Alpilles Provence Family Vacations Fun Ideas for Kids
Those iconic images of rows of lavender, fields of sunflowers and bright red poppies, Roman ruins and cobblestone villages are beautiful landscapes of Provence but not likely to interest your children for long.
Family Vacation in Provence
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. Here are some 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 send us some suggestions or return to this article for updates.
The Alpilles are a small mountain range perfect for family-friendly activities. Dotted with hiking trails, the walking paths in these hills are suitable for all levels. In addition, there are canals to walk along and paths for biking. The Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles is a protected natural space that 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 per year who come to see the sweeping views of the jagged limestone summits and a valley covered with 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.
As early as prehistoric times, the strategic position once offered protection and an observation post for its inhabitants. 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 village filled with restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Skip the touristy stuff and take your family to the castle located at the town’s top. 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). There are re-enactments of medieval military battles during the summer months that might interest some children (and adults). 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 Fontvieille was in demand for construction within the region and further afield. Although slightly less pure (than Fontvieille’s), the stone found near Les Baux was also extracted from local quarries, including Les Grands Fonds. However, 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. A different artistic theme set to music and light is an incredible multimedia show each year. This venue is a perfect family outing, a powerful oversized “movie,” and a bit of cold air on a hot day. The show is just the right length to hold everyone’s attention.
Travel Tip: Buy your tickets online. There is a small café for a light snack or lunch.
Carrières de Lumières
Route de Maillane
13520 Les Baux de Provence
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 49 20 03
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 quarried near 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 hill slope 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
Telephone: +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 tower’s stairs – a great spot to take a family photo.
Abbaye de Montmajour
Route de Fontvieille
Telephone: +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 Alpilles.
Stop by the Joël Durand chocolate store at 3 Boulevard Victor Hugo (the ring road in St Remy). Here, you can sample the alphabet of ganache-filled chocolate squares or buy chocolate-covered ice cream bars.
How about a history lesson?
Visit Glanum, a Roman oppidum protected by its fortified walls that once housed a flourishing community. The settlement stood on a hillside in the shadow of the rocky crests of the Alpilles slopes. In 260AD, the Franks destroyed Glanum, and the population resettled 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, confirms that Glanum was 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. In addition, the Celtics believed that the spring provided healing powers.
Site Archéologique de Glanum
Avenue Vincent Van Gogh
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 92 23 79
Go gliding above the treetops! Of course, children need to be older than 14 years to fly with a pilot. Still, even younger kids will enjoy seeing these aircraft fly with the unique winch one-kilometre cable system at l’aérodrome du Mazet de Romanin.
Aéroclub de Saint-Rémy les Alpilles
Chemin de Romanin
13210 Saint-Rémy de Provence
The Alpilles have long been a strategic military and political location. They lie near two important rivers for trade and transport, the Rhone and the Durance. And back in Roman times, the area was crisscrossed by three major roads—the Via Domitia, which ran along the northern edge of the Alpilles. The Via Aurelia ran along the southern border, and the Via Agrippa connected the area with cities to the north.
You’ve probably spotted a medieval chateau or two if you’ve spent time in the Alpilles, the small mountain range near St-Rémy-de-Provence. Some are hard to miss, like the magnificent chateau and fortified city of Les Baux. Others are little more than piles of rubble.
The Alpilles were once dense with chateaux of all shapes and sizes. But why so many? And what happened to them? Here’s some history, plus a guide to the chateaux that you can still visit today.
Family-Friendly Côte d’Azur
For Animal Lovers. Get away from the coast and go on a guided safari with the bison in Thorenc. Monts d’Azur is a 700-hectare natural sanctuary for wildlife. The European bison roam wild over the plains and forests alongside Przewalski horses, deer, chamois, wild boar, foxes, wolves, lynx and many other species. Take a 90 min guided walking (or wagon) safari or even lengthen your visit and stay overnight!
Parc Phoenix is one of our favourite family attractions on the French Riviera. Located at the L’Arénas complex near the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, it’s a great place to spend a few hours if you have kids of varying ages.
Take a day trip to the sandy beaches, head east of Cannes to Plage de la Gallice near the port in Juan les Pins. In the early morning, the beach is often uncrowded. The bonus features are onsite toilet facilities and a kiosk selling ice-creams, drinks, and snacks.
Take a free guided walking tour of Old Antibes (Vieil Antibes). The Antibes Free Walking Tours run Tuesdays through Saturdays. The walk is approximately two (2) hours long, from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. The tour guide offers a balance of accurate historical information and the right balance of humour to keep the group interested.
Camargue Adventures for Kids
There are many reasons to visit the Camargue, but this is a special place for kids interested in animals.
Provence Reads for Children
Occasionally when the weather is not fabulous, you need a quieter activity. Whether or not you are a kid, these authors have crafted stories with enough interest for adult readers. The books will spark your imagination and desire to travel to Provence.