Cardinal Richelieu once called Les Baux-de-Provence a “nesting place for eagles.” Framed by the sheer rock ravines of the Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell), Les Baux’s lonely position on a windswept plateau overlooks vineyards and thousands of olive trees (some planted by the Greeks and Romans) that produce some of the best limited-production wines and olive oil in the south of France.
Les Baux’s amazing collection of narrow, climbing streets and medieval and 16th- and 17th-century stone houses are now home to local craftsmen who sell their wares to a steady stream of tourists. In the 17th century, Cardinal Richelieu, under orders from Louis XIII, was responsible for the destruction of what remains of the Viile Morte (Dead City); the ruins of this 13th-century cliffside castle and ramparts outside the main town are a romantic vestige of Les Baux’s glorious past.
Tucked between the crags below, the princely L’Oustau de Beaumaniere restaurant is housed in an old Provencal manor house in a verdant oasis. Dining under the vaulted ceilings or on the terrace, overlooking the sylvan duck ponds and partaking of L’Oustau’s fabled wine cellar are culinary experiences of a high order.
As you approach Eze at 1300 feet above the cobalt-blue Mediterranean, you may forget that this scrupulously restored medieval town was designed for military defenses, not tourist dollars. It is the highest of Provence’s perched villages and one of the most visited.
An extraordinary sight, clinging to a cone of sky-born rock, Eze’s stopped serpentine alleyways and flower-decked cobbled passageways are home to artisans and antiques dealers catering to the tourist trade. Eze’s Jardin Exotique (Exotic Garden) boasts an exceptional collection of cacti – and everywhere, those views! High inspiration seems to come with the altitude. Friedrich Nietzsche, a regular visitor, wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra in Eze; a mule path wending down to the sea is now known as Sentier Nietzsche (Nietzsche’s Path).
After the last day-tripper leaves, guests at the Château de la Chevre d’Or have much of the tiny town to themselves. They will feel like pampered guests in the stunning home of a wealthy friend. Few pools have a view like this one, and if you’ve checked into the Medieval Suite, your private terrace and alfresco Jacuzzi share the same panorama.
In a postage-stamp-size enclave such as Eze, it is surprising to find a second extraordinary operation, namely the Château Eza, a 400- year-old building refurbished in the 1920s by Prince William of Sweden. Today it is a luxury hotel with a noted chef and an outdoor dining terrace so handsome that it can make you forget the wonderful food. (Dining is even finer at the Château de la Chevre d’Or, although the restaurant is enclosed.)