Ah, Les Baux. I fell in love with this charming spot the first time I laid eyes on it. How could I not? It’s the quintessential village perché, or a perched village, though Les Baux takes the usual perching tactics ever so much further. In fact, Les Baux was, according to Marvelous Provence, “Les Baux de Provence was, and still is, more like a mighty, fearsome stronghold than a pretty village perché.”
The layers of history in this tiny town are many. Even its name has multiple sources and meanings; it came from the Provençal word “bau”, which means a rocky escarpment, but then there’s the Baux family, who were prominent in its middle history. I say middle history because this natural plateau has actually been inhabited since ancient times, and those people used its relative safety for their daily lives and its narrow crevices to bury their dead. There isn’t much archaeological evidence, but what there is indicates a thriving farming community. Later they became skilled in mining and quarrying, and trade continued for centuries even through the Roman era.
It was during the middle ages that the Baux family built the first fortified city, in the 10th century. In the 13th century they built the chateau (and dungeon!) whose ruins can still be seen today; the old chateau is now a fascinating museum complete with old instruments of war, which apparently they still fire up (for demonstration purposes only. No actual sieges are currently happening). In the 14th century their lineage came to an end, but their influence was strong and their power evident even now.
The village once again prospered under Anne de Montmorency in the Renaissance ages, and many beautiful Renaissance mansions were built during this era. However, King Louis XIII was having none of this autonomy, and sent troops to put an end to it. And this was the beginning of the village’s slow decline, which continued for centuries.
In 1821, a French geologist discovered the presence of mineral containing aluminum, which he dubbed “Bauxite,” in the surrounding rocks. Limestone quarrying took off here as well, and unfortunately some of Les Baux’s old building were salvaged for the stone as well.
But over one hundred years later, after the second world war, artists came to the rescue of this beautiful, history drenched spot. Louis Jou, a Catalan painter, engraver, and typographer, set up a printing press here and then he brought his friends: Pablo Casals, Yves Brayer (there is a museum of his work here in Les Baux), and André Suares, just to name a few. Les Baux began its rebirth as a cultural and artistic destination, and this was furthered when in the 1950s it became a foodie destination as well when the Michelin-starred restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière was opened. The restaurant’s tradition of excellence continues to this day, but now also encompasses a spa and hotel as well. Alas, don’t think you’ll be dining here during our time in France in September- the restaurant is booked out until about December- but I do hope to get to circle back to this treat some day! Spa, hotel, and three Michelin stars? In Les Baux? Sounds like heaven to me.
Present day Les Baux is truly a sensory feast, to say the least. Shops filled with Provençal treasures abound here, and the scent of lavender and perfumes fills the air, while brightly colored faïence spills from the open doors of pottery sellers. You can drift in and out of the many ancient buildings and churches and then stop for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee at a cafe, where you’re likely to have a view of the surrounding Val d’enfer, which is said to have inspired Dante’s vision of hell though I rather disagree with him. Click here for a map of the town and the delights that await you- I hope that you come to love it as much as I do.
For even more about this extraordinary village, read what I wrote about it here, back in 2019, when I had just visited and my love for it had just recently been rekindled. I think I’m due for another visit, n’est-ce pas? And now for some photos of Les Baux, which was chosen as one of the most beautiful villages in France in 1998.
I couldn’t agree more.