Canadian artist Ashley Tinker has been living in the Alpilles area of France for the past eight years. She offers market and boutique tours out of Saint-Rémy, as well as assistance with personalized vacation itineraries and porfessional photoshoots for visitors. Ashley also is an artist who does oil paintings and ink drawings that you can purchase via her website: curiousprovence.com.
We tapped Ashley for her wealth of regional knowledge for together an outline for the best cultural things to do and sites to discover over a weekend in Les Alpilles using Saint-Rémy as your home base. See what she has to say below!
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Saint-Rémy de Provence curiously has the look of a small town with a cosmopolitan feel to it. It has a history that stretches back to pre-Roman settlements, famous admirers like Van Gogh and Nostradamus and oh-so-chic boutiques dotting winding medieval streets.
A destination that has it all, Saint-Rémy sits on the edge of France’s stunning regional park, Les Alpilles (known as the “little alps”), making it the perfect base for exploring the region and all its cultural offerings. The mountainous terrain, with its craggy rocks perfumed with wild thyme and rosemary, separates Saint-Rémy from the perched Les Baux de Provence castle ruins, and the plains between are filled with centuries-old olive groves, almond trees and cypresses.
You’ll also find Arles – the capital of the Camargue, another regional park – 25 minutes south of Saint-Rémy. A town filled with Roman ruins and various museums, it is surrounded by fields upon fields of sunflowers that bloom for a precious two weeks at the beginning of July.
Saturday in Arles: Sunflowers, The Market & Roman Ruins
Head out of Saint-Rémy towards Saint Etienne-du-Grès, following the signs for Arles. You’ll see the vast stretches of sunflowers, but be careful if you stop to take pictures – it’s a busy road!
Park outside the ramparts of Arles, grab your basket and head out (the earlier, the better) to the immense Provençal market on the Boulevard des Lices. It has great prices and many cute cafés nearby. Make time for a refreshment, people watching and wandering the colorful streets.
Rencontres d’Arles International Photography Exhibition
Taking place July 4th – September 26th, this one of the best ways to see Arles, as some exhibits are held in historical buildings. Visiting them all can easily take an entire day, but it is quite enjoyable. Purchase tickets at the billeterie, located on Place de la Republique.
The St Trophime Cloister
A beautiful and unique cloister on the main square next to Arles’ town hall. Notice how two sides of the rectangular building are Romanesque Provençal design and the other two are medieval Gothic. Climb to the top for a beautiful view of the city.
Musée Arles Antique
Located just outside the town, the Musée Arles Antique is a small museum that is perfect for familiarizing yourself with the area’s ancient Roman settlement.
Stops on the way back to Saint-Rémy
In the afternoon, take the scenic way back to Saint-Rémy via Fonvieille and Maussane les Alpilles. In addition to more sprawling sunflower fields, you can find some interesting stops along this route.
These fascinating aqueduct ruins are about 20 minutes outside of Arles. There are many walks that start from here and go through the forest to the next town of Paradou (Bistro du Paradou is very fun for lunch!), as well as the town of Fontvieille.
Sentier des Moulins in Fontvieille (“windmills of Fontvieille”)
Start at Château de Montauban and take the 30-minute walk around three of the many mills in Paradou, including the one that inspired French author Alphonse Daudet’s famous collection of short stories about his life in Provence: “Lettres de mon Moulin.”
St Paul de Mausole
A little over half a mile south of Saint-Rémy, stop at St Paul de Mausole for a quick visit to the asylum where Van Gogh painted some of his most famous paintings, such as Starry Night. There is also a 12th-century cloister and beautiful gardens.
Walk across the road to admire a mausoleum and “Les Antiques,” the oldest surviving Roman arch in France (if you’d like to learn more about the ancient settlements, visit the ruins in Glanum next to St Paul de Mausole).
Sunday in Les Alpilles
Les Baux Castle Ruins
The route from Saint-Rémy to Les Baux de Provence is a winding road that will give you sneak peek views of the perched hilltop town before you reach it. Plan to arrive around 9:00 a.m., and you’ll have the site all to yourself. Bliss!
Park at the bottom of town and head up to the very top (only possible by foot), where you’ll find the castle ruins and plateau with a stunning view that looks out over Les Alpilles regional park. Buy a combined ticket for the castle and the Carrières des Lumières light show.
Carrieres des Lumieres
After wandering the ruins, head back down through the village to see this amazing light show projected onto the interior walls of an immense quarry. Every year the theme and artist changes. Don’t forget to bring a sweater; it can get chilly!
For a slight change in scenery, have lunch in Maussane-les-Alpilles or Paradou, both of which are just five minutes away (book a restaurant in advance!). Afterward, you can drive Eygalières via the Route de Destet. This is a stunning 20-minute drive, one of my favorites in Provence, that passes many beautiful vineyards. Once in Eygalières, have a drink at Café de la Place – the heart of the village. Wander the quiet streets and climb to the top of the main road towards the old town ruins, where you’ll find a clock tower and a stunning view from the other side of Les Alpilles. From here, you can also see Mont Ventoux, a windy mountain famous among cyclists.
Afterwards, head back to Saint-Rémy – the way back is gorgeous, on an iconic plane tree-lined road.
For more daily inspiration from Provence and beyond, follow Ashley Tinker on Instagram at @curiousprovence.
All photography © Ashley Tinker