Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Castle of Les Baux de Provence

A few weeks back, I wrote about visiting the hilltop fortress town of Les Baux de Provence. As I said in my post, the village sits on a rocky outcrop with a ruined castle on top of the village overlooking the plains to the south. It is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France - most beautiful villages of France.

We have been to the beautifully restored village quite a few times but don't often walk up to the castle because we don't feel like paying the entrance fee and it can be very windy and cold when the mistral is blowing. For those who have not experienced the mistral, it is a cold and dry, strong wind that blows from the north through the Rhone River valley to the Mediterranean Sea.

On our last visit to Les Baux, it was a sunny day with brilliant blue sky so we decided to visit the castle. The entrance to the castle is at the top of the village, strategically placed so that visitors have to walk past the restored homes, churches, galleries, tourist shops, and cafés including the workshop of Santonnier J. Peyron.

We have bought several pretty santons, small hand painted and clothed terracotta figurines, from Monsieur Peyron. I stopped in to say hello because he always seems to remember his customers but he was not there and his son told me he was retired and the son had taken over the workshop. But I digress.

Access to the castle is through the Musée d'Histoire des Baux, a small museum which recounts the history of Les Baux from ancient times to today. Upon exiting the museum, you will spot perched on the rock, a cemetery that overlooks the valleys of Enfer (meaning "Hell") and Fontaine. There is also a memorial to the children who have died for the defense of liberty for France in world wars.

The plateau on which the castle of Les Baux de Provence sits covers 7 hectares or 17.3 acres. The castle contains an exhibition of siege machines including a trebuchet, a couillard (a form of trebuchet with split counterweights and a rotating beam), a bricole (a rotating-beam stone-throwing device), and a battering ram.

The machines are full-sized replicas and the catapults can fire to distances in excess of 200 meters or 650 feet. Firing demonstrations of the siege machines take place daily from April to September.

The breath-taking views from the castle are worth the entrance fee alone. Its hard to believe that 4000 people one time lived on this desolate plateau.

Charloun Rieu was a farmer from Paradou, a Provençal poet nicknamed "Charloun dou Paradou". He is considered one of Provence's most authentic popular poetic voices, he did much to revive Provençal language and culture.

His best known collection is the Chants du Terroir - Songs of the Land, published in 1897.

This monument by the Marseillais sculptor Botinelly was erected in 1930 to commemorate the man who immortalised Les Baux de Provence in verse.

A windmill was a feudal privilege, built and maintained by the Lords of Les Baux, it was accessible to all. In return for a small payment, farmers would come with their donkeys loaded with wheat, chat with the local folks and leave with their freshly ground flour.

The present day windmill was built on this windy hillside after the Maréchal de Vitry pulled down every windmill in the castle and village in 1632 and faithfully mirrors the image of Provence in the writings of Frédéric Mistral and Alphonse Daudet.

The castle of Les Baux de Provence sits on top of a rocky outcrop.

The ruined castle dominates the plateau, its fragments of towers and walls sticking out of the bare rock.

Another view from the castle, this one overlooking renown L'Oustau de Baumanière, a luxury Relais and Chateaux hotel and 2 Michelin stars gastronomic restaurant with spa. I have not eaten at L'Oustau de Baumanière but its definitely on my list.

St. Blaise's Chapel, once used by the guild of wool combers and weavers as a meeting place, now visitors can watch a free film entitled "A Bird's-Eye View of Provence" which runs non-stop.

A visit to the chateau at Les Baux is worthwhile for the view alone if the mistral is not blowing. One of the coldest experiences of my life was visiting the chateau on a sunny clear day in January while the mistral was blowing so hard we could hardly stand up.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.


  1. Love this post and thanks so much for sharing. There is so much of France still to see I wonder if we will ever manage it. Thanks to blogs like yours we get to visit the places we have not been to, Diane

  2. I really enjoyed visiting the Chateau. We rented those audio guides and learned a lot.

  3. I second Diane's comment - I've been to Les Beaux several times but have never seen the catapults nor the children's memorial. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I've been wanting to visit Les Baux de Provence for quite some time - now you've given me another great reason...can't wait to visit the ruined castle, what great shots!

  5. Wow, looks like some amazing views! Thank you for taking the time to put up so many pictures!

  6. Diane - You are so right about there being so many wonderful parts of France. I am glad I can bring our part of the world to you.

    Megan - I'm glad you mentioned the audio guides as I meant to mention them in my post. They are a wonderful way to tour the Chateau and Chateau plateau.

    Barbara - We don't often go up to the Chateau because the Mistral seems to be blowing full blast almost every time we are there. But we did this last time and saw a bunch of things we had not seen before as we shivered our way around.

    Tuula - Definitely worth going to Les Baux. I suggest either spring or fall (when the new olive oil is available) as there are far fewer visitors around.

    Camille - You are welcome. I am glad you enjoyed them.

  7. Out of the blue I "googled" Les Baux today --feeling a need to reconnect to one of my favorite places. What a pleasure to find your blog. Your sharing is so thoughtful and beautiful. I'm thrilled to have found you and to return to France vicariously at least. :)