In light of my upcoming trip to France (woohoo) I thought I needed to start back writing and getting ready to write about upcoming adventures.This is another journey back to that amazing trip to France in 2003.
One of the wonderful things about a stay in Provence with a car is that there are beautiful hilltop villages, each with their own unique qualities, in every direction. One of the most beautiful of these is Les Baux de Provence.
First, a little history: Les Baux is an ancient settlement first known to be inhabited as early as 6000 B.C. Situated atop a rocky outcrop, the location made it a perfect fortress protected by rock walls on one side and views all the way to the Camargue on the other. In the Middle Ages the region came under the power of the warring Baux family , who built the castle and the surrounding village that grew and prospered. The fortress was twice destroyed by the french out of fear of the strength of the stronghold. As the strength of France grew, the Lordship of Les Baux was eventually given to the Grimaldi family where it remains a current title of Prince Albert of Monaco. After WWII the village transformed to a tourist and cultural center. In 1966 the town was placed under the protection of the Ministry of Culture and Environment, where it bloomed into an official listing as “One of the most beautiful villages in France”.
Today, in addition to the incredible experience of visiting the ruins, the village itself offers lovely shops along cobblestone streets and has developed into a culinary center, offering 4 & 5 star dining. We tried delicious lavender ice cream and bought adorable egg cups that, for some reason, we found hilarious to use as our wine glasses. A new attraction being touted a a “must see” experience is Carrieres de Lumieres or Cathedral of Images. This is a rock quarry where they project images of art on the walls to music. In general, be aware that Les Baux is a big tourist attraction and is accordingly over-priced and crowded during high season when there are special exhibits and demonstrations with people dressed in medieval attire. As in most of Europe, it can get cold and windy so dress in layers.
A visit to the ancient ruins of the medeival fortress above the village of Les Baux is a truly profound experience and well-worth the hike and the price.The museum offers a picture of the life and history of the village.The panoramic views from the summit looking down the valley to beautiful olive groves and patchwork fields surrounded by cypress trees are like a painting come to life. It is very easy to imagine Van Gogh or perhaps Cezanne perched in this very spot with easel and paints in hand. The ruins cover 17 acres and include the castle remains as well as surrounding dwellings and common areas. The ghostly quality is enhanced by the gray and white tones of the stone appropriately called Bauxite.
As I wandered through these ghostly ruins, I knew the lands and people were ruled by vicious warlords, times were brutal, and the remains of stocks were a reminder that punishment was swift and harsh. But walking through this ancient fortress and absorbing the incredible history, I was struck by an eerie sense of calm that seemed to pervade this beautifully haunting place. I ran my hand over those ancient stones and closed my eyes and tried to imagine the daily life of the villagers. It’s so easy to dwell on the difficulties they must have faced on a daily basis but I couldn’t help but wonder if there were periods of peace and prosperity. Did the children play and laugh, were mothers able to feed their families, did they have times of celebration and happiness? I stood there with my hands absorbing the many lives that dwelt within those walls, and though I couldn’t escape the harsh reality of it’s violent history, I knew there was also love, for isn’t that the very essence of life?
Spirits of Les Baux
Evening shadows fall, night breezes blow
I close my eyes and breathe in
this ancient, haunted place
Suddenly I’m surrounded by
ghostly sounds and images of long ago..
A small child hurries home after gathering firewood.
An old woman stirs the ragout and adds the vegetables.
Older children usher in the livestock and bed them down.
A young mother suckles her baby and stokes the fire.
The men gather to drink and discuss the day’s hunting.
Fears of invasion, of hunger, of sickness
fade away with the daylight.
As the moon rises and evening fires blaze,
a sense of exhaustion,
a sense of contentment,
a sense of family envelops the fortress.
Fires burn low, quiet sneaks in,
and a shroud of sleep
covers the village in peaceful,
Lift your face, Cindy