café deportment..." It is, Mayle continues, a tough discipline that involves perfecting the art of the subtly ostentatious entrance, the skilled deployment of sunglasses and the multiple kiss on the cheek, and it is always amusing to watch.

On the ground floor is a large and very ornate mirrored dining room (pictured top left) all decked out in green and gilt.

Waiters in long black aprons zip to and fro here, and along the wide terrace, where you can watch the world in the generous shade of a plane tree in summer or - in the glassed-in part of it - the comforting glow of an outdoor heater in winter.

Terrace of Les Deux Garcons, Aix en ProvenceOn the first floor is a L-shaped piano bar with high windows looking on to the Cours, for when the Mistral blows too bitterly. The food is traditional bistro fare (snacks only are served outside the traditional mealtimes) although you can always linger over a rosé, a pastis or a coffee.

Also on the first and second floor, part of the building has been converted into the very upscale boutique Hotel de Gantès.

Where: 53 bis cours Mirabeau, 13100 Aix-en-Provence Tel: (+33) 4 42 52 58 74. Website for Les Deux Garçons



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