Les Alpilles : home to the most beautiful villages
An essential stopover at the entrance to the Alpilles Regional Nature Park, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence offers more than one reason to linger.
Its light and beauty have seduced many artists. Vincent Van Gogh spent a year in the cloister of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, formerly a psychiatric asylum. There, he painted the famous "Irises".
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence has all the attributes of an authentic Provençal village: small squares with fountains, narrow streets, and shady terraces.
What to see in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence :
- The weekly Provencal market is one of the most colourful in the region. Every Wednesday morning, it unfolds its stalls in the historic centre, offering a picturesque summary of the Provençal art of living.
- The archaeological site of Glanum bears witness to Greek and Roman influences. Take a tour of it with an audioguide, and immerse yourself in ancient Provence.
- The Transhumance Festival, on Whit Monday, is one of the most lively and authentic Provencal festivals. It marks the departure of the herds to the mountain pastures. Sheep, goats and donkeys pass through the town centre, accompanied by shepherds dressed in traditional costumes.
10 kilometres away from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, overlooked by a rocky peak, the village of Eygalières offers superb views of the olive groves and vineyards below. Wandering through the maze of streets, their cobblestones weathered by time, is a great way to spend the morning.
An emblematic figure of the Provençal chapel, the 12th-century Chapelle Saint-Sixte stands humbly on a hill outside the village. The stone porch was added at the time of the plague of 1629, to serve as a guard post.
What to see in Eygalières :
- The Friday morning market.
- The Roumavage, a traditional procession from the village to the Chapelle Saint-Sixte on Easter Tuesday, with music and Provençal costumes.
- The "Journée à l'ancienne" on the first Sunday of October, during which the village recreates the 1900s, with costumes, horse-drawn carriages and a representation of the trades of yesteryear.
Mouriès is the most important olive-growing town in France, with more than 80,000 olive trees. The village still has three working olive-oil mills. It also has several dozen hectares of vineyards and almond trees. Make sure you plan a tasting of the olive oils that have been awarded several gold medals, and of the local wines labelled AOC Vallée des Baux.
What to see in Mouriès
- The Wednesday morning market.
- The Votive Festival in August, with its giant and convivial aïoli, in the purest Provencal tradition.
- The Olive Festival in September, with its procession in traditional costumes.
It is no wonder Les Baux-de-Provence is listed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France! This mineral vessel moored in the heart of the Alpilles is stunning. Cocteau shot part of the film "Orpheus" here in 1959. The Val d'Enfer, a valley nestled at the foot of the village, with cliffs pierced by caves, inspired Dante and the French writer Frédéric Mistral.
Wander through the medieval streets of the village and admire the Renaissance houses and the quaint chapels. Visit the local museums (especially the Musée des Santons).
What to see in Les Baux-de-Provence
- Les Carrières des Lumières, the quarry turned into a fascinating light-and-sound venue. The massive exhibitions held all year round are not to be missed.
- The Château des Baux-de-Provence, classified as a historical monument, is worth a visit, with an Escape Game option for small groups (2 to 6 people).
It was here that French author Alphonse Daudet wrote "Lettres de mon moulin" from 1866. But the village's history goes back to prehistoric times, as shown by the hypogees. This collective burial site was carved out of the rock and is now classified as a historical monument.
What to see in Fontvieille
- The markets on Monday and Friday mornings.
- The Château de Montauban, a superb residence where Daudet stayed, and which served as the setting for many of his novels. It is now a museum presenting the history of the village.
- The four windmills, including the one depicted by Alphonse Daudet, classified as an historical monument.
Nestled on the southern slopes of the Alpilles, Maussane-les-Alpilles is a village with typical Provencal charm. It is surrounded by olive groves, boasts two working olive-oil mills, ancient remains, and organises many traditional festivals.
You will enjoy strolling through its narrow streets, discovering its oratories and washhouses.
What to see in Maussane-les-Alpilles
- The stone map of France, made up of as many stones as there are departments.
- The traditional Provencal market on Thursday mornings.
- Camargue races in the arena (only for bull-racing enthusiasts), gardian (cattle herdsmen) games in the streets of the village (from May to September).
A tour of the most beautiful walks in the Alpilles
Les Caisses de Jean-Jean
If you are only going to pick one trail, this should be it! Starting from the village of Mouriès, it meanders in a loop between the limestone cliffs before bringing hikers back to the starting point. On the way, you will see ivy, which seems to grow in the shape of hearts on the rock face. You will discover the remains of a Gallic oppidum. Marvel at the exceptional natural setting, the kingdom of the Great Horned Owl. And perhaps you will spot some climbing enthusiasts challenging the vertical walls.
* Allow 3 hours, but the level is easy.
From Eyguières, a picturesque village with many fountains, start climbing up towards the Tour des Opies, which crowns the summit of the Alpilles massif at an altitude of 498 metres. The panorama from the top is exceptional. In the distance, the Ventoux, the Rhone Valley and the Alps.
* Allow about 4 hours, medium difficulty.
Le lac de Peiroou
This hike of just under two hours starts in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, from the ancient Roman city of Glanum. It takes you up to the Baldoin cave, adorned with several rock engravings. There, the panorama over the lake of Peiroou is magnificent. Walk down to the shadybanks of the lake, where fishing is allowed (with a permit), but swimming is not.
* Allow about 1h45, medium difficulty.
Le Val d’Enfer
Hydraulic erosion has given the limestone rocks around Les Baux-de-Provence their spectacular shapes. The tormented landscapes of this natural valley below the village inspired writers such as Dante and Frédéric Mistral. Traces of its first occupants date back to the Bronze Age. Troglodytic dwellings can be found here. The start of the hike is below the Carrières des Lumières.
* Allow about 3 hours for an easy hike.
Les grottes de Calès
The village of Lamanon sits at the eastern end of the Alpilles Regional Nature Park. It is the starting point for an excursion to a remarkable site: the Cirque de Calès, a natural amphitheatre with 58 troglodytic caves. These caves were occupied in the 12th century by a community which exploited the quarries, extracting the stones used to build the fortified castle (remains of the medieval castle can be seen overlooking the site).
Unfortunately, authorities had to restrict access to the area because of the threat of erosion. But a sudden turn of events is about to change the situation: the town hall of Lamanon inherited a large sum of money at the beginning of 2022, bequeathed by a Dutch woman who was apparently deeply attached to the heritage of the Alpilles. Thanks to this donation, the site will be secured, and should reopen in the Spring of 2023.
* It takes 15 minutes to walk up to the caves from the village along a winding path.
Les Alpilles, the best-kept secret of Provence
In this land of vines and olive trees, guarded by white limestone ridges, the light is as beautiful as it is unique. Artists are inspired by it. Celebrities jealously guard their retreats here, and tourists come back year after year, drawn by the quintessential Provençal atmosphere.