But then, to jaded epicures, molecular playing with your food can seem even more old-school than country French, and Americans can get hot ice cream and culinary punning back home in the United States. So the best rule in Aix may be to ask yourself, What would M.F.K. Fisher do? And that means at least one classic, Michelin-starred Provençal meal, highlighting the sunny flavors she loved, which pretty much means the inevitable Le Clos de la Violette. The place, confronting the loss of one of its two stars and some blistering reviews, seems galvanized again, and at least you can eat lunch in peace here (none of the Cours Mirabeau's mopeds) on a manor house terrace under chestnut trees. Chef Jean-Marc Banzo's renditions of revered Provençal flavors include roast duck breast with caramelized turnips and polenta galette; a warm salad of cod tossed with olive oil and Parmesan; filet of sea bream roused by stewed beets and backed up by a very Provençal chickpea galette; and a pineapple and vanilla mousse. Be sure to save time for a shop in the old town's prettiest square, the Place Richelme, where the morning food-market vendors hawk smoked ham and sausages; baskets of strawberries, apricots, and raspberries; deep-purple eggplants, and loaves of olive and walnut bread, before the sellers give way to the Place's own wave of cafés in the afternoon. Grab some pastries from the Patisserie Weibel, which sits on a corner of the square and is famous for its fruity take on a layered opera cake: the softest genoise sandwiched between layers of strawberry and apricot cream. Later, head to the Villa Gallici hotel for tea, even if you're not staying in one of the converted manor's rooms. All high whimsy and throwback style (the sign of its resolute traditionalism: there is no hotel spa), the baroque inn is a whirl of chintz, swagged curtains, velvet fainting couches, canopied beds, candy-colored ceramics, ginger jars, textured wallpaper, and fountains strewn with roses. Sit outside on the terrace, overlooking a pool framed by big stone urns, and have some pastel-colored macarons that match the drapes inside, or a strawberry mille-feuille, served on pretty Limoges plates painted with a daisy chain of flowers. You won't find that back home, at least without a lot of looking.
Raphael Kadushin writes for a range of food and travel publications, including Condé Nast Traveler, Epicurious, Out, and National Geographic Traveler. His last piece for Gourmet Live was Eat Your Way Through Great English Gardens.