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Day Trip: Les Baux de Provence

Les Baux de Provence is in the Alpilles region about 25km from Avignon in Provence. (Pronounced "bow" -- as in "take a bow". The word means escarpment) has been officially declared one of France's most beautiful towns for excellent reason. The village has been carved from a 245m limestone plateau with brilliant views of Arles, Camargue, and the Alpilles. This huge and superb stone fortress is absolutely one of the "must-sees" for every visitor to Provence!

The fortress is damned impressive from the road. The village is pedestrian-only, so we parked and made our way to the main gate, stopping to enjoy the views as we went.

The village has been continuously occupied since ancient times. Today, there are 400 permanent residents. The village has been carefully restored and is a very popular attraction in the region.

Les Baux is a great place to wander and admire the architecture, the many interesting nooks and crannies, and to spend time talking to the local merchants and artisans.

After World War II, Louis Jou, arrived and set up a printing press. His presence attracted some of his influential friends in the literary and academic world. Then in the 1950s, L’Oustau de Baumanière opened a Michelin-starred restaurant and began to attract the gastronomic crowd, which in turn attracted better chefs and restaurants to the area.

Artisans, artists, writers, and tourism entrepreneurs renovated and restored abandoned buildings. The town continues to attract newcomers and visitors and has been named one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France and an Outstanding Heritage Village in France.

We were immediately enchanted with the narrow streets lined with merchants with some of their enticing wares hung on the walls outside their shops. The pathways were stone but the buildings provided quite a bit of welcome shade from the heat of the day.

There were some very inviting courtyards outside the shops, most of which were formerly abandoned residences. This was a particularly effective marketing strategy for us.

Everywhere I turned my head was a mixture of revitalization and ruin. As we walked generally uphill towards the Esplanade (observation plaza) I loved the reminders that this town was built from the bedrock.

From the Esplanade we had a complete view of the entire area. At first, I admired the cool rock formations created from natural limestone erosion. Then, I admired the olive orchard in the flat valley below.

Part of the reason that this community has been inhabited since ancient times is the strategic advantage of living high on a plateau. The Neolithic people lived here about 6,000 years BC. The wealthy and powerful Baux family built the first fortress back in the 10th Century.

Starting in the 16th Century, mainly due to a lack of water, the people and town gradually moved downhill and created the “Lower Town”. By the end of the 19th Century, there were only 400 inhabitants left.

The town grew behind within the fortress walls along the length of the plateau. Even if invaders had managed to get to the top of the plateau, they would have needed to get past the tiered walls.

After weaving through the crowds in the narrow lower streets, it's a breath of fresh air to emerge into the huge castle keep at the top of the hill with sensational open views across the surrounding landscape.

The Château is in ruins but you still get a strong sense of this slightly sinister fortress riddled with dungeons, chapels and secret passages.

The life-sized reproductions of evil catapults, trebuchets and other war machines are fascinating. During the high season, actors give humorous demonstrations of medieval armour and weaponry.