Friday, March 23, 2012

Les Baux-de-Provence, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

One of the reasons my parents took a guided tour of Provence rather than undertake their own independent trip to Provence is that they wanted to leave all arrangements to someone else.

They wanted to see the highlights of Provence without pouring over guidebooks and without having to research hotels and transport and such. Ten relaxing days in a new place is what they were looking for, with all responsibilities in someone else’s hands.

The downside of such trips is that things must be endured that may not be of interest to all travelers.

My parents had to suffer through another unrewarding activity today—and they knew, signing up for the tour, that certain items on the itinerary did not sound appealing. That is the price they paid for participating in an organized excursion.

Late this morning, the tour group was transported to an olive estate, and given an exhaustive tour of the estate’s olive groves and the on-site olive-oil production facilities. For my parents, it was the low point of the tour thus far, even more boring than yesterday’s visit to The Lavender Museum. After today’s visit to the olive estate, my father said, “Today was my first high school field trip since 1964, when Pella High School sent its seniors to Des Moines to visit the State Capitol and meet the Governor. Des Moines was more fun.”

At least my parents found today’s first and last stops to be worthwhile.

The day began with a trip through scenic backcountry roads to the hilltop town of Les Baux-de-Provence, situated in the Alpilles Mountains. Les Baux-de-Provence is a much more rustic (and much smaller) version of the hilltop town of Gordes, which the tour group had visited the previous afternoon.

There is a ruined castle at the top of the small mountain on which the town of Les Baux-de-Provence is built. Otherwise, Les Baux-de-Provence is nothing more than a few dozen small buildings built on a series of rock outcroppings. The population of the town is fewer than 500 persons. The town exists to attract tourism—and 1.5 million tourists, overwhelmingly French, visit Les Baux-de-Provence each year.

The tour group spent only ninety minutes in Les Baux-de-Provence. That was more than ample time to walk the entire town.

The day ended with an afternoon visit to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Tour participants were first given a guided tour of the town’s famous Roman ruins, after which they were allowed ninety minutes to explore the town itself.

My parents said that the Roman ruins at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence were magnificent. They are supposed to be among the best-preserved Roman ruins anywhere.

The ruins, at the edge of the current town, were not discovered until 1921. Countless acres have already been uncovered, but archeologists believe they have discovered only a small fraction of the riches to be unearthed over the next century or two.

The ruins at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence are in excellent condition because the German invaders that captured the town in 260 A.D. never destroyed it. The Germans drove out the Roman population of the Roman town known as Glanum, and then moved on to other conquests, never bothering to vandalize the town.

Many of the Glanum ruins from The Roman Period are remarkable, such as a street of residences uncovered in recent years, damaged only by weather and the ravages of time.

My parents greatly enjoyed the tour of the Roman ruins, which they said was excellent, and they enjoyed their stroll in the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

After today’s sightseeing, the tour group returned to Avignon for one final night.

Tomorrow the tour will move on to Nice.

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