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You see aspects of his paintings everywhere you look: in the footsteps of Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence, France | Travel

A A slice of Parisian chic in the south of France, Aix-en-Provence is an idyllic place to spend an autumn weekend. In July and August, the Roman boulevards bake – the heat is more intense there than on the Marseille coast just 30km away – and the rows of elegant plane trees along the Cours Mirabeau offer little respite. But come in November or early spring and the place is bustling, thanks to a university population of 80,000, and the cafes and restaurants in its many leafy squares are bustling and bustling. The weather is cooler and cooler too, which means there’s more to do and fewer excuses not to try the many walking and hiking trails around town, including Mont Sainte-Victoire , the steep peak that rises to 3,300 feet east of the city.

The Sainte-Victoire has an emblematic status in Aix. It is almost inseparable from the work of Paul Cézanne, who painted its pitted gray angles more than 80 times. His style evolves from impressionism to something else. The bold geometric shapes and abstract lines that emerge from these compositions will inspire Picasso, earning Cézanne the title of founding father of modern art.

Artist in residence: Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence. Photography: Sophie Spitéri

Cézanne’s worldview defines the landscape around Aix – every aspect reflecting his paintings wherever you choose to look. Le Terrain des Peintres, a 10-minute walk from the town center, is where he often studied his favorite subject and, in addition to a breathtaking view of the summit, several reproductions of his paintings show the evolution from his work. Nearby, you can visit his former workshop, the Atelier des Lauves. It’s easy to see why he spent so much time here. It’s a beautiful space he built himself, surrounded by trees and where light streams in through floor-to-ceiling windows. It was here that he produced some of his most famous plays, including Bathers and many of his studies on the Sainte-Victoire mountain, working tirelessly until his death in 1906 – yet one gets the impression that he was only drifting away. His coat and hats remain, along with the same porcelain vases and bowls that appeared in his still lifes, as well as his brushes and paints.

All of this should be enough inspiration for the new Cézanne retrospective at Tate Modern, which runs until March, where you can see around 80 of his works, 20 of which have never been exhibited in the UK. previously.

Famous landscape: at the top of the Sainte-Victoire mountain, which Cézanne painted more than 80 times.
Famous landscape: at the top of the Sainte-Victoire mountain, which Cézanne painted more than 80 times. Photography: Hemis/Alamy

But there is much more to appreciate about Aix beyond its most famous resident. Its chic shopping streets of the Cours Mirabeau to begin with, lined with fashionable boutiques. A navigation in Sezane (no relation!), the Parisian clothing brand that has landed on our shores, is pure pleasure after a stroll through the Granet Museum. So is lunch at La Fromagerie du Passage, tucked away down a side street, where you can enjoy a delicious cheese platter with a glass or two of chilled rosé.

There are plenty of reasonably priced hotels in the heart of Aix – the Grand Hotel Roi René is just a five-minute walk from Cours Mirabeau; its main attraction is the beautifully designed pastel pink courtyard with balconies that overlook a fancy pool.

If you fancy a last dose of Cézanne, take a guided tour of the overgrown quarries known as Bibémus to the east of Aix. This wild outpost of jagged rocks scorched yellow and orange in the sun is so literally rendered in the artist’s work, it’s almost as if no Cubist vision was required – he simply painted what he saw. Walk to the edge of the quarry for sweeping views of the Provencal countryside – pine trees as far as the eye can see under cobalt skies – stretching out below you. Then it’s time to head back to civilization: an aperitif at Le Grillon, a classic brasserie dripping in gilt and luster, and serving the best steaks and French fries in town.

Three other French cities that have inspired famous artists

Albi: Toulouse-Lautrec

albi
Photograph: Getty Images

The pretty medieval town of Albi was the birthplace of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and in the Palais de la Berbie museum you can enjoy the largest collection of his work – from his intimate portraits of artists from dancehall to bold iconic theater posters that always look so modern. Nearby is the classic French restaurant Le Lautrec, minutes from its birthplace and still serving apple and armagnac tartouillat, made to its own recipe.

Arles: Van Gogh

Arles: Van Gogh
Photography: Sergio Formoso/Getty Images

On the banks of the Rhône, Arles is a charming town of cobbled streets and elegant squares. Van Gogh lived here for over a year, drawn to the soft light and vibrant colors of Provence, and created hundreds of works, including some of his greatest paintings. In addition to the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, dedicated to promoting the artist’s work, a world-renowned photography festival, Les Rencontres d’Arles, transforms this small town into an international hub.

Collioure: Matisse

Collioure: Matisse
Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

South of Perpignan and close to Spain, Collioure has a pretty pastel port nestled in vine-covered hills and close to fine sandy beaches. Matisse arrived here in 1905 and appropriated the vivid colors and luminous light of this landscape – especially his famous work, Open window, Collioure, which is celebrated as a masterpiece of early modernism, paving the way for the Fauvist school of artists.

Cézanne at the Tate Modern until March 12, 2023 (tate.org.uk). For more information on Aix and Cézanne, go to aixenprovencetourisme.com and cezanne-en-provence.com. Rooms at the Grand Hotel Roi René are from £130 (accor.com)

Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds