The first time I went to St. Rémy-de-Provence, a small historic town next to Aix-en-Provence, I was with my friend Monique, a native of Aix. She picked St. Rémy to show me the heart of her Provence, and as soon as we entered the village, I knew why. If you can imagine a perfect Provencal place, that’s St. Rémy; if you can think of a ‘chic’ destination, that’s what St. Remy is. Just for that, it attracts visitors from all over the world.
The town’s historic center seems untouched by time, but there’s a lot going on below its bucolic facade: designer boutiques, great restaurants, high-end hotels. Outside town, rustic mas (country homes) keep the facade bare look, but most were remodeled and offer the comforts of modern houses and cost a lot of money. Some of these mas belong to royals and celebrities, often seen shopping or dining in the village (princess Caroline of Monaco is one of them).
St. Rémy has been historically close to arts and artists. Among those who lived there is Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, who was a patient in a mental hospital outside St. Remy, at the end of his tragic life. That period, when he painted rural scenes of the region, is considered his most productive.
St. Remy needs to be explored by foot. Beautiful houses were restored to their past glory, adding to the quaint atmosphere. On narrow alleys there are centuries-old running fountains -I can still hear the refreshing sound of the water. I saw numerous art galleries, bistros, shaded squares and terraces, wine bars and bakeries, and once a week the town has a vibrant street market selling everything Provençal.
Of course St. Remy also has the buildings seen in any town in France: a post office, a hotel de ville (town hall), a police department, a firefighters station and many schools.
The difference in St. Rémy is that everything oozes charm. There are no skyscrapers, no neon signs, no fast food joints, no parking lots or shopping malls hurting the eye. St. Rémy-de-Provence shows that simplicity can be the height of sophistication and good taste. I’m pretty sure that Van Gogh would not be disappointed, if he came back.