Our St Remy de Provence Lifestyle
For two decades, Gayle Padgett and her husband Ralph maintained a long-distance relationship with Provence. They often travelled to the South of France during their vacation time from US government jobs in Germany. As their retirement years approached, the “Where are we going to live?” question loomed. The couple chose a sensible “go-slow” approach of house sitting in a few areas, to determine where they felt most at home.
They discovered that Provence was more than an infatuation. After living in Aix-en-Provence for eighteen months, the Pagdetts moved to St Remy de Provence, in August of 2012, where they enjoy the lifestyle in the Alpilles. In 2017, Padgett published her first book, Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie, and she is currently working on a second manuscript.
Enjoy Gayle’s suggestions for visiting St-Remy-de-Provence and beyond.
Living in St Remy de Provence
Tell us a bit about where you live in Provence?
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a picturesque, lively town snuggled into the base of Les Alpilles, the little Alps. With a rich history—highlighted by the Romans, Nostradamus and Vincent Van Gogh—plus heritage celebrations and various cafés and boutiques, the town is a popular tourist destination. The population of around ten thousand residents swells to over four times that in summer—normally.
But these are far from normal times. Due to the coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown, the town slipped into hibernation with minimal commercial activity. In early June, cafes and restaurants were allowed to open, with certain restrictions. Since then, residents and visitors have been adjusting, and the typical hustle and bustle has been mounting. Hopefully, one day soon, international travellers will be able to return to enjoy this irresistible Provençal town. When that happens, here are some highlights of what they’ll find.
First of all, Saint-Rémy is a rare blend of city and country. Since the town sits right at the edge of the Regional Natural Park of the Alpilles, in fifteen minutes from the town’s center, you can be in nature—hiking, horseback riding, biking or birding. In town, all year long, there is always something going on, from the arts scene to sporting events—the Tour de France has whizzed through twice while we’ve lived here—to heritage festivals.
The residents treasure their history (patrimoine) and pay tribute throughout the year with terrific celebrations. One not to miss is the transhumance on the Pentecost (Pentecôte) holiday Monday when shepherds guide three thousand sheep around the main boulevard.
Also, the compact, mainly pedestrian historic centre has several beautiful squares, where it’s great to relax with friends over a verre de rosé in one of the many cafes. And since my husband is an avid birdwatcher, it’s essential that the Camargue—a birding paradise—is just an hour away from the Mediterranean Sea.
What about the market?
The Wednesday morning market in St Remy is renowned. A typical summer market is so crowded, by 10 o’clock, you can only waddle, and parking is a challenge. The food vendors on Place Plessier are splendid, and there are also tons of wonderful craft artisans on Place Favier.
My favourite stand is on Place de la République, across from Grand Café Riche, there’s a super congenial lady who sells linen tablecloths, napkins and runners—all beautifully made by hand.
Why is St Remy an excellent place for someone to visit?
The town itself is lovely—especially the plane tree-lined street that circles the historic center—so it’s fun just to wander around, popping into art galleries and boutiques. Not to be missed are the gorgeous squares, especially Place Plessier with its lovely Four Dolphins Fountain in front of the Hôtel de Ville, a former Augustine convent, and Place Favier, where you’ll find the impressive Musée des Alpilles. Nearby is Nostradamus’ maison natale, now a private residence, and the pretty fountain dedicated to the would-be seer. Or you can walk to the Roman ruins of Glanum and Les Antiques, and the sanitarium of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, where Van Gogh lived and painted for the year 1889-1890. During this period, he produced the famous Starry Night.
Is there a must-see attraction in St Remy?
About fifteen minutes away by the hilltop village of Les Baux is Carrières de Lumières. The one-time quarry was repurposed as a multi-media art venue, for cavernous presentations of works by famous artists. The sound and light show is astounding. You’ll want to return year after year.
Eating and Drinking in Town
Where do you go for coffee?
Café de la Place on Place de la République has a large outdoor terrace, so it’s great for people-watching. For a quieter ambiance, Bien Bon, tucked away on a tiny alley, fits the bill.
Do you have a favourite bakery?
Relatively new on the scene in town, Boulangerie Hache has fantastic almond croissants—they’re heavenly. Read about the Michelin 1-star restaurant Maison Hache in nearby Eygalières.
Where do you recommend for a casual lunch with friends?
There are so many possibilities. For a simple crèpe or salad, Lou Planet is an excellent choice. Bien Bon has delicious, inventive veggie options and Pieds dans L’Eau is fun for people-watching. In the restaurant’s massive courtyard, there’s even a table set in a shallow pond so you can put your feet in the water!
Where is your go-to spot for an apéro?
Café de la Place is a favourite for both coffee and apéros. To mix things up, I also like to go to Grand Café Riche or Brasserie de Commerce, just across the street. In spring and summer, Lou Planet on Place Favier is a wise choice because you can sit in the shade of the ancient plane trees. Often musicians are entertaining the crowds in the square.
What is your top pick for a romantic dinner?
Château des Alpilles is exceptional. In the summer, they serve lunch in the garden, which is lovely.
Where do you like to go for dinner with friends?
Le Moulin de Sophie is terrific—the service is so welcoming, and the cuisine is always delicious. To make it even more appealing, it has a bon rapport qualité-prix.
Alternatively, for a family-friendly option, head to Da Peppe for pizza and rooftop dining area too.
Touring Provence from St Remy
What is the best day trip from St Remy?
We’re spoiled for choice here. For starters, Arles and Avignon are just thirty minutes away. In an hour, there’s Nîmes to the west and fabulous Aix-en-Provence to the east. For seaside getaways, there’s Saintes-Maries-de-Mer, in the middle of the Camargue, or a bit farther and a bit off the beaten path is La Ciotat. The seaside town with a formidable ship-building history boasts terrific beaches and has tons of cafés along the marina. Plus, it’s home to the beautifully refurbished Eden Theater, the oldest cinema in the world.
Where to Stay in St Remy
If money was no object, where would you recommend staying?
I would imagine the five-star Hôtel le Vallon de Valrugues would be stunning. A few years ago, I enjoyed a fabulous spa day.
Where do you recommend for comfortable accommodation?
Friends have been really pleased with Hôtel du Soleil and also Hôtel le Castelet des Alpilles. Hôtel Gounod is a chic choice with gorgeous public areas. The new family-run Petit Hôtel has a quaint, cozy bar, and pool area is tempting.
Any last comments on why someone should consider visiting St Remy?
Due to its location, St Remy makes for a great base to explore the region. Though right now the regular annual events have been cancelled like the incredible transhumance which I mentioned earlier—it would have been the 37th this year. Check the St. Rémy Tourist Office website to discover the current list of events, like this annual wine festival.
Image credits: All photos were provided and published with Gayle Padgett’s permission.
Read more about how the Padgett’s fell for Provence in Gayle’s book (click cover to order).