Provence Family Vacation Ideas for Holidays with Kids in the Alpilles
Family Vacation in Provence
Those iconic images of rows of lavender, fields of sunflowers and bright red poppies, Roman ruins and cobblestone villages are actual landscapes of Provence, but unlikely to interest your children for an extended period. Whenever friends visit the Alpilles with their families, it has been our experience that the key to a successful family vacation in Provence is to plan no more than one outing each day and always allow for pool time.
This post is part of a series of articles focused on family-friendly suggestions for holidays in the South of France. These are ideas for things to do en-famille in the Alpilles. The list is hardly exhaustive, so please feel free to send us some suggestions or return to this article for updates.
The Alpilles (small Alps) are just that a little mountain range, which makes them perfect for family-friendly activities. Dotted with hiking trails the hills are suitable for all levels. There are canals to walk along and paths for biking. The Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles (website in French only) is a protected natural space, which includes vineyards, olive groves, herds of sheep and goats and lots to explore.
Here, are some suggestions for highlights in the Alpilles and surrounding villages that the whole family will enjoy.
Les Baux de Provence:
Impossibly perched on a plateau straddling a rocky peak of les Alpilles, the castle and hamlet of les Baux de Provence does deserve its title as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France.” The revived townsite receives well-over 1 million visitors-a-year who come to see the sweeping views of the jagged limestone summits, a valley covered with groves of olive trees, rows of grapevines, and in the far distance the Mediterranean (on a clear day).
However, the name les Baux is not about good looks. Balcium Castrum was a settlement identified in 10th-century texts, descendants of a local lord used Les Baux as their surname. Baou in Provencal means rocky cliff and Bauxite was discovered and mined nearby.
The strategic position once offered both protection and an observation post for its inhabitants, as early as prehistoric times. This placement becomes evident as one climbs the narrow, cobbled streets and climbs the rough stone steps to the ancient watchtowers on the fortress walls. Read more in Ginger and Nutmeg’s original post here.
Travel Tip: The best time to visit Les Baux de Provence is late in the day, on a windy day or during the months outside of peak tourist season.
You will find Les Baux is filled with restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Skip the touristy stuff and take your family to the castle located at the top of the village. With your entrance fee, you get a guide map that you can follow through the remains of the once enormous fortress. Wear solid walking shoes to scale the worn stone steps to the old Sarrasine watch tower (one of two). During summer months there are re-enactments of medieval military battles that might interest some children (and adults too). Also, to improve your visitor’s experience, there is an audio-guide, a smartphone app and even a free activity book suitable for children aged 7 to 12 years old.
Château des Baux-de-Provence
Tel: +33 (0)4 90 49 20 02
Carrières de Lumières – Some 20 million years ago when the area was underwater, part of the Mediterranean the natural formation of calcareous limestone began to take place. By the 19th century, the white limestone from the village of Fontvieille was sought after for construction within the region and well beyond it’s borders. Although, slightly less pure (than Fontvieille’s) the stone found near Les Baux was also in demand, and extracted from local quarries including Les Grands Fonds. The Grand Fonds quarry eventually went out of business in 1935 as demand for construction materials shifted to steel, brick and other products.
Today, the same quarry is named les Carrières de Lumières and operated by Culturespaces. Each year there is a different multimedia, light, and sound show with an artistic theme. This venue is a perfect family outing, a powerful oversized “movie,” a fresh space on a hot day and a show that is just the right length to hold everyone’s attention.
Travel Tip: Buy your tickets online, in advance, to skip the line. There is a small café for a light snack or lunch.
Fontvieille and Montmajour
The town of Fontvieille (‘the old fountain’) located on the southwestern edge of the Alpilles range, is a quick 10km drive from Arles. The historic village centre has a few cafés and restaurants, and many old buildings constructed with the limestone that was once quarried near to the village.
However, more interesting for children are the following sites:
Windmills: The Ribet or St. Pierre windmill in Fontvieille is the best preserved of four windmills on this outcrop of land. This refurbished windmill is best known as the Moulin de Daudet (Daudet’s windmill), after writer Alphonse Daudet (1840-97), sits proudly on the crest of a barren, rocky knoll, in full retirement after 100+ years of operation between 1814 and 1915. Although the blades no longer turn in a howling wind, it is easy to understand how the placement of these windmills was quite logical at the time.
The remains of two Roman aqueducts and the Barbegal Mill are located just to the southeast of Fontvieille on the crest of a hill. The aqueducts supplied drinking water from sources in the Alpilles to the Roman city of Arelate (Arles today). Where the aqueducts joined, at the crest of the Barbegal hill, is where Roman engineering truly kicked in. This vertical flour mill is considered a feat of Roman-era technological innovation. The water fed parallel sets of water wheels (16 in total) as it moved down the slope of the hill in a controlled manner. It is worth visiting the rocky masonry remains at this site and then going to the Museum of Antiquity in Arles to see a model of the Barbegal Mill and other Roman-era treasures.
Musée départemental Arles antique
presqu’île du cirque romain
Tel: +33 (0)4 13 31 51 03
Closed on Tuesdays
Free entry the 1st Sunday of each month
The Abbey of Montmajour situated on Saint Peter’s hill outside of Arles is an impressive Benedictine Abbey that began as a humble hermitage in the 10th century. As the religious order’s influence magnified, so did the number of structures on the hillside. The Romanesque church and cloisters were built during the 12th century. Your kids can wear-off some energy (you might too) climbing the stairs of the tower – a great spot to take a family photo.
Abbaye de Montmajour
Route de Fontvieille
Tel: +33 (0)4 90 54 64 17
St Remy de Provence:
Of all the villages in the Alpilles, Saint Rémy de Provence is the largest. This town is attractive; the old centre has pedestrian-friendly streets, chic boutiques and lots of restaurants. The Wednesday market is one of the biggest, and most popular, in the area.
Make sure to stop by the Joël Durand chocolate store at 3 Boulevard Victor Hugo (the ring road in St Remy). Here, you can sample the whole alphabet of ganache-filled chocolate squares or buy chocolate covered ice cream bars.
Visit Glanum a Roman oppidum, protected by its fortified walls once housed a flourishing community. The settlement stood on a hillside in the shadow of the rocky, crests of the Alpilles slopes. The Franks in 260AD destroyed Glanum and the population were forced to resettle on the valley floor, giving rise to St Remy de Provence.
Look for the water source that encouraged the original inhabitants the celts to settle here. Evidence uncovered from archaeological excavations, which started in 1921, confirm Glanum was actually built in three phases. Glanum I, the initial settlement by a Celtic tribe, the Salyens, dates from the Iron Age about 500BC. Their choice of the site Glanum was deliberate with easy access to water, building materials and higher ground offering some protection from attackers. The Celtics believed that the spring offered healing powers.
Site Archéologique de Glanum
Avenue Vincent Van Gogh
Tel: +33 (0)4 90 92 23 79
Go gliding above the treetops! To fly with a pilot children need to be older than 14 years, but even younger kids will enjoy seeing these aircraft take flight with the unique winch one-kilometre cable system at l’aérodrome du Mazet de Romanin.