Day trips are a must do when living in France, there are so many gorgeous villages and cities to explore and I never seem to grow weary of it. The kids however are of a different disposition – the lure of ‘another pretty village’ is rapidly wearing off for them.
Recently I set off for Les Baux de Provence as word on the street suggested that this was another must see beautiful village. The location was perfect for a day trip – only a couple of hours away situated in the Alpilles mountains near Arles. To be fair I didn’t really know much about this village. There was no frenetic pre visit googling. Instead I decided to go with the flow and explore it with no preconceptions or planned agenda. I think it’s wise to strike a balance here though as if I’m with the children and we’re day tripping it’s essential to do a little rough planning so that we can find a congenial family friendly activity.
It took around 2.5 hours to arrive at Les Baux de Provence by car. I will digress for a moment to say that the motorways are a treat in France. You pay for the privilege but it is money well spent. In this instance I am comparing my driving experiences to New Zealand, where driving long distance is hell on earth and I’m frequently on edge due to the toxic combination of crazy drivers, terrible roads and a severe lack of median barriers.
As for Les Baux de Provence, the village is picturesque with narrow, cobbled streets and better than average shops – not too much tourist tat. It is perched on a hill for historical fortification and as is the case with many villages in France, this simply adds to the charm factor. Les Baux de Provence has a rich Medieval, Romanesque and Renaissance history and is classified as a heritage site. It is highly geared towards tourists as is the case with many villages in France. Tourism is a big earner in France contributing to 9.7% of GDP in 2012* and holds its position as the world’s most popular tourist destination. It was very quiet on my visit though and many of the amenities had closed shop for the colder months. Generally speaking if you can cope with missing out on a few shopping opportunities and hate long queues and prickly heat then I recommend autumn and spring as the best times to visit the South of France.
The big drawcard in Les Baux de Provence are the castle remains and environs. The entry fee is 8 Euro for adults, children under seven are free. Of course there is the obligatory shop which actually had some interesting bits and pieces. There were some great children’s books and I bought ‘L’histoire de France’ aimed at the kids but perfectly pitched at my level of school girl French.
The history geek in me was happily amused trekking about reading about castle life and imagining goings on. The views were spectacular out to Arles and the Camargue with autumnal russet tones showcasing row upon row of olive trees. A herb garden near the castle tenderly scented the pathways and I can only imagine how beautiful the lavender looks and smells in summer’s full bloom.
Les Baux de Provence would be a great place to take les enfants. From April to September medieval fighting displays are on show and catapults and battering rams offer up a history lesson. Children can also try their luck with a bow and arrow. I’m assuming this is well supervised and a drawcard for The Hunger Games generation.
Near the castle exit, St Blaise’s Chapel screens an aerial film, ‘La Provence vue du ciel’ of nearby local towns and cities such as Avignon, Nimes, Aix en Provence and St Remy de Provence that is perfect for spotting areas of interest for further daytripping.
* “2013 Travel and Tourism Economic Impact Report France“, World Travel and Tourism Council