When I was pregnant of Lior, I decided that our family really needed to find refuge from the crazy pace of urban lives. Lior was my third, I knew he would be our last, and all I wanted was to find a place where we could hit the pause button and ensure that we have family time before all those babies turn teenagers, get married, and forget about their parents! Fours years later, and after a very extensive (read: painful!) renovation (more on this in another post..), we have finally started enjoying our corner of peace in Provence, just outside the little village of Saint Remy de Provence. We take refuge here at every opportunity. St Remy – as locals call it – is famous for being très Provençal and for having attracted artists and intellectuals throughout the centuries: Van Gogh, Nostradamus and the Marquis de Sade among others.
This is our little black book. Take it as an evolving draft..
Friends often ask us why we chose St Remy. I am French but not from the South. Truth is, there are many reasons why you could fall in love with Provence. It is incredibly rich in culture, with arts and music festivals all around, especially in summertime. The sky is bright blue most of the year, thanks to the infamous wind called Mistral which blows from the North. The amount of outdoor activities is almost infinite (hiking, horseback riding, biking, rafting, gliding, lazying, eating..). The food is healthily delicious with a lot of local (and organic) produce to be found everywhere including in the colourful markets. And the little town of St Remy is at the heart of this region, and is lively all year long. It is located between the fascinating cities of Marseilles, Arles, Avignon, Isle sur la Sorgue, Nimes, Aix en Provence and many more…making it an ideal base to explore the region. And it’s very easy to access with the airports of Marseilles, Nimes and Avignon nearby, as well as the TGV (fast train) from Paris, and the direct Eurostar from London.
Enough talking…here are my favorite places:
If you’re staying for more than a few days and coming with friends & family, you’re better off renting a house. We’ve done our research and Mas des Verans is the best!! No we’re not biased!! (Ps: we’ve also listed our home here in case anyone’s up for a swap swap. Yes we’re still travellers at heart). I’ll probably write another post about the renovations of our house if anyone’s interested..
But if you prefer a hotel:
Sous les Figuiers is walking distance to town. Sweet, well priced and delicious breakfasts.
Mas des Figues is a welcoming agro-tourism / b&b outside town tested by our friends, with a big garden including 1,000 olive trees and more than 4,000 roses.
Mas de l’Amarine is a little bike ride away, a very special property with art all around, a beautiful pool and the best chef in town. If you’re not staying there, try to have dinner in the garden.
Le Chateau des Alpilles is the grande dame of St Remy. A small castle with an incredible park and centuries-old platane trees where you can also have dinner. Fancy but very special.
Le Hameau des Baux is a 15′ drive away in the village of Le Paradou, new and wonderful for families, tastefully decorated, beautiful pool and lots of different accommodations possible.
And if you’re a musician with some recording needs .. or would just like to stay in a property surrounded by one of the biggest classical music collection in the world, check out La Fabrique.
FOR THE TASTEBUDS:
EAT & GO OUT in St Remy
L’Aile ou la Cuisse: For an easy and tasty meal inside town, save room for desserts. 5, Rue de la Commune +33 (0) 4 32 62 00 25
Mas de l’Amarine: see above. French cuisine with a modern and very local twist. Pricey but not fancy. Very special.
Maison Drouot on the outskirts of St Remy. Great value for very good food, décor a bit uninspiring. Set menu. 150 Route de Maillane (+33 4 90 15 47 42)
Cafe de la Place: Good Salads & terrace near the merry-go-round. 17 place de la Republique, (+33 4 90 92 02 13)
Gus for seafood and a pretty little terrace on the sidewalk. 31 Boulevard Victor Hugo, +33 (0) 4 90 90 27 61
I Fratelli for simple Italian food (pizza!) and a rooftop terrace. (+33 4 90 20 82 76), near the merry go round
La Roma: I Scream for Ice Cream! right across the merry-go-round.. Easy.
Le Divin The place to be for a mojito and to hang out with the locals. 12 Boulevard Gambetta
Hotel de Tourrel is a beautiful and stylish new hotel with a wine bar, near the church. The German owner is very knowledgeable about local wines. It’s rather for grown ups.
And a tiny bit further away (15’ drive):
Le Bistro du Paradou is an institution, in the nearby village of Le Paradou. You will find as many locals as American tourists. Have a designated driver, the road is tricky! And make sure to specify dietary restrictions as it’s a set (and different menu) every day. Tel +33 04 90 54 32 70.
And Pizza Brun in the pretty village of Maussane-Les-Alpilles where locals and celebrities queue for one of the best pizzas in the Alpilles mountains.
EAT AT HOME:
The produces are so good in Provence that you’ll often eat as well if not better at home with a few simple ingredients. So if you decide to rent a home, here is where we go food shopping. Keep in mind that the weekly market in St Remy is on Wednesday morning and it gets very crowded (830am til 1pm).
Cheesemonger Chez Monique Perhaps the best cheeses you will ever eat and you’ll soon forgive Monique for not being the most friendly shop owner.. 1 Place Joseph Hilaire (04 90 92 32 45)
Patisserie Michel Marshall: Exquisite, no words. 2 Chemin St Joseph, (across from Chez Monique, 04 90 95 03 54)
Wine Merchant: Caves & Domaines Mr Esperza is very knowledgeable and has a great selection. Domaine Hauvette is a favorite and you can’t visit the winery so buy it there! 1 Avenue 19 Mars 1962 (+33 9 65 39 77 87,)
Joel Durand: The M.C. of chocolate. You’ll recognize the fudge machine in his window 3 Boulevard Victor Hugo (a bit after the ice cream parlour on the circling boulevard)
Le Petit Duc: All their treats & biscuits are delicious. Must try Les calissons, the specialty of the region 7 Boulevard Victor Hugo, next door to Joel Durand.
Confiserie Lilamand: This is an institution for sweets, especially their ‘pates de fruits’. 5 Avenue Albert Schweizer, St Remy (you’ll find the shop when you exit the Boulevard Victor Hugo towards Avignon)
Les Patisseries d’Olivier: An unexpected gem in the ZAC de la Gare (not far from supermarket Intermarche). Olivier is famous for his tartes sablees. The one with red fruits is legendary, so are his meringues. (+33 6 24 87 72 86, [email protected])
Le Moulin du Calanquet: a wonderful olive oil mill to visit with the children (on the little road Vieux Chemin d’Arles to St Etienne du Gres). They also have a shop in St Remy.
Bakery Maison Bergese: get the baguette des Alpilles and let the children try the traditional Sacristains for snack time, sweeeet but excellent. Right by the church. Ps: There’s another good bakery by the cheesemonger, with gluten-free breads.
Fishmonger La Poissonerie Saint Remoise: Excellent fresh fish, only open until lunchtime. 22 rue Carnot (04 90 92 04 67). Alternatively, the fish section of Intermarche is also very good.
Butcher: We get our meat at the butcher section of Alpilles Bio (the excellent organic supermarket) but Spar inside the village sells a very good T-Bone steak (cote de boeuf).
Green Grocers: There are two excellent grocers in St Remy (closed on market days)
Le Potager de Manon: right across the church & Le Jardin Paysan on the 2nd roundabout from Intermarche, it has its own parking. They also have a good dairy and cheese selection, and some bread. Open Sundays until 1pm
The Dumont Farm: this is our local organic farm, on Vieux Chemin d’Arles. A lovely couple selling seasonal produce. Ask for the courgettes flowers in season, stuff and bake them easy peasy with goat cheese mixed with garlic and parsley. delicious.
SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP in ST REMY
La Boutique de Jeanne: We never go to St Remy without paying a visit to Jeanne’s bohemian-chic emporium. A bit unexpected and away from the village, it’s across the street from the excellent supermarket Alpilles-Bio (you’ll see the caravan in front) ZAC de la Gare, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
La Boutique des Jardins: Another unexpected space with treasures from all over India where the owner spends the winter months. Route d’Avignon, St Remy (take the first roundabout after Intermarche, then direction Avignon and it’s shortly after on your left)
Le Bazar Saint-Remois and the kid shop down the road from the same owner. Great for original gifts. 1 Rue de la Commune, Saint-Rémy
Libellule: Gorgeous home wares and lots of pretty gift ideas. 10 Rue Jaume Roux
Maison Marguerite b. : A tasteful selection of simple chic pieces near Place Favier, the prettiest square in town.
Le Comptoir des Alpilles: Well priced contemporary linens, on the town hall square
YOU WON’T GET BORED in St REMY
Learning about flowers and medicinal plants in the wonderful Sentiers de l’Abondance near Eygalieres. The owner Marie speaks fluent English and gives tours of her very provençal property every Wednesday or by appointment. It’s a nice visit to do as a family, the children can run around, learn lots, and everyone finishes in Marie’s home tasting the delicious syrups and natural candies that she makes.
Rock climbing: there are a few climbing walls in the Alpilles in addition to the natural landscape. Organize a half day outing with registered instructor Swan del Corso (+33 6 28 06 13 22 [email protected] ) from Roc’Alpilles. Suitable for children 8+, with some spectacular descents!
Biking: rent Mountain Bikes from Velo Passion (+33490924943)
Hiking with an experienced instructor, reserve at the Tourism Office
Gliding: from the very small airport of St Remy at the foot of Les Alpilles
Horseback riding: Poney Club Le Rouget over in Maussane is a sweet place for younger ones (Sabine: +33 6 14 80 46 09) or Ecuries des Dalennes where they take horseback riding very seriously. Ask for Marianne (+33 6 11 36 69 02)
Sculpture class: Bob runs children’s workshops on Wed. & Sat. He speaks English and is a funny character (+33 6 75 08 13 58)
Tennis Club St Remy: weekly courses during school holidays, starting 4 yo (Gregory: +33 6 10 56 48 56)
Winery visits & Tastings:
There are so many in the area…Domaine Dalmeran and Domaine Trevallon (by appointment) on the small road towards St Etienne du Gres. Domaine Milan makes organic wine, near Mas de l’Amarine, Chateau Romanin is the most famous and has tours. Then, you have lots more AOC wineries over in Les Baux, including the famous Mas de La Dame. And if you drive further to Aix en Provence or Chateauneuf du Papes, you’ll open a whole other chapter of wines…
You could ask Jean-Simon from La Tournee du Libraire to give you a tour of the organic wineries in his charming old 404 Peugeot. He speaks English with a french accent.
The Tourism Office of St Remy organizes tours in English on various topics including one about Van Gogh on Saturday mornings. Find it here or pay them a visit in town, they offer tons of advice. They also sell a pass that includes all the important monuments and museums in town for a reduced price.
Musee Estrine: Excellent small art museum in the heart of the village. 8 rue Lucien Estrine
Musee des Alpilles: Interesting museum about the cultural and natural landscape of the area
Archeological site of Glanum (with a festival early July), Route des Baux de Provence, St Rémy
The Cloister of Saint Paul Mausole: Avenue Dr Edgar Leroy, St Rémy 04 90 92 77 00
Carrieres de Lumieres: Great with children, an art show of light and sound around different themes of art (this year t’s Chagall) in an unusual space near the castle of Les Baux.
Pretty villages nearby: Les Baux de Provence (stunning medieval castle, go at sunset to avoid the crowds), Eygalieres (weekly market is Friday am), Maussane-les-Alpilles, Mouries and so many more!
GOOD TO KNOW .. LINKS TO KEEP:
English-speaking driver: Christophe Lano has a van for up to 8, and can drive you anywhere, including putting together a tour of wineries. He’s also a pilot and can take you on a flight above the Alpilles!
This is another post that I published a while back on St Remy
Vicky Archer’s Provence through the eyes of an Australian in St Remy is always very inspiring.
These reviews about restaurants in Provence are an entertaining read.
You could also ask private chef Yvan Gilardi ([email protected]) to come cook in your home. He does magic in even the tiniest kitchens. Or Laure Balducci can take you around on the markets and show you how to cook Provencal dishes.
Julie Mautner’s blog has an incredible wealth of information.
The Italians have Tuscany. And we have Provence.