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Why Visit Fontvieille and its Windmills in the Alpilles

Inscribed in the stone and fixed to one 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 were he described his affection for the town of 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)

Fontvieille Windmill Moulin

Windmills of the Alpilles

Fierce mistral wind gusts registered 65km/hour the day that we chose to visit the Ribet or St. Pierre windmill in Fontvieille (‘the old fountain’). This refurbished windmill 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 north wind, it is easy to understand how the placement of the mill was quite logical.

Fontvieille Windmill Moulin 3

The Ribet windmill was one of four moulins built on the same hill; Sourdon, Tisscot-Avon and Ramet, are the names of the others. The best preserved is the Ribet although the Sourdon is the oldest. It is a bit hard to envision now as trees and underbrush have been allowed to propagate around these ancient structures (except for Ribet), but during the 1800s these mills were crucial to feeding the growing population of stone-cutters in what is now Fontvieille.

Fontvieille Windmill Moulin 5

Fontvieille Windmill Moulin 4

The village of Fontvieille was officially named a couple years after the end of the French Revolution (1799), although humans had inhabited the area long beforehand. Archaeological discoveries in the Alpilles have established human habitation between 5000-2800 BC.

Moving Water to Roman Cities

However, it was the demand for quarried stone that really drove both the population and economy of this town. The Roman amphitheatre (arena), ramparts and theatre in Arles were constructed with limestone from Fontvieille. Stone was vital in the construction of the Barbegal aqueduct, which was engineered to supply water to Arles. Rock quarried and cut in Fontvieille was also used for the nearby Abbey of Montmajour between the 10th and 13th centuries.

Fontvieille Aqueduc Romain de Barbegal provence Fontvieille Aqueduc Romain de Barbegal provence Fontvieille Aqueduc Romain de Barbegal provence

Napoleon’s request of Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann, in 1853, to modernize Paris led to a wide spread demand for the Haussmann style of urban planning and the associated “Paris stone.” Stone from Fontvieille was not used extensively in Paris, but global demand for the commodity increased driving up the population of stone workers and farmers in this tiny Provencal village.

As the blades on the windmills turned crushing local grain into flour to feed the hungry quarry workers, Alphonse Daudet might have strolled by on his way to the Chateau de Montauban. Daudet, a writer, spent some time in Fontvieille, inspired by the town and its inhabitants he wrote “Lettres de Mon Moulin” (Letters from my Windmill).

Fontvieille Chateau Montauban

Practical Information for Visitors:

The tourism office in Fontvieille is centrally located, with good parking, and they offer some guided visits.

Office de Tourisme de Fontvieille
Avenue des Moulins – 13990 Fontvieille
Tel: +33(0)4 90 54 67 49
email: contact@fontvieille-provence.com

Don’t miss: The nearby Abbey of Montmajour is well worth a visit

Make sure to see: the restored lavoir in Fontveille

When you get hungry: Stop for lunch or just to visit Chateau d’Estoublon

More background on Alphonse Daudet


Note: Some of this content was previously published on Ginger and Nutmeg. Read the original post on the stone of Fontvielle here.

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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride was at six-months old, her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    April 25, 2018 at 8:20 am — Reply

    It’s interesting that, among other things, Fontvielle has a long history of mills. First the massive, water-powered complex of Roman mills as part of the Barbegal aqueduct, then the wind-powered mills so beloved by Daudet.

    Thanks for such an interesting article!

    • CKAdmin
      April 25, 2018 at 1:57 pm — Reply

      Hi Keith: That is an interesting observation. When you go to Fontvielle make sure to visit the restored lavoir it is beautiful.

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