A short tour to Les-Baux-de-Provence (usually known as Les Baux) was organised this morning for those conference delegates who were not leaving until the afternoon. I will actually not be leaving until tomorrow as I am going down to Cannes for a couple of days of meetings there, so I joined them. Les Baux promotes itself as The Most Beautiful Village in France, so I wanted to see it for myself.
Les Baux is not far from Arles - about 20 km or so to the west in the Alpilles (‘little Alps’) - and on the way we stopped by the famous windmill near the village of Fontvieille which is the subject of Alphonse Daudet’s collection of short stories Letters from my Windmill.
Due to time constraints we had less than an hour at Les Baux, but it was just enough time to walk up to the top of the rocky outcrop on which it is built to see the lovely views over the Alpilles and the Provence countryside.
To the east and south of the village there are olive groves as far as the eye can see:
And to the west many large mansions built in the typical Provence style of architecture with swimming pools and beautiful gardens – country retreats for the rich and famous I suppose:
The actual village was quite interesting – narrow cobbled streets and old buildings which have been well preserved or renovated – but I think the claim to being the most beautiful village in France is a little misleading because it not a ‘real’ village anymore, in that it has been given over entirely to the tourist trade with lots of restaurants and souvenir shops (the restaurants looked good though – although we didn’t have time to try any of them).
Only a couple of dozen people still live in the village now – most of the people who work in the tourist trade live in the valley down below:
I learned that bauxite – the rock from which aluminium is extracted – was first discovered at Les Baux in the early 1800s, and that’s how bauxite got its name. Somewhat surprising I thought because bauxite is a rusty red colour, and all the hills around Les Baux are made of white and grey rocks.
Whilst its claim to being the most beautiful village is France is a little suspect, it’s definitely worth a side trip whilst in the area, if only for a lunch stop and to see the beautiful country around Les Baux.