The low mountain range called Les Alpilles forms a rocky landscape that rises into nearly barren lime-stone hills, the flanking fields silvered with ranks of twisted olive trees and alleys of gnarled amandiers ( almond trees). There are superb antiquities in Saint Remy and feudal ruins in Les Beaux. West of the Alpilles, the fortresses of Tarascon and Beaucaire guard the Rhone between Avignon and the sea.
L'Abbaye de Montmajour
An extraordinary structure looming over the marshlands north of Arles, this beautiful Romanesque abbey stands in partial ruins. The abbey was started in the 12th- century by a handful of benedictine monks and it grew according to an ambitious plan of church, crypt and cloister. Under the management of corrupt lay monks in the 17th- century, it grew more sumptuous; when those lay monks were ejected by the church, they totally sacked the place. The abbey was sold to a junkman after the revolution who tried to pay the mortgage by stripping off and selling its goods. A 19th- century medieval revival spurred its partial restoration, but its 18th-century portion remains in ruins. The cloister rivals that of St - Trophine in Arles for its balance, elegance, and air of mystical peace; Van Gogh was drawn to its womblike isolation and came often to the abbey to paint & reflect. The interior which was renovated by Rudi Riciotti, is now used for temporary exhibitions. Phone # 04-90-54-64-17. April -September., daily 9-7; Oct -March., Wed - Mon . 10-1 and 2-5.
Les Beaux de Provence
When you first reach the hilltops for signs of Les Baux- de- Provence, you may not be able to distinguish between bedrock and building , so naturally do the ragged skyline of towers and crenellation blend into the sawtooth jags of stone. This very tiny chateau-village ranks as one of the most visited tourists sites in France, a mix of natural beauty and medieval ambience of astonishing beauty. The lord of Les Baux ruled throughout the 11th and 12th centuries over one of the largest fiefdoms in the South. Today Les Baux offers two faces to the world: its beautifully preserved medieval village and the ghostly ruins of its fortress. In the village, a 12th- century stone houses, even the window frames still intact, shelter the shops, cafes and galleries that line the steep cobble streets. At the edge of the village, is a cliff that offers a stunning view over the Val d'Enfer ( hell's valley) said to have inspired Dante's Inferno. Further along is the Cathedral des images, petite route de Mailliane, 04-90-54-38-65. The setting is a vast old bauxite quarry, with 20-meter high stone walls, which makes a dramatic setting for the thousands of images projected onto its walls. The Musee d'Histoire des Baux, a small collection of relics and models. Its exit gives access to the wide & varied grounds, where Romanesque chapels and towers mingle with skeletal ruins. La Chapelle St-Blaise shelters a permanent music-and-slide show called Van-Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne au Pays de L'Olivier, which features artworks depicting olive orchards and their infinite variety,http://www.chateau-baux-provence.com
Where to stay & eat
L'Oustau de la Beaumaniere. Val d'Enfer, 04-90-54-33-07 http://www.oustaudebaumaniere.com Sheltered by rocky cliffs below the village Les Baux,this famous hotel, with its formal landscaped terrace and large swimming pool, has a guest book studded with names like Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill and Pablo Picasso. The interior is very luxurious with Provencal tile floors, arched stone ceilings. Guest rooms are breezy and quiet and very private and beautifully furnished with antiques. The rooms have a contemporary flair but the style remains archetypal Baux. As for the famed Baumaniere restaurant ( reservations are a must). The menu includes lobster cooked in Chateauneuf-du-pape and set on a bed of polenta is a typical dazzler. You can always try a less expensive Oustau experience, half a mile away ( highly recommended) at La Cabro d'Or. 04-90-54-33--21 http://www.lacabrodor.com. Run by the same owners, it's cheaper, more rustic and more private, and don't be surprised to see a goat wander by your guestroom window. Meal plans for both hotels are available with two- night minimum stay.
La Reine Jeanne. This modest inn is majestically placed right at the entrance to the village. Rooms are small, simple and -despite the white vinyl-padded furniture- lovingly decorated. Good home-style cooking is served in the restaurant, which has views both from the inside & outside terrace. Grande rue Baux,13520. 04-90-54-32-06 http://www.la-reinejeanne.com
Le mas de L'oulivie. Built to look ancient, with recycled roof tiles and hand-waxed chalk walls, this mas has a cool & clean look and a very low key aura. There is no upscale restaurant - just easy and unpretentious lunches by the pool ( grilled meats, salads and goat cheese). The rooms are pretty with floral-print curtains and rich carpets, if you go there ask for the room with the view of the lavender gardens and olive groves. Direction Fontvieille-Arles, 13520. 04-90-54-35-78. http://www.masdeloulivie.com
Luxury Travel Consultant2 is working on a tour that will take place in September 2013. ( 8 days / 7 nights) 11 guests are invited. $ 3,750 pp. Contact us at email@example.com . The trip is not posted yet.