Les Baux de Provence Perched High in the Alpilles
Fortifications have long existed in the Alpilles because the cliffs and rocky outcroppings made for perfect defensive positions. Plus, the high places make it easy to spot signs of danger. Unfortunately, these fortifications were built of wood or earth for much of human history, so little or no trace remains today. But in the 10th century, what we now call chateaux were made of stone.
Les Baux de Provence
Perched on an outcrop are remains of the medieval fortress of Les Baux. This castle was once one of the most powerful in France. Today the old village is a pedestrian-only zone, and all vehicles must park outside the ramparts. Visitors to Les Baux enjoy magnificent views of the Alpilles, vineyards, olive groves, and the Mediterranean on a clear day.
The village caters to tourists with its boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Tiny cobbled streets meander through the town at odd angles, but in the end, most of these routes lead to the castle at the top of Les Baux. A ticket is required to enter the Château les Baux and can be purchased in combination with the Carrières des Lumières multimedia show for a slight discount.
Once inside the castle walls, follow the map for a self-guided discovery tour. The climb to the highest point requires sturdy shoes and some stamina. There are demonstrations of ancient weapons such as catapults and trebuchets for additional entertainment.
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.
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.
Where to Eat:
Inside the village walls, there are many restaurants and cafés, several of which have expansive vistas.
Worth it! L’Oustau (Michelin 3-star) at Baumanière below the old village, and it is the place to book if money is no object. The service and food quality are memorable.
Vegan: Les Baux Jus is in the old village with a sunny terrace and an ever-changing seasonal menu. The food is 100% vegan and delicious. Even carnivores will agree.
Over a dozen vineyards are flank the sides of the Alpilles. It seems that grapes thrive in the sandy, rocky soil, bathed in sunlight with the proper doses of water and wind. Here are a few of the vineyards closest to Les Baux de Provence worth visiting.
Mas de la Dame: Caroline Missoffe and her sister Anne Poniatowski have operated this 740-acre property since 1995. These two ladies are the 3rd generation of the Faye family to run a vineyard believed to be one of the first commercially established operations in the region. A charming boutique at Mas de la Dame offers products from their 40 hectares of vineyards and 18 hectares of olive groves.
Mas Sainte Berthe: Documentation from 1539 references a chapel (dedicated to Ste Berthe) on Lord de Mollières’ property. Mas Sainte Berthe was an old pilgrimage site where believers would assemble twice a year to drink water from the natural spring in hopes of relief from their fevers. Now, it is a gathering place for wine drinkers who wish to sample wines crafted from the vines planted in the 1950s by the David family (their first vintage was 1976). Mas Sainte Berthe has 21 hectares of vines and 5 hectares of olive groves.
Château d’Estoublon has had several owners and a long history of organized wine-growing, beginning with the Seigneurie du Mont Paon, who managed a large swath of farmland under the command of the Counts of Les Baux. Read the full story of “le Grand Mas” (the large house) and reasons to visit here. The 494-acre property has 28 hectares of olive trees with five classic varietals and eight (8) hectares dedicated to organic grapevines.
The Stunning Alpilles
Established in 2007, the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles covers the mountain range and its flanks. There are restrictions on construction and park usage as a protected natural area. 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.
Starting at Orgon by the Durance River to the western end near Fontvielle, the Alpilles run 25km. 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.
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
Les Baux Tourism Office
Located just inside the main entrance to the village
Rue Porte Mages
Maison du Roy
13520 Les Baux-de-Provence