They have fired up the imagination of painters the world over, dazzled by their colours, scenery and quality of light. Many authors have set up home here, too. Discover Provence’s most inspiring villages!
A palette of many colours
With its Calanques lapped by sparkling turquoise waters and houses painted in pretty pastel shades, Cassis is a jewel of the Provencal coast. Derain, one of the masters of the Fauvism art movement, captured its beauty and subtlety in his works: “There is a sweetness of tones, scents, atmospheres, strangeness…”, he wrote in 1907. After roaming the lanes of Cassis and its little port where traditional “pointu” fishing boats are still moored, stroll among the fragrant and colourful market stalls. The market is held on Wednesdays and Thursdays – a great opportunity to stock up on provisions for a delicious picnic in the Calanques on the footpaths of Cap Canaille, Europe’s highest cliff, where you can admire the Mediterranean melting into the horizon.
The village of Van Gogh
The birthplace of Nostradamus, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is especially famed as the town where Vincent Van Gogh resided between 1889 and 1890. The artist was sick at the time and cared for at Saint Paul de Mausole monastery, where he created many drawings and around 150 paintings including one of his greatest masterpieces, “Starry Night”. The dazzling sunshine dappling the village’s paved streets, little squares and surrounding mountains of the Alpilles still stand witness to Saint-Rémy’s inspirational power.
If you would like to visit the sites painted by Van Gogh, book a guided tour with the Tourist Office.
Between art and history
Perched at an altitude of 245 metres above Arles, the village of Les Baux-de-Provence immediately charms with the intensity and splendour of its medieval past. A visit to the Château des Baux is a must of course. Enjoy a casual stroll through the village’s entirely pedestrian lanes and push open the door to its many craft studios to discover the gorgeously colourful local pottery and ceramic creations. Last but not least, treat yourself to an astonishing artistic experience at the Carrières de Lumières: this world-unique ancient quarry, now an exhibition centre, stages mesmerizing multimedia shows, with over 70 projectors lighting up the ancient limestone walls with works by the world’s greatest artists. Magical…
The art of ceramics
People here boast that the sun always shines here. And true enough, the sunshine of Provence lights up the terracotta rooftops of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie 300 days a year. Tucked at the foot of a cliff, the village, overflowing with typical Provencal charm, is reputed for its time-honoured earthenware traditions. Now back on trend and deliciously vintage, its beautiful ceramics adorn the village’s many studios. After visiting them, stop off at the Musée de la Faïence earthenware museum, for a fascinating insight into 5 centuries of know-how.
And the olive trees of Provence
Lurs, near Forcalquier, will definitely inspire gourmet visitors. The village, set on a ledge overlooking the Durance river, is set at the gateway to one of Provence’s largest olive groves, planted with no less than 10,000 trees producing “Huile d’Olive de Provence” AOC olive oil. If you’re passing through Lurs in March, you’ll be able to take part in the traditional Olivades – a delightful fair celebrating the village’s olive growing traditions, ending with tasting of the flavourful and refined local oils.
A concentrate of colour
As soon as spring comes around, Simiane-la-Rotonde resembles a canvas painted with an explosion of colour. With its lavender fields, olive groves and old stones bathed in sunlight, the village is a genuine concentrate of Provence’s envied lifestyle. Start your tour with La Rotonde, the last remains of the Château Fort des Agoult. The southern wing is now home to an aromatherapy laboratory, where you can learn about the uses and benefits of essential oils. A genuine ode to the senses.
An artists’ village
Many creative talents have been seduced by the charms of Gordes, with its stones houses set clinging to Vaucluse Plateau, paved streets and pretty terraces. Just after the end of WWII, Gordes became a favourite meeting place for artists. Marc Chagall, André Lhote, Jean Deyrolle and Victor Vasarely, to name but a few, have all set their bags down here to capture the village’s endless sources of inspiration.
The land of Camus
Encircled by vines and olive groves, the village of Lourmarin, in the Parc Naturel Régional de Luberon, is redolent with the spirit of Provence. Here, picturesque lanes dotted with fountains – including one dating back to the 16th century – wind their way around the church and up to the castle, where the work of young artists is exhibited every year. One of the 20th century’s greatest authors, Albert Camus, set up home in Lourmarin after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. He began writing “First Man” – an unfinished autobiographic work published after his death – on the terrace of his house with green shutters, set facing the Luberon.
In the kingdom of ochre
Perched on an ochre cliff, at the heart of Europe’s largest ochre deposit, Roussillon is a colourful village and definite must during your stay! Here, the houses are adorned with pretty pink and orange shades, offering striking contrasts with the blue skies. Fancy a fun walk with all the family or your partner? Simply head to the Sentier des Ocres footpath to delve into an astonishing decor of flamboyant peaks, some of which are dressed in deep red robes. If you want to see the colours at their best, visit the site just after a storm for an even more intense experience.
And its Troglodyte dwellings
Built at the foot of a tuff cliff – a soft, volcanic rock – affectionately nicknamed “The Rock” by locals, Cotignac literally overflows with charm. You’ll love strolling around its little boutiques and ceramics, cabinet making and jewellery studios. The village is also famed for its Troglodyte caves and dwellings, formed by the waterfall above and accessible during the summer months. An inspiring site, perfect for rest and relaxation.