Aix (pronounced “EX”) is one of the most popular destinations for Expat relocating to France, so with the help of www.internationalliving.com we thought that we would take a look at what makes moving to Aix-en-Provence so attractive
Enjoying a privileged location in the heart of the sunny South of France, Aix-en-Provence captivates visitors with its beauty and simple charm. The painter Cézanne is quoted as saying, “I thought I could leave Aix, but once you’ve lived here, you’re ruined for all other places”. The town’s most famous son seems to have gotten it right, as many travelers are known to visit the city and never want to leave.
The real draw of Aix is the beauty of its historic center and the opportunities the city affords to stop and appreciate the best of the French lifestyle. Stately mansions, inspired by Baroque and Renaissance styles, border Aix’s elegant main street, Cours Mirabeau. Now converted into boutiques, cafés, and classy restaurants, these mansions provide a stunning architectural backdrop in which to admire the city. Etched into their façades, you’ll find religious figures and historical symbols of a bygone era, when the main transport along the avenue was the horse and buggy.
Although the buggies are long gone from Cours Mirabeau, they’ve been replaced by the elegant Aixois (residents of Aix) who are enjoying the French lifestyle to the fullest. Lingering over long lunches, shopping at the daily outdoor market, or simply enjoying a chilled glass of rosé and watching the world go by, it’s easy to envy their “belle vie”.
Located in the fertile countryside of the southern region known as Provence, Aix’s nearest neighbor is Marseille (the second largest city in France) which is easily reached by car, rail, or bus service. A bit further out, about a 30-minute drive, are the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the fabled Côte d’Azur beach towns. The area around Aix-en-Provence produces excellent rosé wines, rich olive oils, and artisanal goods such as Provençal pottery.
Retiring in Aix-en-Provence
Aix is one of the top choices for Americans wishing to retire in Southern France. Other Europeans, as well as the French themselves, are drawn to the city’s vibrant lifestyle, great weather, and cultural scene. This makes Aix-en-Provence a slightly more expensive retirement choice than other destinations in the south. Nonetheless, since the city is not along the popular Côted’Azur with its sought-afterMediterranean views, prices in Aix still remain reasonable and well-below comparable American cities.
Retirees in Aix enjoy a rich and varied lifestyle with activities on the city’s active social calendar. Unlike other cities in Provence, which tend to become a bit “sleepy” outside the spring and summer months, Aix-en-Provence stays “open for business” throughout the fall and winter seasons. There’s always a festival to attend (gourmet, wine, theater, cultural, or artistic) or an exhibition to visit. Earning the label “Ville d’Art” (City of Art), Aix-en-Provence has 11 museums, artistic foundations, and cultural spaces. The nationally renowned theater festival, Festival d’Aix, takes place every July and attracts some of the top acts from around the country.
Another benefit to retiring in Aix is the large, English-speaking expat population that exists in the region. Known as the Anglo-American Group of Provence, the group boasts over 400 members and has its headquarters in Aix and the “Pays d’Aix”—the towns and villages that surround the city. An active and well-organized association, members plan monthly activities including dinner groups, gourmet excursions, book clubs, artistic visits, family picnics, walking clubs, and much more. They also maintain their own library in Aix where visitors can borrow books in English.
The city is well served by public transport and the French high-speed train (TGV) will take you to Parisin a little over three hours. Locally, retirees can enjoy day trips to the beautiful Provençal countryside just outside their doorsteps. The towns around Aix make for perfect day trips and wine-tasting excursions. The charming hilltop villages of the Luberon (made famous by Peter Mayle’s book, A Year in Provence) are about a 40-minute drive from the city. In the other direction, heading east, you’ll find the beach towns of Cassis, Bandol, and Sanary-sur-Mer. On any given day, you’re about a half hour’s drive from rolling out your beach towel along Mediterranean Sea.
Lifestyle in Aix-en-Provence
Since Aix is a very easy-going city, the pace of daily life tends to be on the slower side. A typical day might start at one of the many outdoor markets with a quick shopping trip to pick-up some items for lunch. You might chat with the local sellers about which vegetables to use for a traditional pot au feu French stew or which goat cheeses to choose for your guests. You’ll find that food is one of the favorite topics of the French, and with Aix-en-Provence being quite a foodie town, a lot of your day can be spent thinking about your next gourmet experience. Home cooking is a popular activity, and Aix has many excellent restaurants for eating out. All budgets are represented, and great deals are available at lunchtime it you opt for the “set-menu” price.
After the market, you can pop in at a local café and spend some time relaxing or reading at your leisure. Café-life is another important aspect of the city. You’ll see residents of all ages having a coffee, a glass of wine, or Martini cocktail on the main boulevard of Aix-en-Provence, Cours Mirabeau, and at many of the pretty squares that dot the historic center. There’s never any rush to leave your table, and many friends meet at cafés to spend the afternoon together.
In the afternoon or early evening, you might opt to stroll around any of the city’s parks or green space—there are many. At the Promenade de le Torse, popular activities include walking the length of the park (on a guided trail), picnicking on the shady banks of the Torse river, or joining in a game of petanque—the south’s most popular leisure sport known to most as “bocce ball”.
As with many mid-size towns in Provence, many sports activities exist—to participate in or enjoy as a spectator. A tennis club (Country Club Aixois) is available for friendly matches, and several other sports centers or gyms offer weekly classes. Yoga is another activity widely practiced in the city and Aix has a municipal pool for classes or free swim. The city has their own rugby team, Provence Rugby, and hosts an annual tennis tournament on the APT circuit: the Open du Pays d’Aix.
Aix-en-Provence is an important university town and continuing education and French courses are available to its residents.
Cost of Living in Aix-en-Provence
As a university town, Aix has a huge rental market with many options for living in the historic center or a bit further afield. As mentioned, rents are higher than other towns in the south, but not exorbitant. When looking for a rental, it’s best to weigh the pros and cons of the price related to its location. Although the city does have excellent transport, renting in the historic center is considered ideal. Here you’ll have access to the best of Aix—cafés, markets, museums, restaurants at your doorstep—and it will be easier to mix with the locals.
For a furnished one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 860-square-foot apartment in the historic center you can expect to pay around $1,390. The same size apartment, furnished, in the suburbs of Aix will run you about $1,200—keeping in mind that “suburbs” in a smaller-size city like Aix-en-Provence are not the same thing, distance-wise, as in the U.S. A city bus will take you to the center in around 10 minutes, and you may even be able to walk into town.
The same price rules apply if you’d like to buy an apartment. Buying in the center is definitely on the higher side. A two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 880-square-foot apartment starts at $377,000. On the outskirts of town, apartments of the same size are available for purchase at around $289,000.
One of the most interesting real estate options for Aix-en-Provence, and one more and more expats are taking advantage of, is to buy an apartment or house in one of the neighboring villages. Known as the “Pays d’Aix”, these villages are all served by public transport and have growing English-speaking populations. You can buy the equivalent of a French “town home” (maison de village) in the village of Eguilles for $306,000. This will get you a two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 860-square-foot home in the center of the village—with a rooftop terrace. Similar offerings exist in the villages of Ventabren and Pélissanne.
Housing costs, renting or buying, will probably be your largest expense in Aix-en-Provence. Otherwise, the city is comparable to other towns in Southern France when it comes to cost of living. Of course, you could shop in the high-end boutiques, buy designer clothes and home goods, or eat in Michelin-star restaurants, but you don’t have to by any means. Aix has all of the affordable, high-quality stores where budget-conscience French folks like to shop.
The Monoprix department store on Cours Mirabeau is a perfect example. The equivalent of a Target or Kohl’s in the United States, they sell everything from jeans, to lamps, to cartons of milk. This is where the French bargain-hunters go, and during the bi-annual sales, prices come down up to 70%. Pants and t-shirts drop to $10 to $16, coats and jackets to $20 or less, and you’ll find similar discounts on home goods.
Monoprix offers great weekly promotions on food, and for even bigger discounts there are the local Lidl and Aldi supermarkets. The real savings here are on cheese, meats, dairy, pantry staples, and wine. Good French cheese (cantal, comte, bleu) starts at $3, a liter of milk is about $1.40, and wine starts at an amazing $4 a bottle.
Everyone shops at the local outdoor markets for the cheapest, and freshest, selection of fruits and vegetables. At the daily market on Place Richelme, a pound of vegetables— carrots, zucchini, peppers, onions—starts at around $1.70. Tomatoes will go for a bit more at about $2.55. A head of lettuce starts at $1.20 and is never higher than $2.00. Apples and peaches can be found for $1.40 a pound and you can even pick up fresh bread at the market or at the bakeries that line the square. A simple baguette will run you $1, a more “sophisticated” bread baked with nuts and seeds will be about $1.50.
Eating out can put quite a dent in your bank account, but if you listen to where the locals eat you can get out the door for around $17 a person for a set-lunch menu. This will get you a starter and main dish, or a main dish and dessert, and a glass of wine.