Discover These Authentic Alpilles Villages
Within the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles are several villages, each with a distinctive character.
Authentic Alpilles Villages
Below, we highlight a few towns that are not typically on visitors’ itineraries. These villages have as much history and charm as their popular neighbours. But perhaps with some additional authenticity as the attraction is simply a lovely place to live. Listed in alphabetical order discover market days and must-see sites in these Alpilles villages.
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.
- A butcher shop with 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.
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
- The old rampart gate.
- Hike to the ruins of the Castellas de Roquemartine from the 11th century.
- Discover 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 Arles. As the religious order’s influence magnified, so did the structures on the hillside. A 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.
- The 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 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. Take a short hike 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.
- 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.
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 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 are 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
- The Arcoule site is north of town, 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.
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. You pass right behind the village by riding on the dedicated bike path – from St Remy to St Etienne.
- 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. Initially, it was 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.
- A family-friendly 3.5-kilometre loop (Chemin de la Pierre). The walk starts 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.
- L’Eglise paroissiale de l’Assomption at the heart of the village is accessed via a sweeping horseshoe-shaped (fer à cheval) staircase. In 1325, a Provencal Gothic-style church replaced an 11th-century one in the same spot.
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.
Saint-Étienne is not a typical tourist destination, the town has all the essentials – a bakery, bar and a boules pitch. Although there is no standard village square, there have been considerable municipal upgrades to the streetscape.
Market Day: The large wholesale market is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
- 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. From some angles, the Notre Dame du Château chapel (11th century) is visible from a distance. The Romanesque chapel was constructed on an oppidum and classified as a historical monument in 1926.
Preparing for your Visit
Established in 2007, the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles covers the mountain range and its flanks. The mountain range is the result of millennia of continuous geological evolution. As a protected natural area, there are restrictions on construction and park usage. Artefacts discovered in the area, from human settlements, date to the Neolithic era.
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 steep challenges. The mountain ridge is a jagged line carved by centuries of wind currents and a magnet for glider pilots.
Running for 25km the Alpilles start at the edge of the Durance River near Orgon to Fontvielle. Visually dramatic, the tallest Alpilles peak is only 498 metres. However, the jagged limestone spires give the impression that the hills are much higher. Try hiking in the area, and you will be thankful that there isn’t any more vertical to climb.
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
Office de Tourisme de Fontvieille
Avenue des Moulins – 13990 Fontvieille
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 54 67 49
Lamanon town website