We didn’t wake as early as we would have liked. Today’s destination is Les Baux-de-Provence…..one of the major sights in Provence….and we really wanted to get there before the crowds and tour buses arrived.
Les Baux-de-Provence sits atop a rocky cliff….it’s a small village whose few lanes lead up to a seemingly impregnable castle fortress. The fortress, built in the 10th century, is now a ruin….destroyed in 1633 by Cardinal Richelieu’s troops during a Provencal revolt against King Louis XIII.
After a half-hour drive through vineyards and olive groves and up into the winding roads of the rocky Alpilles mountains, we were at our journey’s end. Empty parking spaces along the narrow highway were a welcome sight as we continued our climb up, up, up to Les Baux. We turned onto the small road that led to the village and happily, joyfully, gleefully found a not-yet-full parking lot!
We quickly parked and walked into the village…..a touristy potpourri of restaurants and shops….and up the narrow lane to the castle grounds.
To the left were the remains of the old city and the castle…..a formidable fortress carved into and atop the stone mountain. As we explored the castle, the temperature rose higher and higher….easily over 100°…..rivers of sweat rolled down my forehead, the salty fluid burned my eyes…but we pressed on. We climbed the ancient stairways and clambered over the rocky terrain….trying to visualize what life was like for the people who lived in this medieval troglodyte village. Our musings delayed us…..we missed a falconry show but were able to view the catapaults in action….interestingly, during a siege, the men were on the frontlines and the catapaults were often operated by women.
It was lunchtime but the heat had diminished our appetites and the crowds we had feared were now streaming through the tiny village so we departed and drove to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in hopes of walking in Van Gogh’s footsteps.
We had a light lunch in a busy brasserie…..salads with a Provencal tartine (thick slices of bread drizzled with olive oil and topped with tapenade and ripe tomatoes…..deliciously brimming with the flavors of sunny Provence). After lunch, with a map of the “Van Gogh Walking Tour” in hand, we started out on our quest to see Saint-Rémy through Van Gogh’s eyes.
We decided to drive the backroads to Arles, which took us…again…past Les Baux. The view from the road was spectacular!
Craig parked the car in a wide spot on the road and ran across the street to take a quick picture. It definitely was a wide spot on the road….easily wide enough for one car to pass by….but while Craig was trying to capture the perfect shot, cars arrived from both directions…..and they kept coming. Traffic was at a standstill while Craig took his time to snap his picture…..guess he figured it couldn’t get any worse than it was.
After creating perhaps the world’s first traffic jam on this little road, we drove on and found a large parking lot…..with the same view…..just around the bend. C’est la vie.
Between the heat, the exertion and the stress…..we were exhausted….but after a short nap at the hotel, we were ready to take on the sights of Arles. It was late in the day and the Roman ruins and museums would soon be closing so we decided to try to find the places in Arles that had been immortalized by Van Gogh. It was not to be. The yellow house burned down long ago, the bridge over the Rhone was bombed in WWII and clouds covered the starry night….clouds that soon opened up and started raining down on us.
We walked throught the city streets, literally “soaking up” the ambiance…..ending at “Au Brin de Thym,” a restaurant on a quiet street around the corner from the busy Place du Forum. Although the skies were still drizzling, the evening was warm so we chose a table on the small patio fronting the restaurant.
My dessert, a blueberry tart, was excellent….but not as good as Craig’s…..he had a creme brulee with thyme. The slightly woody essence of the thyme added a new dimension to the mild brulee….and was absolutely delicious.
“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh