No wonder Vincent van Gogh chose this part of Provence, France, to live for a couple of years. The amazing light and stunning colours of the region must be experienced to be believed. St-Rémy is a delight, the Alpilles stunning in their rocky magnificence and Arles – well, any admirer of the great man’s work has to visit at least once.
The tour takes you over the stunning Alpilles — thick with almond and olives trees on the lower slopes, capped with kermes oaks and cypresses interspersed with bare limestone crags, and topped by Les Baux. They stand like sentinels against the blue sky.
Because of superb scenery and stops between St-Rémy, the Alpilles and Arles, it will be late when you reach Arles.
St-Rémy de Provence is often thought of as the quintessential Provençal small town. A plane tree lined boulevard follows the course of the old walls. Inside the boulevard, narrow streets with ancient houses and mansions give access to the historic centre.
Start with A Perfect Day in St-Rémy, a two- to three-hour leisurely walk around the old town, before beginning this Van Gogh itinerary.
South of St-Rémy along the D5 lie the limestone peaks of Les Alpilles under which nestles the old Roman/Greek town of Glanum. It’s adjacent to the beautifully preserved Les Antiques. Also nearby is St-Paul-de-Mausole where van Gogh stayed for a while.
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Drive south on the D5 over the Alpilles until you reach the D27. Continue for 2.5km to the imposing site of Les-Baux-de-Provence, which is deservedly very popular. During July and August you will need to park outside the village. The Lords of Baux were very powerful figures during the Middle Ages and this stronghold enabled them to defy the mighty Counts of Provence.
Take the Arles road from Les Baux to the D17 which you follow for 7km towards Fontvieille. It’s a pleasant place in itself, but the real point lies in visiting Daudet’s Mill, just out of the village. Daudet became famous for his book of short stories ‘Letters from my Windmill’ published in 1869.
Continue toward Arles on the D17 for 4.5 km until you reach the impressive Montmajeur Abbey, a ruined medieval and renaissance Benedictine house. Don’t miss the lovely Chapelle de Ste Croix next door.
Continue along the D17 for 2.5 km towards Arles. On entering the city, go straight ahead at the first rond-point and right at the second heading for the town centre. Park near the ruins of the Lion Bridge or in a car park outside the walls.
The exciting southern city of Arles is worth at least a half a day. Head for the Amphitheatre, the most visible sign of the City’s Roman past and then to the place de la République. The heart of this vibrant old town is the church of St-Trophime which, with its remarkable carved doorway and cloisters, is the best in all Provence.
Arles was the subject of many of Van Gogh’s paintings. One in particular, L’Arlésienne, acknowledges the tradition of the ‘Queens’ of Arles. The city has long claimed to have the most beautiful women in France; take the opportunity to judge for yourself.
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