Les Baux de Provence in Provence is justly classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. You drive through wriggling roads between limestone crests to get there, and it’s absolutely worth the ride. It’s in the Regional Natural Park fo the Alpilles. In fact, the ‘village’ as such sits below the great limestone plateau on which the lords of Baux built their chateau. Les Baux is separated a little from Les Alpilles, a limestone extension of the Luberon range whose ragged white peaks from afar boast the outlines of a great mountain chain though few rise above 400 metres. The arid limestone crenulations set against a brilliant blue sky are astounding.
Chateau of Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux gave its name to the mineral bauxite. The place is perfectly summed up in the words of a song by Italian folk rock singer-songwriter Angelo Branduardi: ‘Dans son château le Seigneur des Baux prend la pluie au visage’. It translates to: ‘In his chateau, the Lord of Baux takes the rain in his face’. Climb to the highest point of this limestone ridge, and you’ll see why that might be. It must have been a desolate spot in winter when there was only wine, wenching and throwing the odd malcontent from the battlements to alleviate the gloom.
For a modest fee, you can head up onto the plateau itself and the ruins of the chateau. Here you’ll discover modern interpretations of the siege engines of war used during medieval times. For all its popularity, it’s easy to fashion a quiet tour of the citadel that will give you a remarkably valid impression of what life might have been like living on this mountain ridge.
The tiny Chapelle des Penitents Blancs, isn’t a church by usual church standards. It was built in the mid 17th century by the Brotherhood of White Penitents. The interior of the chapel was decorated with frescoes by Yves Brayer in 1974 representing the Shepherds’ Christmas. There is no alter and no pews, just somewhere tranquil to say a prayer and appreciate the artwork.
There is also a museum dedicated to Yves Brayer. His artists depict every day life in France, and there are around 100 artworks on display.
Village of Les Baux de Provence
Below the chateau, the picturesque medieval village has a diverse architectural heritage. It’s a charming mix of narrow streets, gift and craft shops, restaurants and cosy cafés, all determined to delay you. You might think that with just 400 residents in the town it’s odd to have so many eateries. But Les Baux attracts around 2 million visitors a year, lured by its beauty, culture and history.
Carrieres des Lumieres
Les Carrieres des Lumieres is a multimedia experience which takes place in former quarries. The artists featured change regularly and have included Van Gogh and Klimt. Famous artwork is presented in a larger than life form. It flows across multiple surfaces including the walls and floors, set to a symphonic score. It’s a unique format in a unique venue.
Tip: There’s plenty of parking for a fee and the village can only be visited on foot, but arriving early is always a good idea.
See our ultimate guide to Provence for more delights in this lovely area