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Rich in French culture, scenery, cuisine

Created date

September 22nd, 2014
Gordes village in Provence, France.
Gordes village in Provence, France.

Provence contains a wide range of geography, everything from Alpine mountains to some of the chicest beaches in the world, like Cannes and St. Tropez. 

But for those who fall in love with Provence, it’s not the extremes that create the appeal but the center, the picturesque towns that dot the landscape so rich in culture, scenery, food, wine… These are places not made to rush through but rather to dwell, to become a part of, to absorb with all your senses. There are many towns such as these, but the focus of this article is St.-Remy-de-Provence, located north of Marseilles, almost equidistant from three of the more famous cities, Arles, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence, but also near to many other small villages, each one holding its own unique place in the mosaic that is Provence.

Van Gogh and ancient Rome

Vincent Van Gogh spent some time in St. Remy. You can visit the room he lived in and see placards all around town of sites that inspired him to paint. Of course, the place he was staying in was a mental institution, but the beauty of the environment lives on at every turn and might make you want to paint, or at least take a snapshot. And across the road from the Saint-Paul asylum is the archeological site of Glanum with its relics from when the Romans lived here. Yes, the appeal of this part of the world stretches back a long, long time.

If you continue down this road leaving St. Remy, you’ll soon wind up in Les-Baux-de-Provence, an ancient, crumbling castle that sits on a plateau overlooking fields and, in the distance, the Mediterranean. It’s one of those sites that the Guide Michelin rates worth a special visit, yet is only a mere detour from St. Remy.

Avignon is a little more than a dozen miles northwest of St. Remy and is where the papacy settled for a time, and the castle built to house the pope is an impressive edifice. Just outside its wall is Le Pont D’Avignon, or what’s left of it, and French children continue to sing about the dancing that took place there. And just to the north of Avignon is where you can find the wineries producing the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape, certainly worth a visit if you’re a connoisseur of wines. 

Arles is to the southwest of St. Remy. The coliseum there, as well as other Roman ruins, remind you that you’re surrounded by a long history everywhere in France. And to the southeast is Aix, a much larger city than the others mentioned so far, that gives you the feeling of being in a mini-Paris, though not if you listen to the Provencal accented French around you.      

Canals and antiques

The above three cities are well known, but there are others close to St. Remy that have their own unique qualities that make them more than worth a visit. One of these is L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a quaint town subdivided by many canals, Provence’s version of Venice. But if its appearance wasn’t enough of a draw, then how about the several hundred antique dealers that call this town home? Even if you don’t buy a thing, grazing from shop to shop will offer a fascinating tour of French culture through the ages.

The many shades of ocher are considered very Provencal. To see the source of this color scheme, you must drop in on Roussillon. At the outskirts of this small, very colorful village are cliffs made of clay that contain the various shades of red, orange, and yellow pigments that make ocher. A walking tour in this area, especially at sunset, offers a dazzling display of beauty.

Major market day

You can visit these and many other gems of Provence nearby to St. Remy on any day of the week but Wednesday, which must be reserved for St. Remy’s market day. This isn’t limited to a few stands set up by local farmers, but instead, includes a vast array of prepared foods, clothing, and artisanal creations that covers block after block. The displays of food will delight your sense of taste, so skip breakfast and come hungry.

St.-Remy-de-Provence is in the heart of a land many consider the ideal environment to savor the best that life on earth has to offer. Don’t be surprised if a visit makes you want to return again and again.