Our destination was La Camargue. Instead of a direct route, we went the leisurely way—planning to make a stop at Les Baux and not in any hurry. We took a scenic drive (green on the Michelin Atlas Routier, France 2012—which we had to re-purchase at the first rest stop on the “péage” from Nice to Lagnes since we forgot to pack our earlier version) through the Parc Naturel Regional des Alpilles and on toward Les Baux. The drive took us up and over small mountains covered with pines and rocks much like the drive from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe over Route 88 by Caples Lake. The road was not heavily traveled and we encountered few other cars. An impressive fortification, ruins of Tour les Opies, were perched high on a rock halfway to our destination. We spotted an impressive raptor—some kind of hawk—scouring the land for lunch. On the other side of the mountains, we passed vineyard after vineyard and olive orchard after olive orchard until we reached Les Baux.
Les Baux is located high on a rocky plateau overlooking the Val D’Enfer (infernal valley) with its rocky walls and foreboding drops. The powerful feudal founders of Les Baux claimed to have descended from one of the Three Magi--Balthusar; and a museum of “santons” (“little saints,” dolls five to 12 inches high that were first made after the Revolution when the churches were closed) depicting French life long ago and the three Magi.
In the Middle Ages, Les Baux was considered the place to see troubadours singing of their longing for wealthy and powerful women. It was considered at the time the most famous Provençal Cour d’Amour (course of love). It was destroyed in 1632 because of its allegiance to protestanism. In the 19th century, bauxite was discovered and mined here—named for Les Baux.
After coffee, we meandered around the town taking photos, buying things, visiting an exhibit of photographs of Princess Grace of Monaco that was shown both outside on the occasional walls of the town and inside the building which housed Le Mairie (the town hall). Her son, Prince Albert, was made the Marquis of Les Baux, so they had an affiliation with this medieval town that still endures. There were photos from his birth, the proclamation of his “marquis-dom,” and a letter of thanks to the people of Les Baux for their heartfelt expression of sorrow over the death of Princess Grace.
We skipped the trebuchet and other instruments of war that are on the plateau at the top of the town and which were allegedly used by the brutal feudal lords of Les Baux. Instead we found sustenance at a restaurant overlooking the valley—La Pitchoune. Wonderful repast of mushroom soup (velouté des champignons) and salmon for Cindy, salmon for Phil and my first “steak frites” of the trip, which was good and which won’t be repeated often. The meal was joined with wine from Gigondas.
We moved on toward La Camargue, stopping at the same Roman aqueduct—Meunerie Romaine—we had visited with my brother and family. This time we walked to the end of the aqueduct where it would have emptied onto a sluice that was used to grind grain and which further fell into the fields below. The valley opened up onto an enormous cultivated field and “ferme” (farm). The view was stunning, and the aqueduct itself was just as impressive as it had been the last time it was visited.
We started at Ste.-Marie-de-la-Mer where it is alleged that in AD 18, Mary Magdelene landed along with the Virgin Mary’s sister, Mary Jacobea; and Mary Salome, mother of the apostles James and John. Each year their statues are marched to sea to be blessed. Gypsies come in May from all over the world to celebrate their patron saint, Sara, who was the three women’s servant. During that festival there are bullfights (no bulls are killed in France) and great celebrations. We drove a long distance down at the side of the sea dotted with motor homes, sunning vacationers, the occasional car of gypsies, and many other walkers and bicyclists. We went as far as we felt comfortable going, left the car among several others and across from motor home residents sitting outside and then we walked up to the levee and along the estuary. We encountered more cyclists and walkers along with riders on horseback—white horses of La Camargue, of course, and flamingos munching from the bottom of the ponds.
We courageously left the levee in the direction of the marsh on the way back to our car in the path of the horses. We risked deep mud and impassable water but emerged back to the levee with only a little extra mud around the soles of our shoes.
We drove to Aigues Mortes (dead waters), a city encircled by 30-foot high walls built in the 14th century in the shape of a rectangle and made famous by King Louis IX who was sainted as a result of the Seventh Crusade. Surrounding the walls were cars, vans, motor homes, carnival rides, and much activity. We chose not to make a visit after all as it was much too busy for any peaceful meandering. We moved on to see the Tour Carbonniare in the center of the road on the original way out of the marshes.
We drove away from La Camargue, passing "les guardiens’" houses sporting their thatched roofs, stables of white horses, and rice paddies.
On our way back, we stopped at a Géant in a shopping center, the likes of which we’ve not yet seen—much like a mall we might find at home, including a Galeries Lafayette and many other specialty shops.
Nonetheless, we picked up a few additional necessities and found our way back to Lagnes—tired but satisfied.