Saint-Remy-de-Provence was one of my favorite day trips on my recent trip across Provence. This pretty little town is only about twenty kilometers away from Avignon, and you can get there by bus or car in less than an hour.
Many tourists overlook Saint-Remy-de-Provence, preferring instead to continue down the road to Les Baux de Provence, but I actually think Saint-Remy-de-Provence should be your first priority when planning a day trip in this area.
What’s so great about Saint-Remy-de-Provence? Well, simply put, it’s rare to find such a tiny town that packs in so many layers of history. As one of the oldest towns in France (settlements here date back to the 6th century BC!), Saint-Remy-de-Provence offers visitors easy access to Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman history, medieval and Renaissance architecture, and the stunning landscapes that inspired early modern artists like Vincent Van Gogh.
(Technically speaking, the correct spelling is Saint–Rémy–de–Provence, with an accent over the first “e”. However, my English keyboard does not enjoy typing that accent, so I won’t be using it.)
Things to Do in Saint-Remy-de-Provence
The best things to do in Saint-Remy-de-Provence are divided into two areas: inside the historical city center, and about two kilometers south of the city center along Avenue Vincent Van Gogh. If you take the bus to Saint-Remy-de-Provence, try to align your trip so you either start or finish at the southern bus stop (called “Glanum”) as this will save you from walking the two kilometers twice.
Personally, I started my trip by taking the bus from Avignon to Saint-Remy-de-Provence’s historical center, and then I returned using the bus stop at Glanum. Read the bus schedule carefully as not all buses to Saint-Remy-de-Provence stop at Glanum!
Saint-Remy de Provence Centre Historique
Saint-Remy-de-Provence has a beautiful historic city center that is perfect for exploring by foot. If you start your visit at the Tourist Information office just south of the center you can pick up a map with a guide to the best things to do in Saint-Remy-de-Provence’s little centre historique.
As a typical walled medieval city, large stone arches mark the entry points from the new developments into the older quarter. Following the numbered route proposed by the tourist office, you’ll pass old Renaissance mansions, Gothic chapels, picturesque public squares, sky-high clock towers and refreshing fountains.
(For some reason I always get Nostradamus and Rasputin mixed up…)
Saint-Remy-de-Provence is the birthplace of Nostradamus, the famous prophet. Today, we debate whether he really did have the ability to predict the future, or whether he was just really good at making statements that were vague enough to apply to whatever ended up happening. Personally, I believe it was the latter.
The house where Nostadamus was born is located on a narrow cobblestone street in the southwest corner of Saint-Remy-de-Provence’s historic city center. As shown above, the house has a blue door and a sign (in French only) provides some information about his life and his time in Saint-Remy-de-Provence.
Museums of Saint-Remy-de-Provence
There are several museums in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. If you want to visit any of them, confirm opening dates and times before your visit, as they are often closed seasonally, early in the afternoon and/or for entire days.
- Hotel de Sade – Once a Roman bath complex and later converted into a family home for the ancestors of the Marquis de Sade, the Hotel de Sade is now a museum that houses the most impressive Greek and Roman archeological findings from the Glanum Archeological Site (see below).
- Musée Estrine – A former private mansion now housing an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art, as well as a Vincent Van Gogh interpretive center.
- Musée des Alpilles – Also located in a former private mansion (this one with a protected heritage designation), the collections here have an ethnological focus to teach visitors more about the natural and human history of the Alpilles region of Provence.
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Vincent Van Gogh in Saint-Remy-de-Provence
The walk from the center of Saint-Remy-de-Provence to the sites located south of the city center takes about twenty minutes and spans just under two kilometers.
To make the walk more interesting, the city has created something of an interpretive trail, with signs along the way that show many of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, and provide explanations (in English and French) of how they are related to what you are seeing as you walk.
There are a few signs in the center of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, but the majority are located along Vincent Van Gogh Avenue en route to the three attractions noted below.
Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole
This is the first of three sites located outside the center of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, about two kilometers south along Avenue Vincent Van Gogh.
Vincent Van Gogh spent the early part of 1889 in Arles, France, where he painted some of his most famous paintings. However, he found that the mental health treatment he was receiving there was insufficient, and in May, 1889, he voluntarily checked into the Saint-Paul de Mausole psychiatric institution in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he would stay for one year.
The the Saint-Paul de Mausole psychiatric institution is located inside the Saint-Paul Monastery. The psychiatric institute is still in operation today, but its location is far from the complex that is now open to tourists. Here, in the touristic portion of the facility, you can visit a recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom, a chapel, a cloister and the monastery gardens. If you visit in the early summer (mid-June through mid-July) you’ll be able to see the lavender in full bloom!
I found it a little bit weird to be in Van Gogh’s recreated bedroom with tourists taking selfies in front of the rather sad little bed and chair, but I did appreciate the opportunity to see the grounds that inspired Van Gogh. As he was here for a full year, the changing of the seasons is reflected in the paintings he created within the monastery, in the surrounding countryside, and even in the town of Saint-Remy-de-Provence.
You will want about forty-five minutes to visit the monastery.
These two monumental ruins welcome you to the Glanum Archeological Site, just a few minutes past the Saint-Paul monastery. No ticket is required to view these roadside monuments, which are well-known as symbols of Saint-Remy-de-Provence.
On the left you can see the Jules Mausoleum, which dates back to about 20 BC. This is well-preserved and in its original state. On the right, the triumphal arch was built about fifty years later, but it didn’t survive as well as the mausoleum, so the top part of the arch is an 18th-century reconstruction.
Glanum Archeological Site
Considered by many to be the highlight of a visit to Saint-Remy-de-Provence, Glanum Archeological Site consists of the ruins of an ancient Greek and Roman city that flourished under the reign of Julius Cesar.
Constructed around a spring that was said to have special healing powers, Glanum consisted of a residential area, a monumental area built around a traditional Roman forum, the sacred spring and a variety of fortifications. Your ticket includes a well-marked map (in English or French) that explains the layout of the site and what you’re seeing as you walk through. Visitors are generally free to explore the site without limitations, however for safety reasons you can’t climb on top of any of the fragile stone walls.
There is a small museum at Glanum that explains the history of the site through models, artifacts and video presentations. Exploring the site and the museum takes between an hour and a half and two hours, depending on your level of interest.
Is Saint-Remy-de-Provence worth visiting?
In my opinion, Saint-Remy-de-Provence is definitely worth visiting as a day trip from Avignon. It is a unique day trip destination because in just a few hours you can explore three very distinct themes: a charming walled Provençal town, well-preserved Ancient Roman ruins, and the landscapes and locations that inspired much of Vincent Van Gogh’s body of work.
Restaurants in Saint-Remy-de-Provence
There are lots of restaurants dotted around the different squares in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. In the summer months, the tables spill out into the terraces, and in the winter, they are warm and cozy inside. These are a few that stood out to me during my visit:
- Chez Mamine – This is where I had lunch (shown above). With the daily menu scrawled on a chalkboard, they had lots of fresh, seasonal dishes inspired by the farms and fields around town. I had their tomato and tapenade tart, served with a fresh salad, and a glass of rose. Tables here fill up early, so either reserve or come at noon when lunch service begins.
- Creperie Lou Planet – This creperie recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary. They have beautiful crepes and galettes (read more about the difference in my article about healthy food in France), along with big salads.
- Chez Karin – Located across the street from the tourist information office, this little epicerie (gourmet food store) would be a great place to pick up picnic fare before you walk down to the Glanum, which has picnic tables outside (not much shade, though!).
- L’Auberge de St-Rémy-de-Provence – Fanny Rey & Jonathan Wahid –Fanny Rey won the 2011 season of Top Chef France, and now she runs this Michelin-starred restaurant along with Jonathan Wahid, an award-winning pastry chef. Prices start at €150 before wine pairings, so this may be a special-event dinner on your trip to Provence.
Hotels in Saint-Remy de Provence
I was only in Saint-Remy-de-Provence for the day, so I didn’t stay overnight in any of the town’s hotels. However, if I were to come back overnight, these are the hotels in Saint-Remy-de-Provence that looked the most interesting to me:
- Hotel du Soleil et Spa – It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a spa hotel, and this affordable option right in the center of Saint-Remy-de-Provence has a steam room, hot tub and very cool “experience” shower! They also offer a swimming pool, outdoor terrace and secure on-site parking.
- Chambres d’hotes le Domaine de Romanil – You’ll need a car to stay at this highly-rated countryside guesthouse that is located five kilometers from the town center, but it’s worth it! David and Thierry are well-known for their hospitality, which includes sharing their local know-how and serving a delicious breakfast.
- Hôtel Gounod – A great, affordable option close to the city center (and easy walking distance from the bus stop, if you don’t have a car). They have a pretty garden with a swimming pool, and charming decor in the style typical to the South of France.
The Bus to Saint-Remy-de-Provence from Avignon
The #57 bus to Saint-Remy-de-Provence from Avignon leaves from Avignon’s Gare Routiere, beside the central train station, and sort of underneath the Ibis Hotel. Departures are approximately hourly, but check the bus company website for the most updated schedule.
All of these buses serve the center of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, but not all of them run south to Glanum (or pass by Glanum on the way back). The Tourist Information office in either Avignon or Saint-Remy-de-Provence can help you figure out the best route (and, worst case scenario, it’s only twenty minutes to walk back to the center from Glanum).
While you’re in Avignon, don’t miss out on two of my other favorite day trips:
Swimming Underneath the Pont du Gard
Walking the Fortress Ramparts in Villeneuve-les-Avignon
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