In 1888 Van Gogh left Paris for Arles in Provence where, after a 16-hour train journey, he started the most ambitious and productive period of his life. He worked under luminescent skies and the bleaching Provencal Sun painting the fields, drawbridges, cypress trees, cafes, local folk and ancient Abbey Ruins. Here he exclaimed ‘My God! If only I had known of this country when I was 25, instead of coming here at 35!’ Living at Arles, his technique modified as he began to use the swirling brush strokes and intense colours that you see in works like ‘Bedroom at Arles’ (1888), and ‘Starry Night’ (1889). He seemed to imbue visible phenomena with vitality. In his enthusiasm he encouraged the painter Paul Gauguin to join him, but within weeks they began to have violent disagreements, culminating in a quarrel in which van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a razor. It was that night, in deep remorse, Van Gogh famously cut off part of his own ear. This walk traces his footsteps through some of the places that he painted and would have known well. More specifically you will be strolling in Les Alpilles, a small massif standing out as its white peaks rise apparently sheer from the plain of the Rhône valley, its slopes covered in vineyards along with olive and almond trees. Along paths dotted with cypress trees and lone chapels. Here you will discover the many images of the Alpilles' landscapes he painted from St-Rémy to the Baux-de-Provence and onto Arles. We are confident that you will have a better time of it than Van Gogh did; for a time he was in a hospital at Arles, he then spent a year in the nearby asylum of Saint-Rémy, working between repeated spells of madness. Just after completing his ominous Crows in the Wheat fields (1890), he shot himself on July 27, 1890, and died two days later.
Fitness is a very subjective matter, Sherpa walking grades presume a certain standard common to similar tours and an individual’s perception of their own fitness in relation to a grading will vary. The walking on this tour is mainly: Easy - some of the days are short, and most are on gravel forest and mountain roads. Note however that some trails are quite rough and stony. The third day we would class as ‘moderate’ as you follow the GR6 for a while along the roller coaster Alpilles ridge, although you can avoid the hardest part of this section if you really want to! You don’t have to be super fit to do this tour, but you should be able to walk for a few hours each day, with some steep ascents and descents. Carry plenty of drinking water and adequate protection against the sun, including a sun hat. Day stages: 3.5 – 6 hours of easy- moderate walking.
Stay inside Avignon’s fortified city for your first night. Discover the beauty of one of Provence’s great cities. From the “Palais des Papes” to the “Pont d’Avignon,” a stroll through history. The city was a strategic site in the Rhone valley, owing its origin to the Doms rock, which made a great defensive site overlooking the river. With the arrival of the popes in the 14th Century, the city became a second Rome. It was enriched by art in the 17th and 18th Centuries and it remained Papal property up to the French Revolution. Stroll around the shopping streets in the pedestrian area, the district of la Balance and along the large Rue de la Republique. You will find Provencal materials, ceramics and pottery, terra cotta figurines, handicrafts, and other specialities of the region. You may want to try a cruise on the River Rhone As an option there is a 1-hour cruise around Avignon to see the Bridge, the Rocher des Doms, Fort St André and Philippe Le Bel tower, in order to look at the bridge and town from the waters edge. (Cruises may not operate early or late in the season).
Accommodation: Stay in a 3 star hotel inside Avignon’s fortified centre. This is an attractive small town hotel on a quiet boulevard; only 5 minutes walk from most of the sites and Palace of The Popes.
Transfer with your luggage from Avignon towards the Alpilles to Saint Remy. On your warm-up walk, discover Saint Rémy de Provence, the adopted home of the Marquis de Sade and Van Gogh. You can visit the Greco-Roman site of Glanum (closed Mondays).
Accommodation: Set only a stone’s throw from the old city gates of Saint Rémy de Provence our 3 star hotel where we stay for two nights is hidden in a quiet courtyard, and whose old buildings surround a swimming pool. A simple and very comfortable hotel within a short walk of Saint Rémy’s monuments and quiet landscapes immortalized by Van Gogh.
Walk from St. Remy into the Alpilles, with great views of the Rhone Valley all the way to the Luberon. This is the hardest walk of the tour with some steep, stoney sections but the views are terrific! Walk up to a mountain cliff wall with weathered holes for a different view of Provence. The day can be made easier and a couple of hours saved, by missing out the circular ridge section of the walk. Take the time to visit the Saint-Paul de Mausole monastery where Van Gogh created 150 paintings in a year.
A beautiful day from Saint Rémy to Les Baux, back into the Alpilles and good hill top tracks to Les Baux. You’ll be staying in the heart of the Baux de Provence (10th century AD) at the edge of the Alpilles with views across to the Camargue. (baux means escarpment in Provencal). A wonderful hilltop town that belonged to the Grimaldi family until 1790. Today, Prince Albert of Monaco retains the honorary title of Marquis of Les Baux. Visit the château ruins for approx. €8.00
Accommodation: For two nights we use a small, charming 3 star hotel in the heart of the Baux de Provence, overlooking the valley below and the Medieval Castle above. Restaurant with panoramic view, lounge with period fireplace and traditional Provencal cuisine using local produce.
A walk in the Baux Valley to the typical village of Maussane. Forest trails take you down through gardens and then farmlands of the Les Baux firld ‘apron’. Once in Maussane maybe visit the central cafés, morning market (on Thursday) and producers of local wonders like the 17th century Cornille mill where you can taste one of Provence’s best olive oils or try a tapenade at ‘Jean Martin’. Return to Les Baux via olive and vineyards and woody paths.
Morning walk from les Baux de Provence to the 12th century Romanesque Saint Gabriel Chapel, a stroll on good forest trails out of the western edge of the Alpilles massif. Afterwards, a short transfer (included) to Arles (25 minutes) and your hotel in the heart of the city to discover Van Gogh’s second home and the city’s Roman centre. It has important and well-preserved Roman and Medieval sites, including Amphitheatre and baths.
Accommodation: In Arles stay at a charming 3 star family run hotel. A beautiful restored old house with an inner courtyard and a swimming pool.
Depart Arles after breakfast.
We enjoyed our walk very much. The accommodation was perfect, food fantastic. Staying overnight meant we were able to wander around without the pressure of time. Avignon and St Remy were terrific, as were Les Baux and Arles. It was wonderful seeing all the places Van Gogh had painted.
R. Allsop., NSW, Australia
Per Person, Twin Share