Les Baux de Provence
By far, the most beautiful village I have visited so far here in the south of France has to be Les Baux de Provence. I have been several times and it is, without a doubt, the first place on my list to take visitors. To date, no one has been disappointed.
The drive to get to Les Baux de Provence is a long one through olive tree groves and flat lands with sparsely laid houses. Just before you reach the city there is a small descent into a village at the base of Les Baux where you will find a few shops, some restaurants and hotels. Once you leave this road and turn the corner, there you will see, high on a hilltop, the lovely town of Les Baux de Provence. The first thing that comes into view is the spectacular ruins of the chateau. It’s quite simply an amazing and formidable sight.
During the winter months, this village is calm and quiet with not many stores or restaurants open. During the summer months it is one of the most crowded and touristy places I’ve seen. The winter is bitter cold in this town so take care if you do visit to not go when the Mistrals are blowing. I’ve never been in a colder village than Les Baux when the Mistrals decide to wage their war on Provence. For every bit of cold days you encounter there, the hot days are relentless in the summer.
This is the place where time has stood still. This is the place of cobble stone streets, original cut stone buildings, ruins, and gargoyles. This is the sort of village I love since history can be seen no matter where you look. From the moment you enter the gates, you are transported back in time. The only thing that keeps your mind set in the present is the current fashion trend of the people visiting.
This is the village that has my hand prints everywhere. For each time I go, I can’t resist running my hands along the walls and feeling the history beneath them. This is how I link myself to history. This is what really excites me. It’s so easy in this village to find a nice place to sit and picture what life was like back in medieval times, the hustle and bustle, the look and the feel. This is why Les Baux de Provence is one of my most favorite villages to visit.
When entering the village the first thing you will notice is one of the most wonderful candy stores in all of France, La Cure Gourmande. It’s absolutely impossible to leave this store without buying several different types of goodies. The décor is as pleasing to the eye as much as the candy is. Everything inside is delightful and delectable and it’s one store you cannot pass up. The best part about it being the first thing you see upon arrival is that while you are continuing your tour through the village you can enjoy the tasty treats you’ve just purchased.
Strolling through the streets you can find many lovely shops and cafes.
Every nook and cranny has something to offer. One of my favorite shops to browse is the tapestry shop. They make the most lovely hand crafted tapestries I’ve ever seen, many of them with fairy tales scenes or stories on them of the medieval times or renaissance in France.
During the summer, Les Baux de Provence puts on a show like no other. The town really comes alive with hundreds of people dressed up in medieval costumes walking about the town. Little stands are everywhere with merchants selling their goods. During this time, I don’t need to let my imagination run wild, the town freely offers up to me exactly what I crave.
As you make your way through the town you will come to the famous chateau which is now in partial ruins, but well worth the visit. You can choose to tour with or without audio. If it is your first time visiting the chateau, I would suggest spending the money on the audio tour, it comes in several different languages and tells of the history of the castle which is quite interesting. You are invited to roam freely and climb around the remains of the chateau. The view is spectacular and during the spring and summer there are shows which allow you to see the workings of the catapults (and some lucky guests can even try their hand at them), dressage, archery, live bird and bear shows and more. If you do not mind the heat and the crowds, this would be the time to go visit and experience the village in all its glory. The shows take place between 1 April through the end of September each weekend, holidays and school vacation times.
If crowds are not your thing, then the time to go would be the beginning of autumn when the weather can still be warm. The village will not be so crowded, but the stores and restaurants should be open for the most part.
Besides visiting the chateau, don’t forget to stop by St. Vincent’s church. It has beautiful stain glass windows (donated to the church by Prince Ranier III of Monaco), stone pillars with gorgeous carvings, gargoyles on the exterior who still watch over the town, and a wonderful white sarcophagus of a woman located on the left side of the church. This church was originally built in the 12th century and has had some updating, but for the most part remains like it was centuries ago.
If Santons are your thing, be sure to visit the Santon Museum. There is no admission charge and it is open all year around. You will enjoy the different exhibits this museum houses and there is even a documentary film on how the Santons are made. It’s quite interesting and a delight to see.
Then there is the view from the fortress wall just across from St. Vincent church. It’s absolutely breath taking. There are these fascinating homes that people have built right into the rock. You can stand there forever and not get tired of the beauty of this place. I know because each time I go, I have to literally tear myself away from it.
Take time to stop and have a refreshing drink at one of the many cafes or restaurants. It offers yet another opportunity to marvel at the history that is surrounding you.
After making the tour of the town, I always go around to see the buildings and ruins once more just to remind me of the feel, the texture and the sense of history. I just can’t help myself and I’ve even gone for a third trip around. There’s just something about this place that grabs me.
I definitely know that this village will be one that I visit time and time again. It’s one of those provincial towns that just stays with you, in good way.
If you want to see more photos of Les Baux de Provence they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.
For more information on the village of Les Baux de Provence, click here to go to their office website. This link will also take you on a video tour if you so choose.