If you are planning a villa vacation in the Alpilles make sure to go exploring the charming villages of Provence.
The Alpilles are one of the absolute “musts” destination in Provence, embodying the harmony of sublime landscapes, a still untamed natural environment and proudly preserved traditions. It conveys an image of deepest Provence, the authentic Provence with its style and refinement. This is the land of the authors Alphonse Daudet and Frédéric Mistral, and also the land of Van Gogh who lived in St Rémy and who was inspired by its light, its sunflowers and its famous cypress trees.
Walk along the tops of the mountain ranges, climb the hills, experience local festivals and enjoy sunny Provençal cuisine. But, most importantly, make sure to explore its 10 villages: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Fontvieille, Mouriès, Eygalières, Le Paradou, Aureille, Les Baux-de-Provence, Saint-Étienne-du-Grès, Mas-Blanc-les-Alpilles and Maussane-les-Alpilles. Each has its own charm, history and assets.
Follow the guide and read on to discover a few of them…
Though the birthplace of Nostradamus was once just another quaint Provençal town catering to artists and the occasional tourist, St. Rémy has become quite a chic hangout in recent years thanks to the patronage of such notables as Princess Caroline of Monaco. The end result is a surreal juxtaposition of peasant farmers in their beaten pickups and the high-fashion jet set in their Mercedes.
Outside the old town, with its winding streets, fountains, archways and its intriguing mix of traditional shops and upscale boutiques, St. Rémy’s main attractions are Les Antiques (the Roman ruins of Glanum), and a walking tour that traces the views which inspired some of Van Gogh’s most famous works when he was a patient at the clinic of the Cloître St. Paul le Mausolée, a peaceful spot where he spent some time. It is not far from Glanum but on the other side of the road.
St. Rémy has established itself as a center of Provencal design and decoration. Just down the road is the head office of Les Olivades, the #2 Provencal fabric house after Souleiado (both have shops in St. Rémy). There are some twenty artisan shops and boutiques running the gamut from antique dealers, Provençal decorations, specialty jewelers, decorative iron work and garden furniture to oriental carpets.
The prestigious medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence, perched and carved into bauxite-rich rock pillars overlooking sumptuous thousand-year-old landscapes scattered with vines and olive trees, belongs to the select circle of the most beautiful villages (“Plus Beaux Villages”) in France. The view of the Crau plains is worth the trip – and even more so if you biked it! (1.5 million visitors a year can’t be wrong.) If you want to avoid the bus-loads of tourists usually milling about, go at about 7 or 7.30pm. Not only will you be significantly less mobbed, but you may be treated to an exceptional sunset. Stay a while longer and admire the floodlit rocks and village.
Near Les Baux is the Carriere des Lumieres, situated between Les Baux and St. Remy. This is an old quarry which is used to present a spectacular audiovisual experience. The valley through which you pass to get to the quarry is called the Val d’Enfer (Hell’s Valley), and is one of the most spectacular drives in the area affording wonderful views of Les Baux. Take a sweater with you as however hot it is outside, it is very chilly in the quarry.
Where to stay in Les Baux-de-Provence: Villa Laurence
Maussane-les-Alpilles is a nice village extended in the Vallée des Baux in the middle of vast olive groves and beautiful landscapes. Lying at the heart of the southern slopes of the Alpilles mountain range, Maussane-les-Alpilles represents the authentic Provençal way of life. Delight in the shade of one hundred-year-old plane trees or in the coolness of the Fountain of the Four Seasons at your own pace.
Discover the Bistrot du Paradou in Maussane
The “no choice, just one all-inclusive” menu at this wonderful establishment near Maussane attracts a full house of locals and visitors on an almost daily basis. Fresh, local ingredients convert to well prepared meals and are followed up with homemade desserts. The room is lively and the service is friendly and unhurried. Count on a good two hour lunch at this favourite spot of ours. And be sure to make reservations!
Located in an authentic and protected setting, Mouriès is one of three villages claiming dominance as the source of the best French olive oil. It is also the largest community producer of olive oil in Les Baux valley with more than 90.000 olive trees. Thus, there is an olive oil cooperative which may be visited on Thursdays, but as the olive oil production takes place in the winter months, it is not really worth visiting in the summer. However you can buy the olive oil in the local shops any time of year.
The main attraction of Eygalières, in our opinion, is its spectacular situation in the midst of the Alpilles mountains, surrounded by charming and interesting towns. There are, however, a number of notable attractions in and around Eygalières itself. The Chapelle St. Sixte is an 11thC chapel restored in the 16th century. It is located 1km east on a rocky hill.
The famed resistance leader Jean Moulin parachuted into the Alpilles in 1942 and founded a refuge in a family home about 1km south of Eygalières. The refuge may be visited (but not entered), and is a pleasant 15 minute walk from town.
Follow the road just to the left of the town hall (Hôtel de Ville). The Church of St. Laurent dates from the 12th century and is at the top of the hill in town, along with the Chapelle des Pénitents (17th century) which houses the tiny Eygalières Museum.
Worthy of the most beautiful postcards, the setting shelters beautiful private properties with tastefully restored Provençal farmhouses (“mas” in Provençal).
Of course, there are more villages to explore still in the Alpilles, but we had to keep some mystery so you will have the chance to discover them for yourself on your next villa vacation. In the meantime, we hope that you enjoyed reading about these little…and oh so charming…Provencal villages. If you want to explore villa vacation options in the Alpilles area, feel free to contact us for more information.