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Les Alpilles So it is with Les Alpilles, a limestone extension of the Luberon range whose ragged white peaks from afar boast the outlines of a great mountain chain though few rise above 400 metres…arid limestone crenulations set against a brilliant blue sky. Olive and almond trees spread across the lower, south-facing slopes, pinned in place by the occasional line of dark, slender cypress. Higher up, slopes are planted with kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) and pine, but just as likely the rocky landscape is dotted with ragged bushes covered by maquis, a poor pastureland suitable only for sheep. The Alpilles are roughly divided in two, between the Alpilles des Baux in the west and the Alpilles d’Eygalières in the east, with the town of St-Rémy de Provence in the middle. St-Rémy, birthplace of scientist and astrologist Nostradamus (rue Hoche), very much epitomises Provence with its boulevards and squares shaded by plane trees, its tangled labyrinth of narrow streets and festive atmosphere especially so on market day (Wednesday) and when they hold the bull running festivals. Couple Walking among Olive Trees in a Mountainous Landscape with Crescent Moon May 1890, Van Gogh Princess Caroline of Monaco and her children lived in St-Rémy following the death of her husband, Stefano Casiraghi, which could be interpreted as this being a place imbued with healing powers. Maybe it is; Vincent van Gogh was treated here in the psychiatric centre a few minutes south of St-Rémy, at Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole after he relieved himself of one of his ears, and it was here that he painted The Starry Night, one of his best loved works. Personally, I just find it very unwinding, which takes me back to my original point about this being a great counter-balance to a stress-filled life, should you need one.
South of St-Rémy lie the magnificent ruins of Glanum and Les Antiques, the latter a cenotaph rather than a sepulchre, as originally thought, and standing next to a fine triumphal arch, giving access to the city of Glanum, built over 2,000 years ago, and still a worthwhile and well-interpreted diversion…look for the fossilised shells in the limestone pavements.
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