Desolatation of Dante
I was interested in Les Baux because bauxite, the ore from which aluminum was extracted was discovered here in 1822 by the geologist Pierre Berthier (who named it for the city). Charles Martin Hall invented a process to extract aluminum from bauxite at Oberlin in Ohio in 1886. That's where I went to school and we had an aluminum statue of Charles Martin Hall in the vestibule of our Chemistry building.
Unfortunately for France, the ore has been completely worked out; France now imports most of its bauxite from west Africa although they might still have been mining it when we were there in 1964 I was told that Dante wrote his description of Hell based on the twists and turns of the rocks in the landscape of Les Baux. Other artists and writers have also viewed the fantastic landscape and subsequently written or painted works where this landscape has figured. They include
the Saracen Tower
I'm not sure why it is called the Saracen Tower, visible in the upper left of the photograph. Yoou can also see some signs of the foundations in the foreground, and the village of les Baux in the background.
Charming Les Baux-de-Provence
We stayed in nearby Avignon (see separate pages) and enjoyed the history of that amazing part of France. We wanted to do a trip to the "Le Pont du Gard," the Roman aqueduct still standing some 2,000 years after construction and found a bus tour company that included a trip to the aqueduct and the town of Les Baux-de-Provence. Until then we hadn't heard of the town, but decided to "go along for the ride" and discover another fascinating part of Provence, however we were promised a visit to one of the most photographed towns in France
Our tour bus seated 40 or so passengers, but somehow we lucked in on a quiet day when there was only 11 tourists - including a couple from our home state of Victoria, Australia.
The coach travelled across a plain and then the hillside fortified town of Les Baux came into view and then we understood the strategic importance of the siting of town - a commanding place overlooking the valley and therefore easy to defend from the hoards.
The coach crawled up the steep incline until we reached the car park, where we all got off and walked a hundred metres or so through a car park to the towns imposing entrance. Someone quipped, "I thought this was a bus tour, so how come we are walking." What commanded our attention at first was not the town, but rather a historic Bugatti Roadster . An English member of our small tour party said, "Forget the town, THAT is more important." Obviously he was in car buff heaven at the sight of such a rare beast of the open road.
We entered the town and immediately my wife Sandra wanted to hit the shops - me I'm more interested in historic buildings and streetscapes. We agreed to split up for the time allowed in Les Baux. Obviously the shops were going to benefit from her visit, while I set about exploring the town.
Many of the towns and cities we visited in Provence, the gift shops all had a local speciality - movement detecting cicadas and I just had to buy one (see tip attached to my Avignon page), so maybe the shops benefited from both our visits. I had almost run out of cigarettes and went into a shop to ask where I could purchase more to feed the bad habit. The woman shopkeeper explained that the sale of tobacco in the town is forbidden, however shortly afterwards I was walking along a narrow street and spotted a crepiery which also sold cold drinks. I stood and waited behind another customer and shortly afterwards the young woman from the shop passed a packet of cigarettes to the other customer. Somehow I had lucked in on finding the black market for cigarettes in the forbidden-to-sell-smokes town. The young woman was more than happy to sell me a can of cold drink AND a packet of the you-know-whats.
While I drank the can and lit up a smoke, I sat on a low wall and watched the passing parade of tourists. I happened to notice an odd menu item on the list of crepes available - "Fanny Crepe" - and burst out laughing. I am well-aware of the colloquialism in US English - a "fanny" is the rear quarters, however "fanny" is slang in Australia for female genitalia and I just could not resist taking a photo. I invited the young woman to pose, but sadly she declined - maybe it was the forbidden fruit contained within a flip top box that caused her shyness from the camera.
I later discussed my crepe findings with an English couple who confirmed that the term fanny has identical meaning to Australians. The young French woman tour guide was still pondering the English language as we left.
After that brief escapade into the dark underworld of forbidden cigarettes and mysterious crepes, back to the wanderings of the little town. Photo opportunities at every turn and then I got to the entrance to the old castle where, if I'd had time, I could have watched in awe as a re-creation of medieval war machines were put through their paces. Instead I had to retrace my steps back to the town entrance as it was almost time for our bus to depart.
Not being content with my earlier cigarette experience, I stopped at a stall selling hand made soap. Any passing woman was offered a wash using their soap, however an Australian wearing an Aussie bush hat seemed beneath the clean experience. Instead I got into an argument with a miniature white French poodle, who should have picked on someone smelling a bit better rather than this Pepe la Phew.
A last look at the town, a few more photo opportunities and time to head back to the bus to see what other adventures we could muster up for the day.
I would recommend a visit to spectacular Les Baux-de-Provence and there are 2 web sites worth visiting:
See also my photo page on Les Baux-de-Provence.
Very Touristy, but Beautiful
This amazing town was literally carved out of a massive rock mountain. Go early in the morning to tour the medieval hamlet -- before the heat and the tour buses - and be rewarded with a hike up narrow passageways filled with tiny shops (all touristy -- don't spend real money here!) and restaurants. The town has a fascinating and bloody history, which visitors will want to read first, before making it to the top of the mountain, where the ruins of the old castle can be found, along with yet another stunning view of all Provence! There are audio sets for visitors that explain much of the background of the ruins, which are now being meticulously restored for the public.
Welcome to Les Baux de Provence
"A ruined, deserted citadel"
Les Baux was the site of a citadel of powerful mideval feudal lords, who commanded over the valley below. The citadel was destroyed in 1632 by the French king, as it had become a Protestant enclave. What remains now are the ruined citadel, a cute village below, and family entertainment by way of reproduced mideval weapons of war, and re-enactments.
Bauxite (named after les Baux) was discovered near here.
"Our adventure, there and back"
We were staying in Arles during our 2003 vacation in France, and caught the local/regional bus to les Baux. Our bus to les Baux was 45 minutes late in arriving in Arles, and our fellow bus-mates turned out to be a couple from Quebec City also on their way to the citadel. Being nervous about the bussing situation, they proposed and we agreed to meet again for the return bus trip at 5pm; in the event that the bus didn't show, we could all share a taxi back to Arles. After touring the citadel, we did meet up with the couple, and the bus did not arrive, so we did in fact share the taxi, driven by an old woman who drove us at excessively high speeds back to the Arles bus depot. It's great when fellow travelers can pull together like that!