The 3 Charms of Les-Baux-de-Provence

Les-Baux-de-Provence has been crowned one of the most beautiful villages in France, and it’s easy to see why.

Set atop a rocky spur in the foothills of the Chaîne des Alpilles mountains, this tiny village has three major things going for it: a ruined castle, unbeatable surroundings, and a quaint old town. Let’s take each of these in turn:

The Ruined Castle

The princes of Baux (said to be descended from the Magi Balthazar} first started building fortifications on the top of this rock in the 9th century. You can still see the remains of their 10th century chapel, now the oldest part of the site still standing.

In the 13th century, the lords of Baux made the castle their permanent residence, and they outfitted it with everything from living quarters for themselves to living quarters for their pigeons:

The next 150 years saw a bunch of sieges, followed by the king of France destroying the castle. A later king gave the ruined town (what a present!) to one of his faithful servants, Anne de Montmorency, who rebuilt the castle in the 1500s. But Les-Baux-de-Provence became a hotbed of Protestantism during the Wars of Religion, so Louis XIII had the castle destroyed for the last time — with great vigor — in the 1630s. We’re left today with pretty spectacular ruins.

Troglodytes continued to inhabit the caves adjacent to the castle all the way up to the 19th century, and you can still see the niches they carved out of the limestone to store their goods.

The current caretakers have outfitted the grounds with replicas of implements of medieval fortress protection — so if you’re interested in castle defense, there’s plenty too see.

You’ll have to pay a fee to visit the castle grounds, but it’s worth every penny.

The Unbeatable Surroundings

Les-Baux-de-Provence has a commanding view out over the olive groves and vineyards below…

… and from the tallest castle towers, you can see out in every direction.

But the real stars of the show here — at least from a hiker’s perspective — are the trails of the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles.

Tucked into the hillsides just behind Les-Baux-de-Provence, this park covers 50,000 hectares of craggy limestone rock formations…

… and windswept hillsides:

You can reach the trails by driving just two minutes into the mountains behind the village. They’re a great place for a quick stroll or an all-day walking adventure.

The Town

With a population of just 22 residents — and 1.5 million tourists — the ultra-spiffy upper town of Les-Baux-de-Provence feels a bit Disneyfied. It’s neat as a pin and has been tidily restored, and most of the buildings have been given over to shops and small places to eat (note that in the winter, nearly all of these are closed). But there’s still a certain charm to the place, especially when you look down at the rooftops from the castle walls above.

This place is pretty remote — you’ll want a car to get there and around (and you’ll need to be prepared for switchbacking mountain roads). Once you arrive, though, you may not want to leave!

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