This Week’s Destination: The tiny village of Les Baux de Provence, France
Closest major airport: Marseilles
This week we’re traveling to another continent and another millennium. Imagine scanning your eyes across a vast plateau from inside the thick walls of a fortress built high on a rocky outcropping. Les Baux de Provence, as this village in southern France has been known since the Middle Ages, has provided a vantage point and place of protection since prehistoric times. A major building program initiated in the 13th century replaced the early fortress with a keep and expanded the castle to take advantage of the natural rock foundation.
As a Disney-fied American, I tend to think of a “castle” as a single building, but real medieval castles were often a collection of buildings enclosed within a wall. A “keep” is a self-sufficient structure at the center of the castle which served as the residence of the lord and the place of last refuge if the castle came under attack.
Over the centuries the village’s population decreased from a peak of near 3,000 during the 13th century to about 400 by 1900. After World War II , tourists drawn by the opening of a world-class restaurant revived the village. Careful restoration earned it the official title of “One of the Most Beautiful Villages in France” in 1999. Today you can stroll its narrow, automobile-free streets, visit museums and small shops, and dine on Provencal cuisine.
Things to do
Cycling: The village’s official visitors’ website suggests cycling because it “allows you the time to meet people, and you only have to put out your hand and you will come back with ingredients to flavour your cooking.”
Experience Art in a Unique Setting: The number one attraction in Les Baux de Provence, according to TripAdvisor.com, is Carrieres de Lumieres, a multimedia presentation in an old underground quarry. Images of famous paintings are projected onto the quarry walls, ceiling and floor and accompanied by classical music. One recent reviewer described it as “unexpectedly fascinating and beautiful” while another suggested bringing “earmuffs for the kids” to protect their ears from loud music.
Explore Architecture and History: At the Chateau des Baux kids and adults can explore the remains of the medieval era castle, its chapels, hospital, cave dwellings, towers and keep. During the summer a catapult shooting demonstration takes place four times a day. Visitors age 5 and older can shoot a crossbow.
Visit an Olive Oil Mill: Learn how olives are harvested, sorted, crushed and pressed to extract the oil, then taste the finished product at Moulin CastelaS.
Legend says the Baux family descended from Balthazar, one of the Magi kings. The Les Baux line ended upon the death of Prince Alix in 1426. A few decades later the village fell into ruins.
In 1821, a chemist found a red rock in the area and called it bauxite; it’s now the principal ore used in aluminum production.
Deals: AmaWaterways currently offers 2 for 1 pricing on its “Provence & Spain” river cruise departing November 26, 2015. Start your vacation with 3 nights in Paris, then cruise in luxury down the Rhone River, stopping in scenic towns including Lyon and Avignon. Visit Les Baux on an excursion from Arles on the 7th day of the cruise and conclude your trip with 3 night stay in Barcelona. Interested? Email me for details: firstname.lastname@example.org