Lying between the Camargue and Luberon in western Provence, the Alpilles is the newest of France’s 49 natural parks and covers an area of marshland, forest, vineyards and olive groves backed by the limestone crags of the Luberon Mountains. Alpilles is also known for its rich flora and fauna, with nearly 1,000 plant varieties, several species of protected bats and more than 90 species of bird including Bonelli’s eagles and rare vultures.
At the heart of the natural park lies the charming village of Saint-Rémy de Provence, made famous by tortured Expressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh in the late 19th century. He stayed at the Monastère St Paul-de-Mausole in 1889 when recovering from mental illness and painted many famous scenes around the village. In 2016 a new visitor center will open in the village that covers the whole of the park (until then the current HQ is at 10-12, avenue Notre Dame du Château, Saint-Etienne-du-Grès). Among the 15 other towns in the Alpilles pregion is Les Baux-de-Provence, whose medieval houses, squares and cobbled streets huddle together under the photogenic ruins of a château perched among bizarre rock formations.
Alpilles Natural Regional Park is within 30 minutes driving time of Avignon. Saint-Rémy Tourist Office: Place Jean Jaurès. Opening hours vary according to season but roughly Mon–Sat 9.15am–12.30pm, 2pm–6pm (also open Sun in summer). Monastère St Paul-de-Mausole: chemin Saint-Paul, Saint-Rémy de Provence. Open daily: Apr–¬Oct 9.30am–7pm; Nov–Mar 10.15am–4.45pm. Admission adults €3.80; seniors, students & children 12–16, €2.80. Children aged 12 and under free.