The Mole Diaries: Aix en Provence (Volume 2)

Aix-en-Provence by gavin clabaugh

This article was written by Joanne Murch, published on 16th November 2010 and has been read 10036 times.

Joanne Murch gives us her advice about living the French way in beautiful Aix-en-Provence, with her tips and insider knowledge as a Year Abroad Graduate...
For me, Aix-en-Provence is a place full of happy memories, with such beauty and character that when there, it’s virtually impossible to feel down about life. It really is about as French as they come, mixing Parisian café culture and style, Provençal tradition and Riviera relaxation. However, as the second most expensive place to live after the capital, a willingness to dip into your pockets is a must.

Cafés and Restaurants

Thinking back on my time in Aix, I can relate so many memories to food and drink. I wiled away countless lazy mornings sipping on creamy coffees and gazing at dreamy waiters in my favourite town-centre café, L’Unic, located in the charming Place Richelme. After a night out, the 24 hour Boulangerie, which sits at the top of the famous Cours Mirabeau, is the place to head for a slice of 3am indulgence. Swapping kebabs and chips for croissants and pastries, it seems that Aix has even succeeded in Frenchifying the binge-drinking culture. Across the street, Café Glacier boasts the perfect view down the glorious Mirabeau and is a great place to grab lunch with delicious goat’s cheese and bacon samosas, or Bricks as they are named, which should not be missed. If traditional Provençal cuisine is what you’re after, look no further than Chez Maxime, which devotes one of its menus entirely to local dishes. This world-renowned restaurant, which can be found in Place Ramus, is a tad pricey but it’s definitely worth it for its authentic taste of Southern France. Finally, for the best bread in the whole of Aix, the Rue Max Juvenal Boulangerie is the place to go. Not only can you find the tastiest baguettes here, but the woman who runs it is so chatty it’s a great place to practice your French!

Accommodation

Organising accommodation was perhaps the task which I found the most daunting especially when faced with figures which were as foreign to me as the town itself.
At €470 per month, I immediately wrote off the first flat I visited as far too expensive; however, I soon realised that this price was part of a depressing trend which I would simply have to come to terms with. Having a place in the town centre definitely has its perks and allows you to roll out of bed and straight onto morning markets, café-crèmes and general day-to-day Frenchness. Both finding a flat via a pre-visit, and hunting around upon arrival, are equally fine. If you’re looking for flatmates, the university notice boards are full of adverts from September. However, make sure not to get hung-up on the idea of living with francophones as it is perfectly normal not to, and you will speak French regardless. Alternatively, so long as you’re spending the year studying, university halls, located about 15 mins from town, are an option with a much friendlier price-tag. All students are entitled to a room so enquiring about places upon arrival is what most people do, although pre-arrangement is possible with application forms up for downloading here  http://www.crous-aix-marseille.fr. Lastly, don’t forget to apply for CAF young person’s funding, which covers around 10% of your rent. The application process is quite long-winded and at times frustrating, so don’t get anxious if you don’t receive your money straight away or if you’re asked to complete the same form five times. The CAF office address can be obtained from reception at the university.

Top 3 pieces of advice

Burst your Aix bubble and travel the country with a 12-25 railcard (€50 from the train-station) which entitles you to around 50% off all fares. Paris, Strasbourg, Montpellier - they’re all worth a visit, but with no French Megabus or National Express coach in sight, this is the only way to make rail-riding reasonable. Let French administration go over your head and accept the fact that paperwork is not France’s strong point. Still waiting for that signature from your tutor? 4 months in and you’re not even sure you’re signed up for half of your courses? Don’t panic and start to live by the mantra that ‘Everything will be fine in the end!’ Make the most of the university run daytrips. For €25 you can spend the day sunning yourself in St Tropez or celeb-spotting in Cannes. Look out for posters around Uni.

Our Mole Diaries are insider city guides written by students about their experiences, filled with top tips and recommendations. Please view our 200+ Mole Diaries arranged by language, and if you'd like to contribute, do find out more about becoming a Mole!

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