On my final day in Provence, I headed to another hill town, Les Baux. Again, I took the bus from Avignon, passing St. Remy and continuing along narrow switch-back roads until being dropped at the foot of Les Baux. The ore bauxite, used to make aluminum, was first mined in the town, which gave the mineral its name.
It was a medieval stronghold, crowned with a fortress. You can visit the ruins. The princes of Baux claimed to be descendants of Balthasar, the name given to one of the magi who followed the star to Bethlehem, and you will see carvings in stone that refer to the wise man. After the fall of the princes, the town was given to Monégasque royal family: one of Prince Albert’s titles is the Marquis of Baux. The town is, however, administered by France.
There are layers and layers of history here. Early inhabitants tunneled into the rock face to make their homes, and even an ancient chapel. For a time, during the wars of religion, Les Baux became a Protestant stronghold. The ruins of one house have the Latin inscription Post tenebras lux 1571 (After darkness, light 1571), which was a motto of Calvinists. A rather different message is conveyed by the carving of a woman’s face and a basket of flowers. This was the Middle Ages way of identifying a brothel!
Today, the town depends heavily on tourism for its survival. The bauxite ore has long been exhausted. Les Baux reminded me a bit of Niagara Falls, all touristy shops and restaurants. You can also buy olive oil made from local olives and wine from local grapes. In fact, I sat in the shade of one of those olive trees while I waited for the bus to take me back to Avignon along those twisty little roads.