Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is one of the most charming places I've ever been. The locals greet each other with not two but three or four kisses and embrace everyday like they haven't seen each other in forever. Everyone knows everyone from around here. The streets are immaculately clean and there’s lots of interesting art, chic clothing stores, pretty hanging flower pots and delightful pâtisseries around every corner.
Even the tourists are cute. You won't find any yobos around here. You probably won't find many people under the age of 50 either, local or otherwise.
We were lucky enough to arrive on a Tuesday afternoon so we could go to the famous Wednesday market. We didn't reach our Airbnb until the evening since we were stuck driving around and around town (literally - the main street is oneway and encircles the town centre) trying to find it. The slight delay on Google Maps wasn’t working well with all of the alley-like streets which threw off my copilot duties and sent tension levels in our miniature rental car soaring!
Conveniently there's a massive free car park right by town. When you're on the main street, turn right onto the second street after the turnoff for the Office de Tourisme. Then on your first right you'll find parking spaces for more than 200 cars. Otherwise parking is free on the streets anywhere that isn't signposted or marked with blue paint. I've also heard that all street parking is free between 12 and 2pm but not 100% sure. The parking fees are pretty low anyway compared to other places in France - it's something like 1EUR or less an hour.
We woke up on Wednesday morning to some sweet-sounding jazz. It was pretty cool to open the window and discover we were actually living right inside the Wednesday market. I highly recommend staying at this Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/9789533 - it's the perfect apartment for two in the most prime location in St Rémy. It cost us NZ$520 for five nights.
This band Gig Street along with a few other musicians in other parts of the market help set the tone for the cheery marketplace.
Starting from about 8.30ish each Wednesday morning till 1pm, stalls line most streets within town and spill out onto the main street surrounding the town centre. There are heaps of stalls selling all types of goods like clothing, flowers, jewellery, homeware, accessories, art, toys and soaps but really, it's all about the food.
Make sure you come with a couple of very sturdy shopping bags. We left the market with 12 flimsy paper and plastic bags full of food which only just made it home before the bags split open; and we only had a couple of blocks to walk! You can do your entire weeks worth of grocery shopping plus treats, souvenirs and gifts. Everything from fresh oysters, fish, fruits and veges, bread and pastries, cheese, truffles, herbs, oils, meats, olives, nougat, chocolates, nuts and so much more.
Make the most of your stash from the market. Pack a picnic and walk the two kilometre track to St Rémy’s top tourist attractions: Saint Paul Asylum where Vincent van Gogh was hospitalised and the ancient Roman ruins of Glanum. These two are right beside each other - too easy!
Not only will you work up an appetite walking, you'll get a chance to learn a bit about the inspiration behind some of Van Gogh's most famous artworks. Starting at the Office de Tourisme all along the way to the asylum there are little signposts every hundred metres or so on the left side of the road containing exerts about each of the artworks from Van Gogh’s letters to his family. Reading these is both intriguing and depressing.
After cutting part of his ear off in the nearby town Arles, Van Gogh checked himself into the asylum for about a year. It was during this time that he produced some of his most famous work including Wheat Field with Cypresses. Looking at the landscape in this area you can clearly see his inspiration everywhere from the wild flowers and long grass to the olive trees and mountain range.
We didn't end up going inside the asylum. It just felt kind of weird seeing as it's still in operation (yes it still houses patients) and I'll admit I didn't want to pay the 5EUR cover charge for that. The Glanum ruins however was well worth it's cover charge of 7EUR, very interesting. Even if you don't check out either, spending time in the area is an unforgettable, truly Provençal experience. Along with your loot from the market make sure you take a blanket, cushions, book and of course a bottle of wine and enjoy. <3
Another highlight from St Rémy was this quaint little cheese shop La Cave aux Fromages that's also in the same square as our Airbnb at 1 Place Hilaire. I couldn't resist it; every time I walked past I got a great big whiff of delicious stinky cheese musk goodness. I later learned that the store is kept at the perfect temperature to 'ripen' the cheese. It’s owned by Monique Mayer who is a board certified Maître Fromager (like a sommelier of cheeses) who carefully selects all of the cheeses herself each winter from all over France. You really can't without trying one or two or five of these.
If you're like me and find it hard making decisions about food, you'll be relieved to know they've pre-selected a sample of their cheeses plus charcuterie to make a couple of different tasting board combos with wine. Ours was 18EUR for both of us including rosé. We were advised in what order to eat the cheeses which included three goat and two cow milk; starting from the mildest to full blown gym-locker-room-socks strength. Matt faded towards the end so lucky me, I got to extra 😀
If you’re looking to party, this is the wrong place. We made a few day trips out to other parts of Provence and returned around 9 - 10pm ready for what we thought was the usual European dinner time but the entire town was already asleep! The only other people still out were a couple of cops driving around doing their night checks who slowed right down as they drove by us.