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Travel Provence & Soak in the Rich Artistic Past

When travelling around Provence you will see lush colourful landscapes and centuries-old villages scattered all over. Provence is an incredibly picturesque region of France. Not surprising that the region served as a muse for so many French artists and painters.

Even though Paris was the epicenter of the art world during the 19th and 20th centuries, many French artists decided to leave the capital & move to Southern France.

Many relocated to the French Riviera, such as Dufy, Signac, Matisse, Chagall, Renoir and Gauguin. They were drawn to the blue, sparkling Mediterranean sea and bright light. Others preferred the quiet villages of Provence, such as Aix en Provence and Arles.

Provence travel - Sainte Victoire Mountain near Aix-en-Provence
Sainte Victoire Mountain near Aix-en-Provence / Photo by Pernmith (CC BY 2.0)

The Artists who fell in love with Provence

1. Travel Provence – Aix en Provence – In the Footseps of Paul Cezanne

Paul Cezanne was born in Aix-en-Provence. In his young adult years, he left for Paris to follow his dream to become an artist. However he didn’t last long in the busy Parisian capital and returned to his beloved Aix where he felt at home.

Many of Cezanne’s paintings capture the town of Aix, the surrounding countryside and the iconic St-Victoire mountain. The magnificent mountain was Cezanne’s most popular muse. He painted it again and again from different locations and in different seasons.  It is said that he was so determined to paint this mountain that he painted it once (outdoors) during a massive thunderstorm.

What to do & see in Aix en Provence

In Aix, you can follow the footsteps of Paul Cézanne and retrace where he worked, lived and the places that inspired him. These places include:

  • Musée Granet – to view some of Cezanne’s masterpieces
  • Atelier de Cézanne – Cezanne’s studio where you can get a sense of how he worked and painted
  • Bastide du jas de bouffan – The Jas de Bouffan mansion was the Cezanne family property 40 years. Here Paul Cezanne lived and often painted.
  • Carrières de Bibémus – an abandoned Ochre rock quarry that inspired many of Cezanne’s famous paintings
The view of Mt. St-Victoire from the   Carrières de Bibémus  - Paul Cezanne Painting
The view of Mt. St-Victoire from the Carrières de Bibémus – Paul Cezanne Painting (Public Domain)

Outside of Aix, about 70 minutes from Aix and near to Marseille is the town of seaside town of Estaque. Cezanne loved this town and often came to paint. In Estaque, you can walk the lovely Painter’s Trail and view the sites painted by the impressionism and post-impressionism masters.

Atelier de Cézanne – Cezanne’s studio

2. Travel Provence – Arles – In the Footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh

The post-impressionism painter, Vincent Van Gogh spent more than year in Arles, a picturesque Provence town. During his time here, Van Gogh was incredibly prolific. Many of his canvases immortalize places in Arles and the nearby surrounding countryside.

For a brief period, Paul Gauguin came to Arles and lived with Van Gogh. The two painted together and shared ideas. However their artistic partnership ended after a few weeks as Gauguin could not handle Van Gogh’s mental instability and left.

What to do & see in Arles in the Footsteps of Van Gogh

  • The Van Gogh Walking Trail allows the independent traveller to visit many of the sites related to Van Gogh and his paintings. Press here to download the map of the walking trail.
  • Go on an organized walking tour and hear the interesting stories about Van Gogh during his time in Arles. For more details press here
  • Visit is the Espace Van Gogh, a small museum created at the hospital where the painter stayed. The gardens in the hospital are maintained to look exactly how Van Gogh originally painted them
The hospital gardens in Arles - Vincent Van Gogh Painting
The hospital gardens in Arles – Vincent Van Gogh Painting (public domain)
Travel Provence - Arles hospital gardens
The Arles hospital gardens / Photo by Matt Boulton (CC BY-SA 2.0)

3. Travel Provence – Les Baux de Provence – The Carrieres de Lumieres

Les Baux de Provence is a Provencial village located in the heart of Alpilles. The village is beautiful and worth exploring. Next to the village are the ruins of a 12th century castle. From the castle ruins, you get the best views of this magnificent area. However, the highlight is next to this village – the Carrieres de Lumieres .

The Carrieres de Lumieres is a MUST for any art lover. It is a state-of-the-art multimedia Sound & Light show. Displaying at the moment are the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh.

The unusual and beautiful setting of the Carrieres de Lumieres is a huge limestone quarry carved inside a mountain. The sound and light show is exhibited over large limestone rock walls, ceilings and floors. This show is a magnificent multi-sensory experience. It immerses the viewer into the world of art. The exhibition is so popular that it is advisable to buy your tickets in advance to avoid waiting in queues. For more information, press here.

Les Baux de Provence – The Carrieres de Lumieres

4. Travel Provence – Saint-Rémy de Provence

In May 1889, after spending months in a hospital in Arles, Van Gogh moved to the beautiful town, Saint Remy. Here he committed himself into the psychiatric hospital Saint-Paul de Mausole, hoping for a cure. He spent a year in the Saint Remy hospital.

Vincent’s mental health in Saint-Remy was unstable. Despite his many relapses he was still very prolific.

‘As for me, my health is good, and as for the head it will, let’s hope, be a matter of time and patience.’

Vincent writes in a letter to his brother Theo from Saint-Rémy

Van Gogh completed around 150 paintings in the space of a year. Van Gogh painted the asylum, its gardens and the surrounding region. Some of Van Gogh’s most famous masterpieces are from his period in Saint-Remy.

Travel Provence - a reproduction of Van Gogh's painting at  Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy
At the Asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy / Photo by Dana McMahan (CC BY-NC 2.0)

What to do & see in Saint-Rémy de Provence in the Footsteps of Van Gogh

  • Van Gogh Walking Trail – This is a wonderful walkl for all Van Gogh fans. It is a marked walk (small brass circular plates with the Vincent signature embedded into the pavement). Along the way, are plaques with reproductions of Van Gogh’s artworks, including quotes by the artist or a blurb about him during his time in Saint-Remy. The trail ends at the Psychiatric Hosptial where Van Gogh spent time… incredible! To enhance your experience you can obtain an audioguide for 3 Euros at the Saint Remy tourist information.
  • Visit the Saint-Paul de Mausole Van Gogh spent one year in this psychiatric hospital. It is a really wonderful place to visit. In his hospital room and also scattered all over the hospital grounds are reproductions of Van Gogh’s artworks during his time here.
  • Musee Estrine is a small museum housed in a gorgeous building. It does not have any original Van Gogh works but provides a fabulous exhibition about the history of Van Gogh. The exhibition is small but very comprehensive. It includes a video about Van Gogh, a chronology of his life and copies of the nearly 800 letters he wrote to his brother Theo.

For organized Van Gogh tours in Saint-Remy, press here and here.

Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint Remy
Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint Remy / Photo by Philippe MARC (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)