Saint-Remy is one of Provence’s most charming towns. A 24-hour trip will see you sniffing out truffles at the market, deep-diving into Van Gogh’s most dazzling works and sipping rosé under the stars.
Nestled in the foothills of the Alpilles, halfway between Arles and Avignon, sits Saint-Remy. Formerly the ancient settlement of Glanum, once a wealthy Roman city that was destroyed by the Alamanni in 260 AD, its surviving population went on to establish a town, now known as Saint-Remy-de-Provence or Saint-Remy. There’s still evidence of these ancient roots on the outskirts, but far more prominent is the medieval stamp on the city, which takes the form of the village-like historic heart, Vielle Ville.
Like most of Provence, Saint-Remy has undergone a gentrification process but it’s managed to retain its laid-back Provençal charm; you’ll find chic boutiques, upmarket restaurants and luxury food stores peppered alongside its cheerful yellow buildings, shaded squares and ivy-clad walls. This, combined with an enviable location right in the heart of France’s most celebrated region, makes it the perfect place to stop for at least 24 hours.
Things to Do
The historic heart of Saint-Remy is neatly wrapped up inside the commercial boulevard, a ring-road lined with lively cafes, shops and boutiques. You can walk its circumference in less than 30 minutes and walk from one side to the other in under ten, but it’s worth taking the time to leisurely explore its nooks and crannies.
Start your day in the heart of Vielle Ville – the Old Town – a charming tangle of medieval streets, shaded squares and honey-hued stone buildings. For an introduction to the region, you could pop into the Musee des Alpilles (1 Place Favier), which boasts an extensive archaeological, graphic and photographic art collection. Even if you’re not interested in history, it’s worth taking a look; the museum is located in the Renaissance Hotel Mistral de Mondragon, a private town mansion with remarkable architectural details and a sunlit courtyard.
Saint-Remy is synonymous with Van Gogh, who created some of his most dazzling works as a voluntary patient at Saint-Paul de Mausol (2 VC des Carrières), a small psychiatric asylum on the outskirts of the city. This is the landscape that inspired over 150 of his works, including ‘The Starry Night’ and ‘The Almond Branch in Bloom’. The former monastery is still a psychiatric hospital, but visitors are free to wander around its walled gardens, church and cloisters, and reconstructions of the artist’s original rooms.
Beyond art, there are ancient ruins to explore too, albeit not on the same scale as Arles and Avignon. Les Antiques (Rte des Baux-de-Provence) features two of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Provence. The monuments once marked the entrance to the ancient city of Glanum, a prosperous city founded in the second century BC. Further on is the ancient settlement, the Site Archéologique de Glanum (Rte des Baux-de-Provence), which features impressive remnants of the old Roman town, complete with temples, a basilica, spas and shops.
Where to Shop
Take your credit card out for a spin at some of Saint-Remy’s brightest shopping gems, most of which are tucked away in quieter alleyways and courtyards. Some of the best include Ebene (38 Boulevard Victor Hugo) for Provencal-inspired home decor, Les Comptoirs des Alpilles (2 Place Jules Pelissier) for cool and contemporary linens and Le Grand Magasin (20 rue de la Commune) for vintage eyewear. If you’re not restricted to a suitcase and are in the market for art nouveau fireplaces or Camargue chairs, hotfoot to Broc de Saint Ouen (Route d’Avignon), an impressive 6,000-square-metre space selling architectural salvage, antique furniture and vintage furnishings.
Saint-Remy’s weekly Wednesday and Saturday market (6 Av. de la Résistance) is one of the best in the region, boasting dozens of stalls under the shade of the cypress trees in the main square. You’ll find everything from Savon du Marseille soaps and linen tablecloths to locally-produced olive oil, wine and lavender, often accompanied by the sounds of a musical ensemble or three-piece jazz band.
Where to Eat
Like the rest of Provence, meals in Saint-Remy are best enjoyed slow and savoured, preferably accompanied by a frosty carafe of AOC Baux de Provence wine. The diet here hinges around fresh fish, fruit, veg and olive oil, with menu stalwarts like ratatouille and fatty Sisteron lamb. Saint-Remy is brimming with terrace cafes, bars, brasseries and refined restaurants; a brilliant showcase for Provencal gastronomy.
La Cafe de la Place (17 Pl. de la République), a no-frills bistro with a large sunlit terrace, is a good place to start. Locally sourced ingredients take centre stage on the regularly changing menu here; the Alpilles snails and tapenade are big crowd-pleasers. For something a little more refined, you could try Auberge la Raine Jeanne (12 Bd Mirabeau). Don’t be fooled by the exposed stone walls and wooden beams, the Michelin-starred kitchen run by Fanny Rey and renowned pastry chef Jonathan Wahid is about as creative as they come.
Make the most of the city’s much-loved and well-stocked markets too. Do as the locals do and head to the weekly Wednesday market (6 Av. de la Résistance) early. Rows and rows of tables are piled high with bulbous garlic, huge sticky figs, the finest French cheeses and a staggering variety of saucisson. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, nip around the corner to Joël Durand Maitre Chocolatier (3 Bd Victor Hugo), Saint–Remy’s resident master chocolatier. His ‘Alphabet of Flavours’ is particularly popular; slabs of chocolate stamped with different letters to distinguish each flavour, inspired by local herbs and scents.
Where to Stay
For a budget bolthole that doesn’t compromise on location, Sommeil des Fees (4 Rue du Huit Mai 1945) is hard to beat. Conveniently situated between the town hall and the church in the old town, the hotel offers five simple and stylish ensuite rooms, each with air-conditioning and a flat-screen TV. A self-service breakfast of fresh bread, jams and cereals is included in the price and you can also opt for an excellent dinner menu at its courtyard restaurant.
The surrounding vine-covered hills are sprinkled with dozens of charming terracotta and cheerful yellow gites – traditional cottages and converted barns. Le Mas de l’Amerine (517 Ancienne Voie Aurelia) is an excellent example and perfect for those looking for a little luxury that won’t break the bank. Rooms are bright and tastefully decorated, and guests also enjoy access to the outdoor pool, covered terrace and lounge area.
Without a doubt, the most elegant hotel in Saint-Remy, the Chateau des Alpilles is set in a former gentleman’s residence, which was lovingly restored and thoughtfully reimagined as a hotel in 1979. The five-star hotel sits in 17 acres of manicured gardens and parkland, with an outdoor heated pool. Inside, the brightly lit suites and rooms feature king- or queen-sized beds and luxurious bathrooms with spacious tubs or rainfall showers. If you’re having a lazy day, there are two onsite gourmet restaurants to choose from too.