A few years ago now we headed across to Les Baux-de-Provence with our boys, after having seen the spectacular site in the helicopter footage during the coverage of the Tour de France, which unsurprisingly is essential viewing in our house!
Les Baux-de-Provence sits atop a rocky promontory on the Southern side of Les Alpilles not far from the beautiful town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and seems to have simply grown from the rock itself.
Although the Chateau itself is now in ruins, as you approach it’s easy to see why it was chosen as the site for such an incredible fortress and you can only imagine the impact it would have had on any enemies considering an attack at the height of its power.
There are in fact 3 principal parts to the site – The Village, the Chateau and just down the road Les Carrières, old quarries, which host incredible light shows of artwork on its vast walls of stone http://carrieres-lumieres.com/fr/
We still have to visit Les Carrières, but with 2 boys – the Chateau and Village have proved popular since our first visit.
So once again this year we drove across to explore the ruins with a friend of our youngest son, who happily likes Castles – so it seemed the perfect choice for a day out.
Car parking is on the road on the hill in front of the Chateau and then you walk up the road, following the signs that take you into the old village itself.
The village is built of golden stone with beautiful old buildings, most of which are now transformed into shops and restaurants. However there are still some very distinct properties including the sympathetically restored Hotel de Manville, housing the Town Hall……..
And this ruined frontage known as the Post Tenebras Lux window in the centre of the village……
The streets snake slowly upwards towards the Chateau at the top of the Village where you pay to access the Castle itself – although the rates are very reasonable http://chateau-baux-provence.com/en/prepare-your-visit/rates
Once inside the Chateau itself you are transported back to a different age. The size of the rocky outcrop, on which it sits, is simply vast and it is evident that it could have easily sustained a sizeable community at its height.
There is the site of the old Mill and a large water collection area together with workshops that would have helped secure the community at the time of an attack, together with ‘Troglodytic’ store rooms, built into old caves and used as store rooms until the 19th Century and even the Medieval Pigeonniers.
The views from the top are truly incredible and on a clear day you have uninterrupted views across the Camargue, towards Marseille and beyond – without doubt it would have been a very easy site to defend, as any attack would have been seen a considerable time before it was launched!
Now though, the principal view towards the coast is home to a statue of Carloun Rieu – a poet who is recognised as having done much to revive the Provençal language and culture.
The Chateau itself is mainly in ruins, but it’s easy to see the scale of the fortress and the way it was designed with the large ‘dungeon’ and the functional rooms where the work took place to keep the household running.
It’s great to be able to walk in the footsteps of the many generations that have inhabited and worked in the Castle site and this is easiest to see when climbing the steep steps up to the top of the walls.
These well-worn, smooth staircases have been worn down over centuries of use and you feel you are literally treading the same path taken by servants, soldiers and Lords who have inhabited the site since its construction in the 10th Century as well as more recent visitors who have also left their mark!
The steps to the towers can be a bit slippy at times and they are uneven too, but the climbs are worth the effort- with glimpses through the huge stone walls to the plains below……
and the ultimate reward of the incredible views across the Olive Groves towards the Alpilles and for miles beyond.
There are also replica ‘Trebuchets’ and catapults, which are loaded and fired daily….
And a Battering Ram, to give a sense of the tools of war that were in use.
As well as the ‘Trebuchet’ firing there are also other displays including medieval fighting and traditional crafts – so it is very easy to pass a few hours there.
One bit of advice though is to take drinks and a picnic in with you if you feel your stay may extend over lunchtime as the only drinks available in the Chateau site are from a vending machine and there is no access to food at all – not good if your children can get ‘hangry’!
This year there is also a stunning display of sculptures designed to represent the characterisation of the ‘Four Seasons’ paints by Giuseppe Arcimboldo in 1573, which currently hang in the Louvre.
The huge and detailed fibreglass sculptures wonderfully capture the detail and designs first placed on canvas nearly 450 years ago.
I have to say I loved them – even if my youngest suggested that Winter looked a bit like Andy before he has had his first cup of coffee of the day!
I do have a soft spot for Les Baux and although it can (and does) get very busy during the height of the season it is certainly worth a visit. If only to spend an hour just sitting on top of the walls amongst the wheeling and screaming Swifts, watching the shadows shift across the landscape below, whilst everyone gets on with visiting the Chateau around you.
Sometimes a moment’s peace can be found in even the busiest of places!