Midway through our week in Provence and we’re off to Les Baux in the Bouches-du-Rhone department primarily to see the Carriéres de Lumiéres – more about this unique spectacle later.
Perched on a rock, Les Baux dates back to the Middle Ages and is steeped in history. Even the rock itself has a legend attached to it. Balthazar (great name), one of the three wise men, is said to have continued his journey following the star of Bethlehem as far as Les Baux-de-Provence. Where he went after that the website doesn’t say!
The 13th century castle dominates the village and was a key stronghold during rebellions. Les Baux has gone through turbulent times like many Provencal villages but there was a turn of good fortune by the 20th century when it became a major gastronomic destination. We had a pretty good lunch here I have to say although being a popular tourist destination, prices are ramped up.
There’s no doubt about it …Les Baux is an interesting place. We picked up a map from the tourist information office in ‘La Maison du Roy’ which was completed in 1499. We made a good attempt at spotting and visiting some of the major places of interest listed there. I’ll mention just a few:- The 17th century chapel of the Brothers of the White Penitents, the 12th century church built half into the rock, The chapel of weavers and carders built at the same time and the renaissance mansion, Hotel de Manville, built in 1571. However as you walk round this medieval village there’s interesting architecture everywhere. It’s not surprising it’s listed as a world heritage site.
Having spent the morning walking round the village we had lunch then headed off to, what is basically a disused quarry but houses a beautiful multi-media show. It’s one of France’s most popular tourist attractions, Carriéres de Lumiéres
Basically it’s the location of a giant quarry which first opened in the 19th century. The stone is white limestone and was used to build local houses until new affordable materials such as concrete and steel took over. The quarry closed in 1935 and would have remained so if it wasn’t for the French film maker Jean Cocteau. He saw potential in the great stone slabs and filmed there. Then forty years later a guy called Joseph Svoboda saw that the whole area (7,000 sq metres) would be perfect for a sound and light show and Carriéres de Lumiéres was born.
Since that time, every year there’s a brand new show. The 2019 show which was the one we saw featured the paintings of Van Gogh projected on to the giant stone walls. My pictures don’t give the true impression of how it feels to be there, watching these moving images. Someone said it’s rather like being on the deck of a ship and that’s fairly accurate as you do feel as though the sandy floor is moving too. If you click onto the link in this paragraph it’ll take you to the website which features videos of this exhibition. It really is something else and I’m sure the 2020 exhibition which focuses on the work of Dali and Gaudi will be just as fantastic.
With just two days left before leaving Provence we spent the morning in L’Isle sur la Sorgue and the afternoon exploring the area around where we were staying. I wouldn’t say we got lost but our intended circular walk didn’t quite work out that way and we ended up walking through what was clearly private orchards of fruit trees. It’s the perfect fruit-growing area and the apples on the trees look so good. Did we pinch a couple of apples as we walked along …no – they weren’t ready!
For our last full day we were going to treat ourselves to a very special lunch and there was only one place we were going to for that …Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the restaurant at the top of the village, Le Verger des Papes.
On the way there we stopped near to the village of Saint Saturnin lés Avignon so I could take a few pictures of an intact Lavoir – a village wash place. We’d driven passed the building and water mill lots of times and because it looks interesting I wanted to see more. As you’d expect it’s not in use anymore but it was a shame to see the water wheel which had moved the water through the building in a poor state and beyond repair. A sadly neglected site.
So on we continued to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. If you google the place, the first thing it mentions is the famous full-bodied red wines produced from the southern Rhône, and is the main reason tourists flock there. As soon as you arrive you see wine-tasting cellars everywhere. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a small medieval village about 12 kilometres from Avignon and has around 2200 inhabitants. The ruins of the ancient chateau dominate the skyline and this is where the tourist trail starts as conveniently there’s a large car park by the chateau and its free. Apart from the winter months this village bustles with tourists.
Having wandered around the castle ruins it was time to head to Le Verger des Papes for lunch where once again the food was superb. We would have sat out on the terrace but the weather wasn’t good that day and the view over to the Rhône was pretty murky. Nevertheless we had a great lunch followed by a wander round the village to walk it off a little.
That evening was spent in the company of our lovely friends whom we’ve know for years and are always so welcoming. It’s amazing how my French improves after a couple of glasses of wine! We were sorry to have to say goodbye to them and of course to Provence. There were more goodbyes the next day too as not only were we leaving but our hosts at Le Mas de Mijour are leaving after running the Mas for several years. Thank you Fred and Emma for your kindness, your warmth and your hospitality, you’re going to be a hard act to follow.
Saturday morning and it was time to return our rather smart Mercedes to the car rental in Avignon and catch the TGV to Paris. By sheer good luck we had time in Paris to enjoy a glass of wine outside a cafe near Le Gare de Lyon before getting the Metro to Le Gare de Nord and Eurostar. It was great just to sit and relax in the sunshine and talk about our two weeks away and all the things we’d done. Menton had been great but Provence as always takes some beating. Roll-on next summer when I’m sure we’ll be back again.