The powerhouses of Provence - the good, the bad and the ugly
Aix, Arles and Avignon are the three cities in Provence most visited by tourists. Between these three cities lies the majority of the regions in Provence. Most who visit Provence never stay longer than two weeks at a time, so it may be difficult to visit all three of these cities as well as all of the little villages and countryside in-between!
So which city do you choose to visit if you could only see one? Each has a very different feel, history and allure.
Aix-en-Provence is the most visually attractive of the three cities, many of which calling it the capital of the south with its likeness to Paris. With its grand streets such as the Cours Mirabeau and beautiful architecture of many of its buildings this name comes to no surprise.
It is not just the look of Paris that is similar but the inhabitants’ demeanor, nowhere else in Provence will you encounter people who dress so smartly.
While the food is extremely good in Aix-en-Provence the city has given itself over to clothes shopping. Here you can find designer brands that only usually bother with capital cities, as well as small local boutiques selling all sorts of luxuries. The city is a mecca for the shoppers in all of us!
Once you have shopped and walked all over the city you will want to have a bite to eat, however, eating well in Aix requires a little pre-planning. The restaurants on the Cours Mirabeau rely on their location and the food can, unfortunately, be sub-standard. Locals tend to head for hidden and out of the way restaurants, which offer great food at very competitive prices.
Avignon gained notoriety after the seat of the catholic church was moved here in the 14th century, the Palais du Pape was created exuding power and authority with its vast stature. Due to its rich history and architectural marvels Avignon has given itself over to tourists quite a bit, most notably around the square of the Palais du Papes where the cafes and restaurants may be subpar.
Even though there is more of a tourist trade in this city there are still some hidden streets, restaurants and cafes that are less known and absolutely worth hunting for. The shopping is good here but not as good as in Aix for those who prefer to bask in retail therapy while on holiday.
It is worth a visit to see the famous Pont D'Avignon, originally built in 1177, the bridge had 22 arches before most of them were washed away in the floods of 1668.
Avignon is also the perfect place to visit if you want to discover the many vineyards surrounding it, in particular the village of Chateauneuf du Pape for blissful wine tasting in the baking sunshine!
With Arles not being as pretty as Aix, nor as packed full of sights as Avignon, it might harshly be considered the ugly sister of the three.
The major allure to this city in particular is its link with Van Gogh and the foundation where his work, and that of modernist painters following in his footsteps can be viewed. It is also famous for its roman ruins with its stunning Roman arena, second only to that of Nimes, in its state of preservation and glory.
The city itself acts as a gateway between the areas of inland Provence and the Camargue region which is famous for its pink flamingos, bulls and wild horses. Arles is a city which has much to offer and is in an advantageous place for visiting several regions of Provence, it tries hard to attract visitors to its cobbled streets with several cards up its sleeve compared to Aix and Avignon.
All in all, you can’t really go wrong in choosing a city to visit, each has something different to offer its visitors. If you have a particular interest such as shopping, history, food or experience catching then make sure you choose the right city for you! Of course, if you stay longer the chance is that you will go to several cities, discovering small villages and stunning landscapes along the way.
So, the moral of the story is pick the best one for you if you only have a short time but if you can’t pick one then you will just have to make time to come back to Provence, again and again!
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