Les Baux

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Les Baux

This is one of the most appealing and spectacular sites in Provence. It is terrifically atmospheric. In effect Les Baux is a ghost town. It consists of a ruined chateau at the end of a street of once abandoned houses, now mostly converted into artisanal shops. This was the seat of the medieval Lords of Baux who reached the height of their power in the C11. At that time they held 72 towns and domains in Provence and the Dauphiné. The town had a population of 6,000; it now hsa about 500 residents. Artistically Les Baux was one of the great centres of Troubadour culture. Gradually the wealth and strength of the Lords of Baux disssipated in the face of conflict with the kings of France, the rulers of Provence and the Papacy. In 1632 the town was destroyed by King Louis XIII.

There are two ways to reach Les Baux. One is absolutely spectacular through winding roads surrounded by extraordinary red rocks; the other is more ordinary. If the bus driver is willing, try to take the first route (a heavy bus may struggle). Bauxite, the source mineral for aluminium, was first discovered around here in 1821. It is still mined to an extent in this region. This is what is responsible for the red colour of the rocks. Many of these rocks are remnants of abandoned quarries.

When you reach the town there is no allocated bus parking so you have to park at the end of the street and then make your way uphill for about 10 minutes until you reach the old town. The Grande Rue itself is an excellent place for buying local provençal produce (lavender, herbs, santons, materials) at good prices and of good quality. There is a small entrance fee to the castle precinct and the 'Ville Morte' payable in the office on the right at the end of the Grande Rue. Once there the narrow street opens out on to a large and utterly empty space which once formed the citadel of Les Baux. You can see just a few indecipherable ruined buildings and a rebuilt catapult. Walk to the end of the escarpment to get an idea of the site and to enjoy a magnificent view on to the plains of the Camargue below you. You can have fun describing the debauched Lords of Baux hurling recalcitrant peasants headlong from the sheer 600 ft. high clifftop to their deaths.

Nearby at Fontvieille is the windmill that provided the setting for Alphonse Daudet's Lettres de mon Moulin.

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