This is the first of an occasional series on our favourite squares in Provence – for a market, a cafe, or watching the world go by, and preferably all three.
One of the best squares in Provence for letting the hours slip by and the blood pressure drop is Place Richelme in Aix-en-Provence. Place Richelme is a gorgeous setting with the high golden facades and wooden shutters so typical of Aix, and the towering plane trees that bring welcome shade in the summer – you feel you are right at the heart of the town here.
Place Richelme has two distinct personalities, by day and by night. Its daily food market is one of the key attractions of the old part of Aix, and yet it is not overrun with tourists. This is where the locals shop as they have done for centuries, from the elderly down to students pulling together a picnic lunch to munch on a sunny step. It is this demographic smorgasbord that makes Place Richelme so great for people-watching, and the best place to do that is at one of the cafe tables on the square, where the colours and sounds of the market and its visitors make a compelling spectacle.
In a small side-square are the stalls where fish has been sold for 500 years – this part of the market dates back to the 14th century. The Places aux Herbes is the oldest square in Aix though today it’s more frequently named after the giant bronze boar (‘sanglier’) decorating its fountain. You may have seen the same boar in Florence, where the 17th century original resides.
In the evening the market stalls have gone, the square hosed down, and Place Richelme transforms into an elegant venue for a drink or a bite, with tables covering the spot where early-season strawberries were selling like…well, like early-season strawberries.
How to get there: Place Richelme is right in the centre of Aix-en-Provence, if you drive into Aix just pick one of the underground car-parks around the perimeter and everything is a short walk away.