Provencal village of Les Baux-de-Provence…
Its the heart of the rustic Luberon valley of French Provence, 15 km from Arles and 25 km from Avignon. Purple lavender, green herbs and black truffle color the landscape. One of the million scenic roads leads to a rocky outcrop under a shocking blue sky. Where the postcard-pretty village of Les Baux-de-Provence is perched on a hilltop, elegantly dressed in shades of classic cream. Forget the etymology (its named the bauxite found there). This is one of ‘the most beautiful’ of 160 Provencal villages listed by the Plus Beaux Villages de France Association. See and believe!
A generous shot of digital art
For a preamble of a very different kind, indulge your eyes in a majestic spectacle below the village. Take a walk through living pictures and music in the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Lights). Spine chills guaranteed! Even if you know what to expect in the 35-minute digital art show that graces the interiors of the limestone quarry caves in the magical Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell).
Its pitch dark inside, but no possibility of stumbling. Because you’re surrounded by dozens of parallel slideshows of bright, colourful artworks slipping and sliding onto the surface of the wall caves, ceiling and floor. You’re walking through the images, inside 7,000 square meters of gigantic walls of white limestone rising to a height of 14 metres. Cutting edge technology of 100 video projectors and a 3D audio system create a brilliant kaleidoscope of colours and dazzling images, overflowing one after the other. Its a treat for the eyes, ears and mind…unlike any art museum in the world.
Stony beauty on a hilltop
Real sensory extravaganza awaits in the fortified pedestrian village of Les Baux-de-Provence, home to 400 locals. As you stop to gasp at the spectacular views of the stony Alpilles mountain valley, consider these facts. 22 listed monuments crammed into just 18 square kilometres. Time to get selective.
Carved out of one giant rock…is the thought that comes to mind, as you step onto the crooked, steep cobbled streets, which almost seem to blend into the walls of the rugged houses lining either side. A folded sun umbrella of a terrace cafe matching the cream of its stone facade. Bright red shuttered windows and a casually displayed advertisement of ‘Bonbons’ enhancing a nearby store’s appeal. A classic Renaissance mansion doorway bearing the inscription “Post Tenebras Lux 1571” (After the Darkness, Light). An intriguing courtyard adorned with flower urns and a solemn statue in stone. Faded amber tiled-roofs breaking the monotony of the scene. Inhale the serenity, feel the grace.
Stop at the craft shops to pick up local Provençal products like tapenade, extra virgin olive oil, special biscuits and hand-painted clay products. Explore the alleys running off the main thoroughfare, enjoy a coffee under the blue sky, or indulge your inner art-lover at the exclusive galleries. Admire the carefully restored ancient houses and imagine life centuries ago, when when the population used to be 4000.
For a dose of history, make way to the Citadelle des Baux, the ruined castle on the upper part of town. Relive the medieval era with catapult games, archery lessons, crossbow shooting, sword fights and pony rides. Or just float into fantasy with unforgettable views of vineyards, olive groves and pointy mountains.
Find one of the oldest buildings in Les Baux…the 10th-century Romanesque church of St Vincent. A unique wrought-iron cross marks the entrance. The stained glass windows in the nave bear uncanny resemblance to digital art. To the south of the church stands a circular turret, topped with a dome decorated with gargoyles. In the olden times, a fire was lit in the turret whenever a local died…closely-knit community.
Wasted village to tourist hotspot
A solitary iron bell makes strong statement on a partially destroyed wall. The town-hall, various Renaissance town-houses and chapels stand as silent reminders of the 12th-century regional powerhouse, which was razed to the ground in 1632 by a paranoid Louis XIII. Today, what is left behind is a reconstructed ‘live city’ carved into, out of and on top of a 600-foot-high rock. Who knew that hundreds of years later, this wasted village would attract 1.5 million tourists a year!
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