Established in 2007, the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles covers the mountain range and its flanks. As a protected natural area, there are restrictions on construction and park usage. However, the artefacts from human settlements discovered in these hills date back to the Neolithic era, and the range is the result of millennia of continuous geological evolution.
Surrounding the Alpilles are several villages, each with a distinctive character. In this guide, we highlight each town (in alphabetical order) and a few must-see sights.
Dotted with rugged trails, the Alpilles (mini Alps) are paradise hikers and mountain bikers, and climbers love the craggy cliffs. A series of rolling hills offer excellent training for road cyclists looking for vertical challenges. The mountain ridge is a jagged line carved by centuries of wind currents and is a magnet for glider pilots.
The Alpilles run from east to west for 25km, starting at the edge of the Durance River and the town of Orgon to the far end near Fontvielle. Although the Alpilles do not boast any significant altitude, the maximum height is 498 metres. They are dramatic. However, the rugged limestone peaks give these hills the appearance of being much higher than the numbers suggest. Try hiking in the area, and you will be thankful that there isn’t any more vertical to climb.
Residents will tell you that the best thing about Aureille is the lack of tourist traffic. The town has just over 1,500 inhabitants, who enjoy a quiet village complete with a charming main street and beautiful views of the Alpilles. Aureille is on the south side of the Alpilles with little protection from the mistral wind when it blows down the Rhône Valley. Climbers and hikers come to Aureille for the many trails and challenging cliffs. The town might be small, but there is a soccer pitch, two tennis courts and a playground for local kids.
Market Day: Thursday mornings in the parking area on rue de la Fontaine. There are not many stands, but all the food is local.
The butcher shop has a good reputation.
L’epicerie in an old church. This store offers an incredible selection of gourmet items for a small town.
The clock tower
Although you cannot access the ruins of the 12th-century castle perched on a rocky outcrop above the village, it is worth viewing from several sides.
Take a look at the old lavoir.
Located on the northeastern edge of the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles, the hamlet of Eygalières has an official population of about 1,900 residents. However, when second homeowners and short-stay visitors descend upon the village in the summertime, the population swells well beyond the formal count.
The setting for Eygalières is idyllic. The hamlet has one busy main street surrounded by village houses and nourishment options. At the time of writing, there were three bar-cafés, one bakery, a butcher, an épicerie, an Italian-style deli, a decent assortment of restaurants and far too many real estate agents. Stroll up the road into the ancient village, and you get the sense that you stepped back in time. Over many years, the town’s elected officials maintained strict controls over the exterior design of homes and a tight rein on the number of building permits. However, if you get a chance to peek behind the old walls, it becomes clear that many restoration and upgrade projects have brought these homes up to modern standards.
Market Day: Friday mornings
Vestiges of human habitation near Eygalières trace to the Late Bronze Age (1,500 -1,200 BC). The much-photographed Chapelle Sainte Sixte is located 1.5 kilometres from the village centre. The 12th-century chapel sits on a small rocky knoll with a 360-degree view of the Alpilles and Eygalières. It is believed that the church sits near a Neolithic era place of worship, chosen for its proximity to a natural spring. The Romans tapped this same source to begin their aqueduct system that supplied Arles with water for its public baths.
There are stunning views from the top of the old village.
Join the fun during the annual Fête du Village in early August.
Where to Stay?
Located in the countryside just minutes from the charming village of Eygalières is boutique hotel Domaine La Pierre Blanche. This hotel makes for a perfect Provencal escape, whether for a quick getaway or a longer stay in the region. Designed with solitude in mind, Domaine La Pierre Blanche has 15 guest rooms, including eight (8) suites, each with a private entrance and a secluded terrace.
La Villa Dolce Vita is a luxury holiday retreat in Eygalières, only a 10-minute drive from St Rémy de Provence. Located on the outskirts of Eygalières, this villa sleeps 12 adults plus children. It is only 1.2 km from the charming village centre, where there is a selection of top restaurants, a bakery, a butcher and more services.
With a population of almost 7,000, Eyguières is one of the larger towns in the Alpilles. On the southeastern corner of the mountain range, this town is not a typical tourist destination. However, for commuters looking for easy access to the autoroute and larger centres, Eyguières offers many benefits. The village has easy access to hiking trails, including the highest summit in the Alpilles, the Tour des Opies at 498 metres. Just outside of the centre, there are vineyards, goat farmers and much more.
Market Day(s): Tuesday mornings and from April through the end of August Friday afternoons from 16h to 19h
Take a look at the gate in the old ramparts.
Hike to the ruins of the Castellas de Roquemartine from the 11th century.
Discover the remains of the old château that belonged to the Sade family.
Take a look at the unique church bell tower
Located down the hill from Les Baux de Provence, Fontvieille is the closest of the Alpilles villages to Arles. Today, in Fontvieille, there is a population of roughly 3,500 residents. However, the village of Fontvieille was only officially after the end of the French Revolution in 1799.
For many years, the demand for the quarried Fontvielle limestone drove the population and economy of this town. Limestone from Fontvieille was used to construct the Roman arena, ramparts and theatre in Arles. Stone was also vital for the Barbegal aqueduct, which supplied water to Arles. Rock quarried and cut in Fontvieille was also used for the nearby abbey of Montmajour between the 10th and 13th centuries.
Inscribed in the stone and fixed to the side of the St. Pierre windmill is a quote by French writer Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897). Although he was born in Nîmes and spent time in both Lyon and Paris, it was here in the Alpilles where he described his affection for Fontvieille and its windmills.
“Ce coin de roche qui m’etait une patrie et dont on retrouve la trace – êtres ou endroits – dans presque tous mes livres” ~ This corner of rock was a homeland to me, one which can be traced to beings or places in almost all my books. (translation)
Market: Monday and Friday mornings
Nearby Abbey of Montmajour is well worth a visit. This impressive Benedictine Abbey began as a humble hermitage in the 10th century, situated on Saint Peter’s hill outside of Arles. As the religious order’s influence magnified, so did the structures on the hillside—the Romanesque church and cloisters date from the 12th century. The Tower of Abbot Pons de l’Orme rose to 26 metres in height after 1369, for defensive purposes, and finally the 18th century Saint Maur Monastery.
Make sure to see the restored lavoir in Fontvieille. Before communal lavoirs, personal washing was done sparingly by the side of rivers or using precious well water. The washerwoman was often the lady of the house, or in instances of more wealth, this was an outsourced activity. Laundry, done sparingly, was usually collected for many months in humidity-free attics or armoires.
If you are hungry or looking for a wine tasting, stop at Chateau d’Estoublon.
With its population of roughly 2,000 people, Lamanon is situated on the eastern edge of the Alpilles. The town has a long history and an enormous platane (plane tree). Le Géant de Provence is truly a giant at 20 metres in height and a trunk circumference of 7 1/2 metres. Probably planted in the late 18th-century, the tree earned the label arbre remarquable (remarkable tree) in 2014.
In the forested hills behind Lamanon lie the treasures of centuries awaiting discovery on a short hike along to le cirque de Calès. Here you see the remains of a feudal castle and the Grottes de Calès with troglodyte dwellings that may have housed as many as 200 villagers.
Glimpse at the giant plane tree at Château de Lamanon, but please note this is now private property.
Hike the trails in the forest behind the town
Saint-Denis-l’Aréopagite dating from the 18th century
Musée Calès St-Denis contains some archaeological information on the Calès site from the Neolithic era forward.
Les Baux de Provence
Atop the Alpilles sits the remains of the medieval fortress of Les Baux, once one of the mightiest in France. Visitors will enjoy magnificent views—on a clear day, and you can see the Mediterranean Sea. There are demonstrations of ancient weapons like catapults and trebuchets to keep the kids entertained. You reach the fortress by walking along the cobblestone streets of the tiny village of Les Baux, full of interesting shops and cafés.
Built on top of a huge rock and surrounded by a fortified town, Les Baux de Provence is the biggest and best known Alpilles chateaux, with magnificent views over the surrounding landscape. Purchase a combination ticket with Carrières de Lumières.
One of Provence’s most popular visitor sites is the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light). It draws over half a million visitors annually. Located in the massive and interconnected rooms of an abandoned quarry next to Les Baux-de-Provence, it’s a magical sound and light show that features a different artist each year.
Housing a varied collection of “small saints“, the Santon Museum is only open for limited periods during school holidays.
Driving between Maussane and Le Paradou, the two towns almost feel like an extension of the other. However, Paradou, with just over 2,000 people, has a low key profile compared to its larger neighbour. Large plane trees shade the roadside, where you find restored homes and gourmet restaurants. On a hot summer day, when the crowds are in the surrounding villages, Le Paradou is an oasis of calm.
Like the other Alpilles villages, Le Paradou has a long history, although with a different name – St-Marie-de-Castillon. Founded on September 23, 1796, Le Paradou (Lou Paradou) became a municipality during the French Revolution. The current name comes from weaving activity for cloth making.
The archaeological site of Burlande is located on private property. This site was the convergence basin for water from the Entreconque and Arcoules streams. The water was collected here and directed towards the Barbegal mill.
The Tours de Castillon constructed on a previous oppidum to the south of the village. This 11th-century defensive system and was finally abandoned in the 14th century. These towers were
To the north of the current townsite is the Arcoule site, where the discovery of the lion and a necropolis suggest a formerly important settlement dating. This area is still a rich agricultural plain fed by natural streams – arcoules – running from the Alpilles.
La Petite Provence du Paradou is a large display of some 400 santons (“little saints”) for Christmas creches. There is also a boutique and workshops.
Maussane-les-Alpilles sits at the foot of the Alpilles Mountains, near the famous château of Les Baux-de-Provence. The area is rich with olive groves, and Maussane makes a nice starting point for bike rides, like this route to Eygalières.
Spend some time in Maussane’s big central square, Place Joseph Laugier, next to the church. It’s filled with tables from the surrounding cafés and restaurants, set around the central fountain. The square is the perfect place for a relaxing meal or a drink, and you’ll see people enjoying it at just about any hour of the day.
Market Day: Thursday mornings
Make a stop at the Jean Martin boutique with its wide variety of culinary items and the company’s products.
Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille for olive oil. Cornille is one of the region’s top producers, and you can taste to your heart’s content.
This hamlet is easy to miss on the busy D99. With a population of just over 500 people, Mas-Blanc-des-Alpilles is not a tourist destination. However, there is one surprisingly good restaurant – Mon père était pâtissier – at the side of the road. If you ride from St Remy to St Etienne along the dedicated bike path, you pass right behind the village.
Chapelle Ste Lambert is a Romanesque chapel from the 12th and 13th centuries.
A mid-sized town on the south side of the Alpilles, Mouriès has a population of 3,400 people. There are a few hotels and restaurants in this picturesque town. Not strictly off the beaten track, it sits on the old Roman road to Arles, but perhaps slightly overlooked Mouriès is worth visiting. Surrounded by some 80,000+ olive trees, the village has two working olive mills. The olive oil from four varietals, Salonenque, Aglandau, Grossane and Verdale des Baux, is AOP labelled. Above the town towards the base of the Alpilles lies an old Celto-Ligurian oppidum on the Caisses de Jean-Jean.
Market Day: Wednesday mornings. This market is a hidden gem, with products from the Alpilles, Camargue and other parts of the region.
Golfers enjoy the walkable 18 hole track, Golf de Servanes, with beautiful views in every direction.
Caisses de Jean-Jean archaeological site.
Orgon’s location close to the Via Domitia trade route from Rome to Spain provided significant economic advantages during the Roman era. Those same benefits existed well into the Middle Ages. As a result, the hamlet of Orgon became a natural stopping point for anyone wishing to head south to Marseille or north towards the papal city of Avignon.
The 13th century Porte de l’Hortet gateway, built into the town’s first ramparts, protected the castle. The château lays in ruins today, although not for the first time in its history. It was initially constructed as a fortified military post at the top of a rise for its tactical view over the Durance River valley. Most people drive by Orgon without giving the village a second thought, which is unfortunate as there is much history behind the old rampart walls.
Enjoy a family-friendly 3.5-kilometre loop (Chemin de la Pierre) starting from the Tourist Office and Musée Urgonia to a viewpoint above the Omya factory and the limestone quarry.
Porte Sainte-Anne was the primary gateway for travellers wishing to descend towards Marseille.
Stroll through an opening in the original ramparts and hike up to the remaining walls of the once impressive castle (make sure to wear proper shoes). From that point, it is possible to visualise the first set of ramparts and trace the outline of the second larger circle of defence walls, most of which are still standing.
At the heart of the vieux (old) village stands Eglise paroissiale de l’Assomption accessed via a sweeping horseshoe-shaped (fer à cheval) staircase. A church was first constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries, only to be overlaid by a second Provencal Gothic-style building in 1325.
Given its location on the northwest side of the Alpilles, the town of Saint-Étienne-du-Grés is genuinely the « Porte des Alpilles » the gateway to this magical area. Residents are called Les Grésouillais and number some 2,400. Until 1935, Saint-Étienne-du-Grés was part of Tarascon.
The town is not a typical tourist destination but a lively centre that has recently spent considerable municipal funding to upgrade the streetscape. Although there is no standard village square, the town has all the essentials – bakery, bar and boules pitch.
Market Day: The large wholesale market is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Notre Dame du Château chapel (11th century)
La Mourgue (from Roman morga), now located in the town centre, was discovered on the Notre-Dame-du-Château hill. The roughly carved stone likely represents a pagan fertility divinity.
Notre Dame du Château is on private property but is visible from a distance. The Romanesque chapel was constructed on an oppidum and classified as a historical monument in 1926.
Saint-Rémy (often written St Remy) is the ideal size because it’s large enough to have various shops and restaurants, yet small enough that we can walk across it in a few minutes. And it’s a town that rewards strolling—the village centre is off-limits to cars, so it’s easy to wander the cobblestone streets, popping in and out of the many charming shops.
St Rémy has a rich history. The medieval seer Nostradamus was born here, and Vincent Van Gogh painted many masterpieces, including Starry Night. It sits at the foot of the Alpilles Mountains, so it’s easy to find gorgeous places to hike and bike. And there are things to explore all around St Rémy, like the ruins of Roman cities and ancient fortresses perched on rocky mountaintops.
Market: Wednesday mornings
Art fans should visit the Saint Paul Monastery (Saint-Paul de Mausole), where Van Gogh lived when he was treated for mental illness. You can still see his room the way it was when he lived there. Look out his window and imagining what his thoughts were when he did the same.
For fans of Roman history, there are the well-preserved ruins of the city of Glanum and, next to it, two towering Roman monuments.
Nostradamus’ birth home, now a private residence, was part of St. Rémy’s original ramparts. After saving a cousin of Catherine de Medici, the reputation of the astrologer/ doctor/would-be seer soared. His most famous work, Les Prophéties (1555), which aimed to predict the future, remains popular and controversial. Above the doorway at 10 Boulevard Mirabeau, a contemporary trompe d’oeil mural captures a pensive Nostradamus standing at an open window, contemplating the village scene below. Wonder what he’d make of his home town now? Learn more about St Rémy history here.
And a few minutes outside of town is the Carrières de Lumières, a magical sound-and-light show—inside a mountain!—that is one of the most popular attractions in Provence.
Where to stay?
The 14th-century spiral stone staircase leads you to this spacious three-bedroom penthouse – L’Appartement des Anges (Apartment of Angels). During its recent transformation, the original stone windows, archways and timber beams were discovered and now feature in this magnificent apartment in the historic centre of picturesque Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Preparing for your Visit
Maison du Parc des Alpilles
2 boulevard Marceau
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 90 44 00
Main Tourism office for the Alpilles villages
Place Jean Jaurès
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 92 05 22