Castle ruins, quaint townships, country fields rich with lavender and poppies — beloved Provence, in south-eastern France, has been inspiring writers and artists for centuries.
During our visit, St-Remy-de-Provence is home-base — a charming historic town in the heart of the Alpilles. Desiring a more authentic experience, we book ourselves into Maison D’Isidore, a quintessentially French B&B on a quiet pedestrian lane.
It’s the perfect spot to settle in before venturing out. Over the next three days, we fall in love with it all, while exploring these must-sees spots. Within 30 minutes we arrive in Avignon, “the city of popes” where, behind its rampart walls is a web of cobblestone streets and attractions.
We walk past architectural beauties, 14th century churches, then tour Palais des Papes, the world’s largest Gothic palace where Pope Clement V and others of the cloth resided from 1309 to 1377. Childhood memories are renewed a short distance away while viewing the archways of Avignon Bridge that hover above the Rhone.
We’re still singing “Sur le Pont d’Avignon L’on y danse, L’on y danse” 30-minutes later at Pont du Gard, a 2,000-year-old aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River Valley.
Our next day’s adventure takes us to nearby Tarascon, a historical hamlet. We peer into the 15th century Church of Sainte-Marthe.
Though impressive, this heavenly haven is not the head pin on this street.
Limestone walls of the adjacent 12th century Chateau Tarascon soar 48 metres skyward.
Spiral staircases take us to once opulent rooms, and the rampart-fringed rooftop provides a great panoramic view. Twenty kilometres south is Arles, another must-see beauty, where Vincent van Gogh made his mark. While wandering the crooked streets, we learn about the life and troubled times of the famous artist.
It’s easy to see why he and others are drawn to this charming town, where a palette of pale pinks, lavender and yellow contrast with limestone walls. At the hub is Les Arenes, an arched, walled amphitheatre that once housed 20,000 spectators during the Middle Ages, and a few blocks away we find the Museum of Antiquities, where Roman era artifacts remain well-preserved.
The following day, we catch a glimpse into the life of van Gogh as we stroll the main street that links St. Remy to Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery.
It was once a psychiatric institution where the artist spent time. As well as on placards along this route, reproductions of his works are hung throughout the asylum. T
his peaceful haven was the inspiration for 300 of van Gogh’s works. Today, artists can be seen in the gardens and courtyard finding inspiration of their own.
Farther up the road is Glanum, the rocky ruins of a Roman town with evidence of predecessors that date back to the 6th century BC.
Two monuments, known as Les Antiques, are the first stops of interest, one being the southern gate of Glanum, the other, a tower-shaped mausoleum, which is one of the best-preserved monuments of the ancient world.
We wander the once main street, now crushed rock, where plaques provide insight into past structures; a four-roomed market, thermal baths, Tuscan Temple, sacred springs.
Within one hour’s time, we’re driving down D-35, a transportation route that hugs the Rhone River.
At the end of a jetty peninsula is Napoleon Beach, a tide-line that stretches for kilometres.
The sand underfoot is soft. Lapping waves are delightfully refreshing, with the aquamarine blue of the Mediterranean Sea filling our vision as it expands beyond.
This hidden gem is a sanctuary in the sun, a grand finale to our three-day stay. It is yet another reason for feeling passionate about Provence.
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