Following our stay in Carcassonne, we wanted to add another stop and Provence seemed like the best idea. Just 2.5 hours by car from the fortress town, we set up camp at the Western edge of Provence at Les Baux de Provence. Another incredible fortification town, we stayed at the sweet Baumanière at the base of the hill. If the Visigoths were going to invade, we’d be the first line of defence. Armed with the stinkiest of cheese and the palest of rosés, I’m sure we could distract them from their conquering ways.
Les Baux is a lovely home base from which to explore Provence. Just 40 minutes from Avignon, 20 minutes from Arles and only an hour from Aix-en-Provence, this area also is where our favourite french town is located. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is home to just under 10,000 residents and is a charming place with lovely restaurants, shops and a fabulous (and vast) market on Wednesday mornings that literally fills the streets of the old town.
We had been on the go pretty much non-stop since Venice, so we were very happy to arrive in a place where the pace was decidedly less hectic than Paris. With summer arriving early in Europe, we were also happy to enjoy some warm, sunny afternoons by the pool. The only trouble were the uninvited guests…
Provence is home to some of the most voracious mosquitoes we’ve ever seen including the Tiger mosquito. These things are seemingly active all day and night and aren’t satisfied after one bite. They are hungry little suckers and they will bite you over and over again. Monsieur and the Little are very prone to very itchy reactions so we didn’t make a move around Provence without locally acquired bug spray (we liked the Cinq sur Cinq brand) and anti-itch cream. We put the Little to bed with a dose a Benadryl to help ease the itchy swelling.
Our hotel is home to a famous three Michelin starred restaurant called Restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière, which certainly looks lovely. But as you’ve probably gathered, we’re into more simple cuisines. Instead our favourite spot in the area is Bistro Pieds Dans L’Eau. Yes, you got that right. We’d rather eat at a place called Bistro Feet in the Water instead of a three Michelin star restaurant. Pieds is a charming place located at the main gate of the town, with a large patio which in the heat of summer offers tables in the fountain where you can literally cool your heels over lunch. Pieds is a crowd-pleaser for our gang. Offering a simple family-style service, we loved the whole roast chicken and lasagna. No one complained and the only reason any food was left on the table was because of the hefty portions. If you do come here, be sure to save room for their house made desserts. The Little ordered the Rum Baba which arrived with an extra shot of rum on the side just in case it wasn’t rummy enough already.
The market in Saint-Rémy is a common occurrence in many (all?) cities and towns across France and Italy as far as I know. The produce, the cheese, the bread, the salami, the local herbs and salt, the leather sandals, the knives, the olives, the olive oil, the preserves, the sundresses… you name it, someone has set up a stall and is selling it. Its worth planning a visit to a town for market day. Parking is a challenge, but lunch will be a treat.
In addition to being a charming little town, Saint-Rémy has some interesting history. It’s origins are traced back to Roman times and the nearby ancient ruins of Glanum, eventually leading to the development of the settlement of Saint-Rémy. The birthplace of Nostradamus, the town was also home to Van Gogh for a time while he was a patient at the local Saint-Paul Asylum. Here he painted the very famous Starry Night and Lilacs to name just a few.
Speaking of Van Gogh, we also took a ride down to Arles to see its well preserved Roman Coliseum and Amphitheatre. Van Gogh lived here for a couple of years and painted his famous Cafe at Night. The cafe is still there, painted yellow and now serving some pretty mediocre fare for slightly higher prices than its neighbours on the square. We ”took one for the team” and had lunch on the Terrasse. Luckily a fellow traveller warned us that they only accept cash so we were able to cobble together enough Euros to pay the bill.
In our effort to avoid the Michelin stars, we ventured out for some dinners. Trying to stay close, we enjoyed a pile of pizzas at Pizza Brun in Maussane-les-Alpilles. A tiny little take-out restaurant with a collection of patio tables on the sidewalk outside, everyone was happy with their thin crust pies. We also discovered Chateau d’Estoublon just 10 minutes down the road from our hotel. A beautiful Chateau, d’Estoublon is a winery and olive farm and home to a great restaurant with a creatively named restaurant, Table. We had a lovely dinner on the terrace overlooking their beautiful gardens.
Provence is idyllic. Sunny and warm, with beautiful vistas and delicious wine and food. The olive groves are plentiful so be sure to bring home some delicious olive oil. We were too early for the lavender and sunflower fields but have seen them in the past, they are incredible to see. We marvelled at the massive rosemary plants worked into the gardens at Baumanière. We enjoyed the tranquility and our kids enjoyed the swimming pools.