Provence: Places to Explore

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Les Baux-de-Provence

When you first search the craggy hilltops for signs of Les Baux-de-Provence (pronounced lay-bo-duh-pro-vance), you may not quite be able to distinguish between bedrock and building, so naturally does the ragged skyline of towers and crenellations blend into the sawtooth jags of stone. This tiny château-village ranks as one of the most visited tourist sites in France, with natural scenery and medieval buildings of astonishing beauty. From this intimidating vantage point, the lords of Les Baux ruled throughout the 11th and 12th centuries over one of the largest fiefdoms in the south. In the 19th century Les Baux found new purpose: the mineral bauxite, valued as an alloy in aluminum production, was discovered in its hills and named for its source. A profitable industry sprang up that lasted into the 20th century before fading into history.

Today Les Baux offers two world-famous faces to the world: its beautifully preserved medieval village and the ghostly ruins of its fortress, once referred to as the ville morte (dead town). In the village, lovely 12th-century stone houses, even their window frames still intact, shelter the shops, cafés, and galleries that line the steep cobbled streets. At the edge of the village is a cliff that offers up a stunning view over the Val d'Enfer (Hell's Valley), said to have inspired Dante's Inferno.

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