Almost off the beaten track in France: discovering Saint-Rémy de Provence
However, nothing would have prepared us for the size of the crowds that had flocked to the market on the sunny Wednesday afternoon when we first arrived.
In describing it, the best I can do is to tell you that there were people absolutely everywhere! And it’s safe to say that, for a minute at least, we were slightly bewildered – we have become very used to spending time off the beaten track in France.
But before too long, the market stalls packed up and the large coaches drove away, returning the picturesque village to its elegant, classy normality.
But I’ve got to tell you, it didn’t take us long to work out why the birthplace of Nostradamus is so popular with Francophiles, creative types and travellers. The village in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France captivates and inspires visitors with its pale stone, gorgeous light, narrow streets, chic boutiques and exceptional restaurants. And this is before visitors take in the numerous attractions in and around the town.
In the footsteps of Van Gogh
When it came to those attractions, we chose to start with the Van Gogh walk. The self-guided walking tour is approximately one kilometer long and leads walkers from the heart of Saint-Rémy de Provence to the hospice where Vincent van Gogh lived for a short time towards the end of his life.
Along the easy walk, interpretive signage provides great insight into both Vincent’s works of art and his tortured soul. A map, which assists visitors in finding the starting point of the walk and provides additional information on Vincent’s works, is available on the Saint-Rémy de Provence Tourist Office.
The Van Gogh walk concludes at Saint-Paul de Mausole, a former monastery which still operates as a modern day psychiatric hospital. In visiting Saint-Paul de Mausole we got the opportunity to see where Vincent lived while in Saint-Rémy de Provence, as well as gaining an understanding of the landscapes that inspired many of his most famous artworks.
I’m pleased we allowed enough time to admire the beautiful cloisters and gardens as well. We visited in mid-June and were lucky to be able to experience the lavender rows that grace the grounds and fill the whole hospice with the most delightful floral scent.
If you are anything like us, you might be keen to understand even more about Vincent’s artworks. If this is the case, a visit to the Musée Estrine and the Van Gogh Interpretation Centre is certainly recommended. Located back in Saint-Remy, right where the Van Gogh walk starts, the museum uses technology to feature Vincent’s letters and artworks as well as giving visitors a feel for the landscapes that Vincent captured so evocatively.
A glimpse into ancient France
Glanum, another Saint-Rémy must-see is located close to Saint-Paul de Mausole but it couldn’t be more different. Glanum is a remarkably well preserved archeological site that gives visitors a real feel for how locals lived from the 6th century BC onwards, right up until they abandoned the village around 250 AD.
For a small entry fee, Glanum transported us back in time as we explored the ancient buildings and public spaces, such as the Glanum Forum, market and temples.
Travellers can get a real feel for the site in under two hours, however for those who are really short on time but keen for a taste of Glanum, the ‘Antiques’ which sit outside the main reserve should do the trick.
For something completely different
Once we’d had our fill of Saint-Rémy’s cultural and ancient attractions, we were keen to check out something entirely different. And for us, that meant exploring the shopping opportunities. Saint-Rémy’s class extends to its boutiques.
The winding streets are lined with artisan boutiques – rather than everyday chain stores – and in them you will find all manner of Provençal specialities. Clothing designed for the Provençal climate, homewares, French linens and soaps are all readily available.
And the good news? The shopping district is not so big that you get overwhelmed, although you do have to be prepared to duck into some of the winding back streets to find some of the true gems.
The icing on the cake
We found that much of Saint-Rémy’s charm came from indulging in simple pleasures: the warmth of the Provençal sun, the taste of the excellent local rosé and the fragrance of the lavender. And if it is delicious food you are after, Saint-Rémy de Provence won’t disappoint.
The village is home to everything from Michelin starred establishments to wood fired pizza restaurants, thus catering for all tastes and budgets. Brasserie Les Variétés, where we ate lunch after walking back into town from Glanum, offers excellent value for money with its menu du jour. And travellers craving top quality seafood are well advised to visit Gus Restaurant.
But our pick of the Saint-Rémy de Provence restaurants was Restaurant d’Almeran. This recently opened restaurant was quiet on the Friday night we visited – primarily due to a summer storm – however given the quality of the food and the service, I can’t imagine that it is quiet very often. Fresh, local produce is imaginatively prepared with the menu featuring excellent meat and seafood dishes. The service was both friendly and attentive and the helpful wine recommendations were spot on.
Whether you love art, history, shopping, food or just the French sunshine, the beautiful Saint-Rémy de Provence will have something to delight you. Just be ready for the crowds on a Wednesday.
Have you ever visited Saint-Rémy de Provence, and were you as impressed as we were? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
1, 3 & 4 © Scott Gould.
2. Marché Provencal, by Saint Rémy de Provence Tourisme, via Flickr.
5. France, Saint Remy de Provence, Night Street Scene, by Chris Ford, via Flickr.
6. Citroen 2CV, St Remy de Provence, France, by Vintage Lulu, via Flickr.