Aix-en-Provence and Bath : 650 miles apart and unlikely twins?

Aix-en-Provence, France

Since 1977, the city of Bath has been twinned with the town of Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. This process of twinning towns with similar attributes, known as ‘jumelage’ was reinforced in 1951 following World War Two, in order to create stronger partnerships within European nations. As a student of the University of Bath, currently on a semester-long exchange with Aix-Marseille University, comparing the two cities has been on my and Ellie Insley’s (a BathTime contributor also here on her year abroad) minds ever since we moved here three months ago. With Aix as a study destination for Bath languages students, we hope this article will help students of French and other subjects make up their minds on whether a ‘Provençal’ life is for them. But what makes these two cities special, and how do our experiences compare between the two places? 

Roman Baths, Bath

The cities…

It’s clear to see that both Bath and Aix are similar. Bath’s ancient Roman name, ‘Aquae Sulis’ and Aix’s ‘Aquae Sextiae’ demonstrate their ancient use as cities of water and of great importance to the Romans. Bath, as a Roman spa city, with two universities and a strong tourist appeal, is a city that BathTime readers know and love. With its iconic sandstone, endless brunch cafés and mostly unreasonable house prices, it is an iconic British location. Serving as the set for Bridgerton and Wonka, and beloved by Jane Austen and regency era enthusiasts alike, it’s no surprise that it attracts tourists. 

Aix-en-Provence, the former capital of the Provence region, is classically French. As the second most expensive city to live in France after Paris, with its sprawling cobbled streets and squares made busier by its markets three times a week, it is similarly a tourist hub. It is known as the city of fountains, boasting over 1000! Undoubtedly a city with a Mediterranean feel while also retaining classic French architecture and outdoor café culture, it’s certainly an enjoyable place to be a student. Due to its proximity to Marseille, a bigger port city boasting excellent transport, it’s no doubt a convenient location to explore the rest of France. Despite Marseille’s obvious differences to Bristol, with its turquoise seas, winding Mediterranean streets covered with art and potted plants, and incredible viewpoints, its proximity to Aix and reputation as an artsy city with a better nightlife, makes it possible to draw comparisons between Marseille being near to Aix just like Bristol is to Bath. 

The universities…

As for the universities themselves, this is where the similarities end. As a student with a relatively nice timetable back in Bath, the 8 am to 12 pm lecture on a Monday in Aix (it’s not even my only four-hour long lecture of the week!) is enough to make anyone prefer Bath’s timetabling. However, as Aix-Marseille is a much bigger university with a greater range of subjects, it means that we have met and shared subjects with students of history, English literature and law, subjects which aren’t offered at Bath. Additionally, as exchange students, we have a fair amount of flexibility with our modules. I’m able to study across departments including studying cinema, introductory anthropology and Italian. As we require fewer credits than French students too, there is a good balance between work, socialising etc. A word of warning, however – as expected in a bureaucracy such as France, securing accommodation was, for lack of a better word, a faff’. That being said, the accommodation offered is excellent but just requires extensive paperwork. Additionally, clubs and societies aren’t usually as large at French universities, so there isn’t a central hub like Bath’s SU. At Aix-Marseille, there are excellent sports facilities, however no ‘Score’ to be seen! As Bath has a famously sporty culture, this is perhaps one of the biggest differences. 

 Surrounding areas… 

As for the surrounding areas, both Bath and Aix are surrounded by natural beauty. Bath’s proximity to the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and Aix’s nearby Parc National des Calanques, while having distinctly different landscapes, they are both locations with great popularity amongst students and tourists. The calanques (creeks or rocky inlets) are bays of beautiful azure waters and rocky beaches which are incredibly accessible from Aix and, therefore, where we spend most of our day trips.                                                                                                                                                                               

Finally, both cities boast fantastic opportunities, scenery and culture. While we have thoroughly enjoyed our French adventure so far, and recommend doing a study exchange, we agree that Bath will always be our second home. 

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