GETTING THERE: Air France flies from Paris to Marseille's Marignane International Airport for about $80 one way; flights leave almost every hour. The airport is halfway between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence; a bus leaves the airport every 45 minutes for the 20-minute, air-conditioned ride to Aix and costs about $3.
Pan Am offers the only direct flights from the United States to the south of France. They fly nonstop from New York to Nice for an APEX fare of about $900 round-trip. Driving from Nice to Aix can take as little as three hours (if you stay on France's superhighway) or more than six hours (if you roam along the Riviera cliffs or stop by St. Tropez on the way).
The pride of the French National Railroad, the speedy TGV, travels from Paris' Gare de Lyon to Marseille in just over six hours and is worth the extra expense. First-class tickets cost $94 one way and second class $63 one way. The connecting local from Marseille to Aix leaves every couple of hours, takes 25 minutes and costs $6.
GETTING AROUND: The ancient and narrow streets off Cours Mirabeau make driving in Aix exhilarating and occasionally impossible. In fact, Aix is a walking town, although a rental car makes sense for day trips into the Provence countryside. Cars are available for rent at the Marseille airport or at the train station.
You don't have to travel far into the countryside. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the coastal city in France's Camargue horse country west beyond the Rhone, is less than a three-hour drive and in May features its annual Gypsy Festival. A trip to Arles, where an aging van Gogh painted some of his finest late work, takes just over two hours. Pablo Picasso is buried in Vauvenargues, just 15 minutes into the hills. In addition, the Office Municipal de Tourisme in Aix offers day excursions by air-conditioned bus for about $7 to $14 to several locales, from the Silvacane Abbey in the Durance Valley to the Camargue to St. Re'my and St. Tropez.
WHERE TO STAY: Aix boasts several dozen hotels ranging from luxurious to many that are simply comfortable and clean. At the top of the price bracket is the Hotel Roy Rene', 14 Boulevard de Roi-Rene', phone 26-03-01, which has attracted a long list of dignitaries. The style is Art Deco, accommodations are top of the line, and prices start at about $65 single.
Le Ne gre-Coste, 33 Cours Mirabeau, 27-74-22, is a center-of-town alternative located in one of the grand historic buildings along the famous avenue. Noisier but less expensive, singles start in the $24 range.
Three blocks from Place de la Libe'ration and away from the traffic of Cours Mirabeau is the modern and friendly Residence Rotonde, 15 Avenue Belges, 26-29-88. Singles start at under $20, but request a room overlooking the court, not the street.
Just outside town is the Hotel PLM le Pigonnet, 5 Avenue du Pigonnet, 59-02-90, on the route to Marseille, a picturesque manor estate complete with swimming pool and restaurant. But the inconvenience of the location is a burden. Singles start at about $50.
WHERE TO EAT: Among the pleasures of Aix and Provence are its local, robust wines and hearty, spiced foods. The local herbs are a matter of regional pride and lore -- the flavors find their way into all traditional dishes of the region. Legend has it that the lamb and beef taste so strongly of the herbs because the animals are fattened on the wild-growing plants in the fields.
Aix's restaurant most reputed for sophistication and elegance, La Vendo me, at Place du Ge'ne'ral-de-Gaulle, 26-01-00, is too cold and cavernous and features classic French cuisine you can eat in Paris. The best of Aix's restaurants are the intimate little places in the old section that branches off either side of Rue de la Couronne -- a superb walking area in the late evenings.
Le Flambee des Bourras, for instance, at 22 Rue Lieutud, 27-69-69, a crooked side street off Couronne, prepares its traditional Provenc,al cuisine in a musty 16th-century setting with wide, sweaty stone walls and timbered ceiling. Its entrees -- basic lamb, beef, chicken, rabbit -- are grilled in the grand fireplace at the back of the dining room, complete with sleeping sheep dog. Capacity is about 35, tables are candlelit, and our dinner for two, including two pitchers of local wine, dessert of a special marinated goat cheese and tip, cost $23.
In the heart of the old quarter is the little La Belugo, 18 Rue de la Couronne, 27-10-46, with a vast menu of the specialties of Provence, such as tomato hors d'oeuvres stuffed with local olives minced with anchovies and herbs, and daube provenc,al, a traditional meaty stew. A feast for two with two bottles of wine costs $38.
To rest your palate from the flavors of Provence, Rosa The', a delicate, tiny restaurant at 50 Rue Aumone-Vieille, 27-93-57, specializes in culinary arts that are equally delicate. The menu emphasizes light fare at fixed prices. The tab for two, including entrees of truite meneure (trout in garlic) and roasted chicken, with a pitcher of wine and tip, cost $14.
INFORMATION: French Government Tourism Office, 610 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10020, (212) 757-1125. In Aix, the Office Municipal de Tourisme is at 2 Place du Ge'ne'ral-de-Gaulle, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, phone 26-02-93.