Treat yourself to a beautiful and unforgettable holiday in Provence. St Rémy de Provence has a pleasant ambiance; attracting artists and celebrities away from the busy coastline to the shady terraces of the Jean-Jaurès Square. The town has all you need in history, art, architecture, shopping, hiking, beautiful properties and gastronomy.
1. Discover Van Gogh
Take a walk in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh…
The impressionist only spent ‘a year in Provence’ at the Asylum in St Rémy de Provence but his experience here inspired 150 of his drawings and paintings!
There is a fantastic trail to discover the landscapes that Van Gogh captured on canvas.
The tour starts close to the Saint Paul de Mausole (where Van Gogh lived from 1889 to 1890). You will then head towards the old town of St-Rémy and finish at the entrance of the Présence Van Gogh Art Centre, in the XVII century Estrine Hotel.
2. Enjoy the Fetes
St Rémy de Provence and the neighbouring villages organise village fetes from July to September. Festivities last for several days. There are communal meals in the streets or square, pétanque competitions, live bands, dances and the usual merry-go-round, hook a duck and candy floss for the kids.
I love going to these with my daughter, friends or parents – last year my British friend’s mum of 70 years old had a great time dancing the night away with one of the locals!
St-Rémy is known for its Bull Traditions around the 15th of August (the feast of The Assumption, a public holiday). The Feria Festival covers all things Provençal and the Course Camargaise – where risky runners try to take a rosette from between the bulls horns! It’s not a fight, the bull is never harmed but the runner must be nippy.
The cowboys parade down the streets on their Camargue horses and participate in equestrian events. Bulls participate in races, are chased down the streets and through pools of water. Locals are dressed in their traditional costumes for the parade and a huge float is pulled through the streets by fifty horses boasting the farm produce of the area.
You just have to experience French gastronomy whilst in St Rémy! There is a variety of agricultural products to sample, such as olive oil and regional wines.
Who doesn’t like wine?
I suggest you go straight to an estate to sample their wines and go on a wine tour. Château Romanin and Domaine Terres Blanches offer such tours. Otherwise pop into Ballon 2 Rouge located at 50, Avenue du Maréchal. This shop stocks up to 200 different wines.
From rustic to Michelin, there are restaurants that cater for all. For the ideal meal, I recommend: Fanny Rey and Jonathan Wahid (one Michelin star), Valrugues, Le Bistrot Découverte and Fratelli Ristoranti.
- Archeological Museum – Musée Archéologique
Greek and Roman artefacts from Glanum.
- Aromas of Provence – Musée des Arômes de Provence
- Hotel Estrine
1000 pieces of art from the 20th and 21st centuries. The collection contains a mix of styles, including beautifully preserved paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Albert Gleizes.
- Alpilles Museum – Musée des Alpilles
Contemporary and traditional art: costumes, furniture, local crafts, santons (hand painted figurines), rocks from the Alpilles and documents written by Nostradamus (astrologer, physician and predictor of events!).
5. La Fête de la Lumière
Festivities carry on into the cooler months. La Fête de la Lumière (The Festival of Light), originally from Lyon, is also celebrated in St Rémy in December. Merchants selling decorations, gifts, clothing and art gather till late in the evening.
Jazz bands and classical music orchestras perform, transforming this town into a veritable street party.
With a glass of mulled wine and a couple of traditional culinary specialities- you’re in for a good time.
6. Celebrate Christmas
It doesn’t tend to snow at Christmas in Provence but St-Rémy has a twinkly, weekend-long Christmas market where you can find handmade arts, crafts and local produce with carol singers and nativity scenes bringing a Christmassy feel to the town.
Provence is known for its thirteen deserts of Christmas. I spent years being astonished that somebody would actually go to the effort of making that many deserts for Christmas, only to realise that its more thirteen sweet ingredients of Christmas – than thirteen deserts. They can vary from village to village or family to family, yet generally consist of: Fougasse, the four beggars (nuts, dried figs, almonds, raisins) white and black nougat, dates, calissons d’Aix, quince paste, fresh fruit, candied fruits and dried apricots.
7. History and Architecture
St-Rémy-de-Provence has been constructed on one of the oldest archaeological sites of Europe – Glanum.
It has seen the Gallic, Hellenistic and Roman periods. You can visit the remains of the Comptoir de Glanum founded in the 3rd century BC and rebuilt by the Romans. The remains also include the thermal baths, a long residential road and a temple. Nearby, is the Arc de Triomphe and the ancient mausoleum.
Visit the Monastery Cloître Saint Paul with its 11th and 12th century cloister and chapel surrounding a colourful medieval garden. A Provençal Romanesque art masterpiece! In 1889, Vincent Van Gogh stayed at the Saint-Paul de Mausole Hospice for a year to be cured of his personality disorder.
8. The Provençale Market
Shop till you drop at one of the most spectacular markets in Provence. Where? Place de la République. When? Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8am to 1pm.
Savour the local fresh delights -herbs, sun-ripened fruit and vegetables, olives, truffles (from November) and typical Provençal treats. You will keep your kids going on through the streets with tasters of saucisson, nougat and tapenade on bread.
9. Beautiful surrounding places
Too hot? Cool down and picnic at the popular, yet tranquil, Peiroou Lake, surrounded by forests and rocks. Its water flow is controlled by one of the oldest arch dams in the world. Constructed by the Romans, the water was channelled to the nearby site of Glanum.
You can discover the lightly trodden paths by foot or by bicycle. Electric bikes are popular and easy to find in Provence at the moment and they make the hills in the midsummer sun so much easier!
An hour and a half away, in the town of Rustral, is the Colorado Provençal. This awe-inspiring site, of over 30 ha, consists of ancient ochre quarries in a multitude of colours – it’s utterly stunning. A private tour can be arranged for those interested in gaining more knowledge on the area.
Try out a fantastic hike:
Sentier des Échelles du Mont Gaussier (1h30)
Le Gaudre de Valample (2h20)
Le Gaudre de Valrugue and Sentier botanique (2h30)
La Piste des Lombards par la crête (2h35)
Les Rocher des Deux Trous – Mont Gaussier and Lac du Peirou (3h05)
La Promenade in the Alpilles (5h05)
La Crête des Alpilles (5h40)
10. Express your artistic side
Artists have been following in the footsteps of Van Gogh since his death. The streets of St Rémy de Provence are filled with art studios and galleries producing original and tasteful works. You can pop into their workshops, witness their productions in the making from glass blowing, wood and leather work to giant stone like cushions made out of felt!
‘I cannot help it that my paintings do not sell. The time will come when people will see that they are worth more than the price of the paint.’ Vincent Van Gogh.
Between May and October, take a walk down the Routes des Artistes on a Sunday to discover the open air contemporary art market. Think you are up for it yourself?
‘What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?’ Vincent Van Gogh.
All year long, La Cour des Arts, has artistic workshops for all ages. Alone, or in a group, you can attend classes led by professionals to produce your own sketches and paintings.
Can you depict your own impressions of the hills, olive groves, poppy fields, cypress trees and Saint Rémy-de-Provence?