The little town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence lies in a beautiful countryside against the backdrop of the Alpilles range. The delightfully compacted little town is surrounded by lush green fields which are bordered by sturdy cypresses and poplars. In this article I’ve included a 2km self-guided walk across the streets of the old town to help you discover all the interesting places.
My first visit to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
I remember the day I first visited Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
I had heard of the little town and seen lovely pictures.
When we finally had the chance to explore the Provence region, I had it on my to-do list.
Saint-Rémy has this kind of magic that appeals to many visitors… including Van Gogh!
If you’ve never been to Saint-Rémy, you’re in for a treat.
It is full of quiet corners, such as the shady square of place Favier.
A number of pleasantly aged buildings contain much history within their stones.
You’ll love this delightful town packed with wonderful little streets, restaurants and boutiques.
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence: the capital of the Alpilles
Saint-Rémy was built at the foot of the Alpilles mountain range.
The town is surrounded by fields and orchards planted with soft fruit, vegetables and flowers.
Each field is a barricade of sturdy cypresses, poplars or even bamboo lashed together to form a fence.
Also, before leaving Saint-Rémy, make sure you visit the Roman ruins.
They are found to the south of the town, at the foot of the Alpilles.
There is the mausoleum and triumphal arch at Les Antiques, and the formidable Roman city of Glanum.
Where to stay in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence ?
There are more than a hundred places where you could stay in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Here some of the finest places according to the reviews on the site Booking.com:
A luxurious hotel with excellent decoration and modern rooms. Ideally situated in the centre of town. Book your room!
Located in the heart of Saint-Rémy, the hotel is set in a 2-hectare garden looking out into the Alpilles. Book your room!
This spacious holiday home is situated in a wonderful location with two bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and beautiful garden and an outdoor swimming pool. Book your vacation!
Click here to get a list of hotels and accommodation in Saint-Rémy.
This map will help you booking your accommodation in Saint-Rémy according to prices and locations.
Visit of the old town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
The old town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is enclosed by busy and shaded boulevards. The centre is about half a kilometre in diameter.
The streets of Saint-Rémy’s old-town are lined with medieval restored houses and lead you to quiet little squares, shaded by remarkable plane trees.
Old fountains at the crossroad of two alleyways, cobbled narrow streets lined with aged buildings, boutiques and Provençal-style restaurants… all of them will undoubtedly charm you!
Here is my itinerary to explore the old town of Saint-Rémy on foot! This 2 km walk will take you to the most interesting sites.
1. Place Jean Jaurès and the Tourist Office
The discovery of the old town starts from the Tourist Office situated in place Jean Jaurès. This is where we parked our car.
Walk onto avenue pasteur and go under the archway that leads to the rue de la Commune.
2. The Saint-Paul Gate
The Saint-Paul Gate (Porte Saint-Paul or Lou Portau de San-Pau in Provençal dialect) gives access to the old town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Walk 100 m along the rue de la Commune to reach the town’s main square, Place Pellissier.
3. Place Jules Pellissier and the Town-Hall
Place Jules Pellissier is situated in the centre of the old town. The shady square was built in 1793 on the site of a former convent. It is bordered by the town-hall and its belfry.
In its centre stands the Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (fountain of the four dolphins). Inaugurated in 1814, it is dedicated to King Louis XVIII. It was inspired by the fountain with the same name in Aix-en-Provence.
You’ll love having a coffee or an ice-cream under the 100 year-old plane trees!
Walk to the right of the square to reach the rue Jaume Roux. Immediately turn right towards the rue Lucien Estrine by walking under the arch.
4. The Hôtel Estrine and its Van Gogh museum
The Hôtel Estrine (rue Estrine) was built in 1748 by Joseph de Pistoye.
The edifice is a good example of Provençal 18th-century architecture.
In 1794, the house was acquired by Louis Estrine, a successful merchant from Marseilles, who gave his name to the mansion.
After being bought by the municipality in 1985, the townhouse was restored in 1989 to house a museum dedicated to Van Gogh: the “Centre d’Art-Présence-Van Gogh”.
Full sized reproductions of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are on display, as well as some contemporary art.
Every year, the museum presents a different aspect of Van Gogh’s work as well as audio-visual presentations of the Dutch painter and his life and work.
Turn right and walk to the rue Lafayette.
5. Renaissance House
At the corner of rue Lafayette and rue Lucien Estrine is a beautiful townhouse from the Renaissance. The building served as a town-hall from 1806 to 1820.
Notice the gargoyles at the top of the house!
Turn left and walk on rue Lafayette towards the boulevard Mirabeau.
You are now walking on the ring-road that encircles the old town [#6]. The road follows the outlines of the medieval wall. It is now bordered by many cafés and restaurants.
7. The Trinity Fountain
At the intersection of boulevard Mirabeau, avenue de la Libération and rue Carnot stands the Trinity Fountain (Fontaine de la Trinité).
It was placed there in 1860 and destroyed in 1938 in order to enlarge the boulevard. Local people called for its replacement which occurred in 2003.
Turn left onto rue Carnot and stop at the intersection with rue Nostradamus.
The Nostradamus fountain
A fountain dedicated to Nostradamus decorates the corner of rue Carnot and rue Nostradamus.
Michel de Nostredame (born in Saint-Rémy-de-P. 1503-1566), aka Nostradamus, was a French astrologer, physician and reputed seer, who is best known for his book Les Prophéties (first published in 1555).
The bust of Nostradamus was sculpted by Ambroise Liotard and replaced that of Louis XVI in 1859.
At the corner of rue Carnot and rue Nostradamus, notice the fine niche that holds a Madonna.
Continue onto rue Carnot until you reach the charming place Favier.
9. Place Favier and Saint-Rémy’s townhouses
The square is situated in the Planet district. Planet is a Provençal word meaning little square. It is indeed a small square formerly known as “place aux herbes” (herbs market square). It took its current name in 1849 from Doctor Favier (1773-1862), benefactor of the poor.
There are a few beautiful hôtels particuliers (townhouses) worth seeing in Saint-Rémy: the Hôtel de Sade, the Hôtel Mistral de Mondragon, the Hôtel de Lubières and the Hôtel Estrine.
A few of them can be found bordering the delightful Place Favier, surrounded by peaceful cafés. A crenelated round tower adds to the charm of the square. So picturesque isn’t it?
The Hôtel de Sade
The Hôtel de Sade is situated on Place Favier and houses an archaeological museum devoted to the nearby Roman ruins of Glanum.
The townhouse was a priory before being used as the town’s parish church. It was later utilised to store the cereal crops for the bishop of Avignon.
The singular arch that stretches across the street was commissioned by Hélène Hugolin de Fos in the 15th century in order to connect her family residence to a new edifice.
The Hôtel Mistral de Mondragon
The Hôtel Mistral de Mondragon is located next to the Hôtel de Sade on Place Favier.
It is a magnificent Renaissance townhouse from the 16th century richly decorated with sculptures, a staircase tower overlooking a beautiful central courtyard.
The townhouse takes its name from the Mistral de Mondragon family who built it, and it changed hands several times until the municipality bought it in 1921 to house the city museum.
It currently houses the Musée des Alpilles and displays an attractive range of traditional folk art as well as industrial and rural items belonging to this region of Provence. The museum has recently reopened after extensive restoration works.
The Hôtel de Lubières
On Boulevard Marceau stands the 17th century Hôtel de Lubières.
This private townhouse is also known as the Maison de l’Amandier and features a remarkable spiral staircase leading up to rooms with high-beamed ceilings.
The mansion is devoted to the protection and promotion of the natural plant species of the Alpilles, and most particularly to the almond tree.
The house exhibits the works of a sculptor working with almond wood, as well as other temporary exhibitions.
Go back to Rue Carnot and walk a distance of 100 m before reaching the boulevard Marceau. Turn left and reach the church.
10. St. Martin Collegiate church
The Saint-Martin collegiate is Saint-Rémy-de-Provence’s largest building. You won’t miss it as the church stands in the heart of the town.
The monumental façade of neo-Classical style was rebuilt in the 19th century following the 1818 collapse of the previous structure. Only the 14th century Gothic belltower stood untouched, with the flamboyant Gothic chapel of Renaud d’Alleins at its foot.
The view of the Gothic belltower and dome of Saint-Martin against the backdrop of the Alpilles has become an iconic view.
The church is renowned for its organ chest, restored in 1982 by organ maker Pascal Quoirin.
During the Organa Festival, Saint-Rémy welcomes the best organ musicians of the world.
Free concerts take place inside the church at 5.30pm every Saturday between July and September.
Take rue de la résistance that follows the south side of the church. Notice the old house with its turret (number 1 rue Lafayette) [#11] and turn right onto rue Hoche.
12. Rue Hoche: the birthplace of Nostradamus
Rue Hoche follows the outlines of the inner wall of town. You can still see parts of the old wall.
At number 6 Rue Hoche are the remains of the house where Michel de Nostredame (aka Nostradamus) was born in 1503. The 15th century façade is contemporary to the astrologer but the house is not open to visitors.
A little further away is the former St. James hospital [#13]. The elaborate doorway still shows the characteristic shell of St. James. The hospital closed in 1653.
Make sure you look behind you to spot the church’s spire and dome!
Rue Hoche leads to the intersection of rue du 8 mai 1945 and boulevard Victor Hugo.
Turn left onto boulevard Victor Hugo and then right onto avenue Pasteur. The Tourist Office and car park are distant of 100 m.
On your visit to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, you’ll discover other cobblestone lanes, secretive courtyards, colourful ochre façades of old houses and many fountains. Just open your eyes and take time to feel the soft Provençal atmosphere…
The shadow of Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Vincent Van Gogh spent only one year in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, from May 1889 to May 1890. Coming from Arles, he requested to be put into medical care in the Saint Paul de Mausole hospital, 1km south of the town.
The painter was inspired by the quality of light and the beauty of the local landscapes, and completed more than 150 paintings and numerous sketches during his time there.
Some of his most famous paintings, created during his stay in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence include:
- “The Irises”,
- “Starry Night”,
- “Olive Grove in the Evening”,
- “Field of Wheat with Cypress Tree”,
- “First Steps”,
- “Reaper in a Field of Wheat”,
- “La Siesta”,
- “The Paving Stone Layers”,
- “St. Paul Hospital”, and
- “Vase of Irises on a Pink Background”
The Transhumance Festival
This quiet town hits its first popular event before the summer rush of tourists even arrives: for the Transhumance Festival.
On the morning of Pentecost Day, 3,000 white merino sheep and a few goats and donkeys, flood the streets of Saint-Rémy, led by shepherds dressed in traditional costumes.
The event is one of the most impressive in Provence and always draws a large crowd of both tourists and locals who come to watch the huge parade invading the boulevards which encircle the old town of Saint-Rémy.
The animals are only a small number of millions of sheep and goats which leave the plains of Provence in order to reach the high-pastures of the Alps, where they stay until mid-October. In the past, this trip used to be undertaken on foot and sometimes took more than ten days.
On the day of the Transhumance Festival, the town of Saint-Rémy also hosts a cheese fair and a flea market.
Monastery of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole
The monastery is another building famous for having hosted Vincent Van Gogh towards the last years of his life, between 1889 and 1890.
Its name derives from the nearby Roman Mausoleum. Van Gogh’s reconstructed room is open to visitors, as are the central alley and the Romanesque church.
The estate includes a pretty 12th-century cloister, a masterpiece of Provençal Romanesque art. The intimate cloister is beautiful and peaceful, full of flowering gardens, which have been extensively photographed.
It currently houses a psychiatric hospital and, as a result, visiting is subject to the amount of people there at any one time in order to maintain the tranquillity of the place.
Visit the website of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole [in French]
The Roman ruins of Les Antiques
At the feet of the Alpilles and opposite the Monastery of Saint Paul-de-Mausole is Les Antiques, a Roman site consisting of two ancient monuments. The triumphal arch and the mausoleum are amongst the best architectural examples of Roman civilisation in France.
The Triumphal Arch
Though the triumphal arch may not the best one preserved in Europe, it is known for being the oldest from Narbonese Gaul, dating back to the beginning of the 1st century A.D.
The arch has perfect proportions (12.5 m long X 5.5 m wide X 8.6 m high) and its décor denotes a Greek influence. The pediment over the vault has been missing for a long time and the current flagstone roof was added in the 18th century.
It is believed that it was built to celebrate the Roman conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar and was, at that time, located at the entrance of the Roman city of Glanum. Sculptures of fruit and leaves, symbolising abundance, can still be seen bordering the archway, serving to remind viewers forever of the success of the Pax Romana.
On either side of the arch, between two columns, are figures of chained male and female captives, representing Roman might and strength.
The Mausoleum is arguably the most beautiful one of its kind from the Roman Empire which has survived to our time perfectly intact – apart from the missing pinecone which used to sit atop it. The mausoleum was built in 30-20 B.C. by the Julii. This influential family dedicated the monument to their father and grand-father who had served in Julius Caesar’s army.
The Mausoleum is made up of three levels.
The first is a squared plinth whose four sides are decorated with bas-reliefs depicting the heroic events of deceased relatives: battles of horsemen and the infantry around a dead warrior, boar hunting and a fighting scene against an Amazon.
The second level is a triumphal arch with four archways which explains the link between the later heroic events and Caesar’s victories. The Latin inscription beneath the frieze reads:
“SEX · M · L · IVLIEI · C · F · PARENTIBVS · SVEIS”
(Sextius, Marcus and Lucius Julius, sons of Gaius, to their forbearers).
The third and last level consists of a colonnaded temple which covers the statues of the deceased.
The antique city of Glanum
Before Saint-Rémy de Provence existed, the site was known as Glanum.
Located on the flanks of the Alpilles, these Roman ruins make up one of the oldest and largest archaeological sites in Europe, along with Vaison-la-Romaine. Glanum was founded by Celto-Ligurians in the 3rd century B.C., well before the region was conquered by the Romans under Julius Caesar. Glanon – as it was called – was subsequently Hellenised following the development of trade with the Greek harbour-city of Massalia (Marseilles). The city took its name from Glanic, a Celtic divinity (glann meaning ‘shining’) as it developed around a local spring believed to have healing powers.
Glanon became Glanum during the first century B.C. when it became a Romanised settlement. Under Emperor Augustus, Glanum was elevated to the prestigious status of a colonia. New buildings and monuments then constructed or old ones enlarged: a forum, various baths, temples, a basilica; all of them organised along an extensive residential avenue.
The city was prosperous until the Barbarian Invasions. Glanum was destroyed in a raid by the Germanic tribe of the Alamanni in 260 and its inhabitants fled, only to settle again a few kilometres north on the plain.
The new town they built, using stones from Glanum, is now Saint-Rémy de Provence. For centuries, nobody knew of the existence of Glanum and the only Roman monuments visible were the Mausoleum and the Triumphal Arch (les Antiques).
However, since 1921, the site of Glanum has been excavated by archaeologists and has revealed these amazing ruins to the world. Today, visitors can stroll again through the heart of the ancient town, along the main street flanked by the foundations of ruined villas. Viewpoints are located along the path leading to the Gaul sanctuary and give an interesting perspective of the site as a whole.
Visit the official website of Glanum.
How to get to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
The Alpilles are easily accessible by car from Provence’s main cities Marseille, Arles, and Avignon, as well as from the cities of Nîmes and Montpellier through an excellent network of motorways, the French “autoroutes”.
If you travel from Australia or America, you could take a flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle, and travel by TGV from the airport station straight to Avignon or Aix-en-Provence and rent a car from there.
The TGV from Paris-Gare de Lyon takes less than 3 hours to the TGV stations of Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. There’s no train station in Saint-Rémy. You’ll need to catch a bus from Avignon, Aix-en-Provence or Arles.
More info about Saint-Rémy!
- the Alpilles on the blog
- the village of Les Baux-de-Provence on the blog
- The Tourist Board of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
- The Tourist Board of the Provence region
- A list of hotels and accommodation in Saint-Rémy.
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