Nestled in the hills of Les Alpilles, Saint-Remy-de-Provence is a stylish town much favoured by the creative Parisien set. Its centre is full of narrow medieval alleyways, with fountains and shady squares and wonderful buildings.
It enjoys a wonderfully central location located just 20km south of Avignon, and 70km from both Aix and Marseille airport. The surrounding countryside is protected as Les Alpilles Natural Park, and vineyards and olive groves flourish.
The town is forever associated with Vincent Van Gogh, as this is where he checked into an asylum for a year (1889) in monastere St Paul de Mausole. He managed to paint 150 canvas' during his stay, including 'Live Grove' and 'Starry Night'. The Mausole is open to the public every day.
Continuing on the art theme, this is where Albert Gleize (Cubism) spent the last 15 years of his life. The Musee des Alpilles holds a collection of ethnological pieces and a selection of paintings by locally-known artists. Other renowned figures associated with the village include the Marquis de Sade, whose family manor the Hotel de Sade is located here (now the Musee Archeologique). St Remy is also the birth place of Nostradamus.
The surrounding area is thick with olive groves, and the Moulin a Huile du Calanquet offers a wide range of products derived from the olive. St Remy continues to enjoy the works of artists who live in the area - glass blowing, artists and sculpters thrive and many original works of art are for sale in the town's numerous art galleries. There is a fantastic selection of accommodation and excellent restaurants in the town, and don't forget to try the local wine from Les Baux.
History & Culture in Saint Remy de Provence
Whilst peoples have been living in the area since pre-historic times, the current site of St Remy was probably first bult upon in the 1st century AD. The first church was built in the 6th century around which the town was created. The town was under the protection of the Abbey Saint-Rémi de Reims, and this is where the name came from.
St Remy was the birthplace of physician and seer Nostradamus, who 'predicted' amongst other things, the French Revolution and both World Wars. St Remy became popular with the bourgeoisie offspring of local farmers and artisans after the Revolution and so became increasingly wealthy. At the beginning of the 20th century, St Remy attracted artists, writers and painters and this heritage remains in St Remy today.
Also see: History of Provence, France
Events in Saint Remy de Provence
On May 1st each year, there is a large horse & donkey fair that starts with a procession of donkeys and carts accompanied by children dressed in traditional clothing. A flea market occurs at the same time. The Fete de la Transhumance takes place on Whit Monday and is a festival to celebrate the arrival of Spring. Traditionally it was when the farmers took their sheep to their summer pastures in the Alps, and nowadays there is a parade around the town of sheep, goats and donkeys with their shepherds in traditional costume. A flea market and a cheese fair also occurs at this time.
From May to October the Route des Artistes is a market for local artists and artesans to show off their works. It takes place on selected Sundays during these months - check local press for dates. Another arty festival is the Festival APART which takes place from early July to mid August and showcases the best of contemporary art in public and private art spaces.
The Terroir des Alpilles festival is a celebration of the locally grown produce of the Alpilles - it takes place at the end of July. Also at the end of July is the Fete du Vin & l'Artisanat d'Art where you can get tiddly on delicious locally grown wine, admire works of art in street stalls throughout the town, and enjoy live jazz music.
St Remy's big fair is held in the middle of August. The St Remy Feria is dedicated to the heritage of the bull, so expect bull racing, bull running and bull beauty contests (no bulls are killed at these events). The Feria welcomes street performers at this time and local musicians play their flutes and other wind instruments. Carmargue horses also feature during the fair and an enormous wagon filled with local produce parades through the town, pulled by 50 heavy horses. This procession always takes place on 15th August.
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Sights & Attractions in Saint Remy de Provence
For a small town, there is alot to see and do in St Remy! It's artistic and Roman history has left it with a great deal of cultural heritage. Within St Remy itself, there are two museums. The Musee des Alpilles is home to ethnographic treasures to help visitors understand the landscape and the human impact on it. The museum is housed in a wonderful Renaissance building with a lovely interior courtyard. The Musee Estrine is dedicated to 20th century art. There are two rooms devoted to the cubist painter Albert Gleizes and an area which interprets the work of Vincent Van Gogh via audio-visual aids, letters, photographs and other documents.
The Church, Collegiale Saint Martin was built in 1821 in a neo-classical style, but its origins go back to the 14th century. Each year in the summer it hosts the Festival Organa. The Hotel de Sade is a large Gallo-Roman villa that houses ancient baths but it is not currently open to the public depsite being owned by the Monuments Nationaux organisation.
One of the main attractions of St Remy lies to the south of the town and features archeological remains from the 2nd century BC. The site of Glanum is a facinating insight into an original civilisation that features religious and civic buildings. You can take a guided tour or wander around on your own. The well preserved Antiquities of Glanum are a wonderful sight just off the main road.
No guide to St Remy would be complete without a mention of Vincent Van Gogh. The artist stayed in the Saint Paul de Mausole monastery in 1889 where he painted many of his famous works. You can visit the monastery, Monastere de St Paul de Mausole, today (closed January to March) depsite it still operating as a psychiatric hospital.
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Hotels in Saint Remy de Provence
St Remy is blessed with a great selection of hotels to suit all budgets. At the top of the range you'll find the luxurious La Vallon de Valrugues which offers chic contemporary rooms, a spa and a Michelin starred restaurant. Another modern, more boutique styled hotel is the Hotel de l'Image which is renowned for its photography connections.
Chateau de Roussan gives you the opportunity to stay in a 16th century grand mansion in beautiful parkland, just outside St Remy. Bedrooms and suites are traditionally furnished. A more romantic Chateau equally close to St Remy is the Chateau des Alpilles, also set in parkland and offering a range of delightful accommodation.
An interesting option back in St Remy itself is the Hotel Gounod which has individually decorated rooms and a wealth of decorative art. There is a swimming pool and a pretty tearoom that's open all day. Hotel Van Gogh offers 3-star quality with contemporary rooms, a swimming pool and a private car park - useful in this town! Villa Glanum is a lovely country house with beautifully decorated rooms with a garden and swimming pool. Le Mas Saint-Joseph is a small charming hotel with pretty rooms and a pool, just to the north of St Remy.
For Chambres d'Hote, have a look at Le Mas des Tourterelles B&B, a pretty converted farmhouse with four rooms (and Vi-Spring beds for those in the know!). La Maison d'Isidore has three dashing bedrooms in a wonderful 17th century townhouse, with rooftop views of St Remy and breakfast in a cobbled courtyard. La Maison de Francoise has a couple of rooms with a beautiful swimming pool, all in the surroundings of an old farmhouse. La Maison du Village is a fabulous guesthouse with wonderful 18th century decor and an exhibition space for jazz evenings and other cultural events. It's also home to a Diptyque shop.
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Things to Do in Saint Remy de Provence
St Remy is pretty good for shopping, with a number of boutiques, antique shops and art galleries. The market is held on Wednesday mornings. There is a summer handicrafts market held every Tuesday evening from the end of June until September. Flea markets (Brocantes) are held on some Sundays during the summer - keep an eye out for local posters!
The more active among you will no doubt enjoy the wonderful countryside, whether you choose to explore by foot, by bike or on horseback. All these options are available to you. There is an open-air swimming pool open to the public during the summer (June to September) on Route d'Avignon.
The tourist office offers guided tours from mid-April to late September, and will also be able to provide more information and maps for hikers.
There are wonderful vineyards in the countryside around St Remy and we recommend taking a trip to taste some wine, much of which is organically farmed. Also worth visiting are the pretty villages in the area, try Les Baux with it's fantastic ruined castle.
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Restaurants in Saint Remy de Provence
One of the main attractions in coming to St Remy is the quality and quantity of restaurants. It's a real foodie place, probably thanks to the large numbers of retirees and scond home onwers from the international community. The centre of St Remy has many restaurants, you'll see many of them lining the main Boulevard Victor Hugo.
Explore some of the small pedestrianised side streets and you will encounter some real delights. L'Aile ou la Cuisse is on Rue de la Commune and serves gourmet French food in bistro style surroundings. The wine list is excellent. On Rue du Chateau you'll find Artemoda-Cinecitta which is more cafe in style but is highly rated on review websites. Slap -bang in the middle of St Remy on Rue Carnot is La Maison Jaune, a Michelin-starred restaurant with chef Francois Perraud.
Just on the town's ring road on Avenue Durand Maillane is the highly rated Mistral Gourmand, a family run bistro type French restaurant that has no menu but relies on what is fresh and looks tasty at the market that day. Further up this road is the modern Tartares Club where the menu focuses on raw meat, fish and vegetables. On Boulevard Mirabeau you'll find Grain de Sel, a chic and decorative restaurant featuring Mediterranean cuisine.
On the outskirts if St Remy is the Mas de l'Amarine which serves Mediterranean cuisine in pretty surroundings. The restaurant of the Hotel du Vallon de Valrugues is highly recommended, its chef Marc de Passorio being Michelin-starred. Other hotel restaurants in the area include Mas Valentine and the elegant Chateau des Alpilles.
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Location: Saint Remy de Provence
Sight Type: Town/Village