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Aix-en-Provence is where the smart crowd lingers. Since the 15th century the city has attracted artists and intellectuals whose influence is still felt in the grand squares and sculpted gardens today. Yet despite the metropolitan edge, there's no mistaking you're in the south of France. Lunch lasts all afternoon, the region's famous markets burst with Mediterranean produce and you'll spot plenty of elderly locals congregating on low walls sipping an aperitif.
Hostels in Aix-en-Provence reflect the sophistication of their location. You can have a pool and on-site bar just 5 minutes' walk from the centre, or a villa turned into a co-living space. Free Wi-Fi is standard across Aix-en-Provence hostels and you'll find dorms and private rooms that have air con. If you're craving a taste of rural Provence however, one Aix-en-Provence hostel is housed in a rambling farm building. Have breakfast under the shade of an oak tree or dig into a plate of fresh ratatouille for dinner.
Of the city's sights, Cours Mirabeau is the place to be seen. Pedestrianised and buzzing with restaurants and bars, this chic boulevard is the social centre of Aix-en-Provence. Leading off it are the cobbled streets of the medieval old town. Designer boutiques and tiny patisseries line up between historic squares where markets dominate three days a week. The Mazarin district is where you'll see the grandest aristocratic mansions, while understated Bellegarde is best for vintage clothing, emerging artisans and the city's favourite bakeries.
There's lots to see in and around the city. Thanks to the university, Aix-en-Provence has a varied nightlife from rave clubs to jazz bars. The artist Cézanne was a native of the city and you can take a tour of his studio, preserved exactly as he left it over a century ago. To learn about the city's history and traditions, Musée Estienne de Saint Jean is housed in a restored 17th-century mansion and is full of objects that were once part of aristocratic life. For a lazy afternoon, you could get some local produce at a farmer's market and head to Parc de la Torse, just a 10-minute walk from Cours Mirabeau.
Marseille Provence Airport is linked to Aix-en-Provence by a 30-minute shuttle bus. The bus station is a 10-minute walk from La Rotonde fountain with both local and intercity buses leaving from here. Meanwhile, a half-hourly shuttle takes passengers from the bus station to the TGV station (15km out of town). Getting around is easy on foot as most of the old town is pedestrianised.