The Alpilles are a small rocky mountain range 20km south of Avignon between the Rhone and Durance rivers in the Bouches-du-Rhone department of Provence.
Their arid cliffs stand out starkly against the gentle landscape of the Rhone valley and overlook plains covered in olive groves and vineyards as far as the eye can see. The climate is Mediterranean and the landscape is breathtaking. The Alpilles never cease to enthrall, no matter how many times you navigate the meandering little roads that connect the dreamlike unspoilt villages scattered throughout this protected nature reserve.
In spite of many foreigners and French “northerners” owning houses here, the atmosphere of the Alpilles villages and towns remains authentic, Provencal and decidedly free of bling. French showbiz personalities, American movie stars and others looking to hide from the limelight have long sought refuge here and immersed themselves in blissful anonymity.
The most well known Alpilles town must be chic and compact Saint Rémy-de-Provence to the north of the mountain range with its Roman ruins, Wednesday Provencal market and wide array of restaurants and cafes. Most popular with buyers looking for a house or apartment in Saint Rémy’s old centre are restored village houses with outside space. Many properties have (swelteringly hot) roof terraces or somber light shafts that are passed of as “patios” by optimistic estate agents, but true gardens or courtyards are rare and thus come at a huge premium.
Impressive mountain top village and fortress Les Baux de Provence is well worth a visit (off-season!), but is a tourist site rather than a working village. The countryside around Les Baux produces some of the best olive oil in France and harbours several excellent organic vineyards.
Ten minutes southeast of Saint Rémy is picture perfect Eygalieres, arguably the most expensive Alpilles village. Properties rarely come on the market here and those that do tend to have a price tag of several million euros. This small picturesque village has stunning views and boasts many delightful restaurants and cafes, including Michelin starred Maison Bru.
To the south of the mountain range lie Maussane-les-Alpilles, Paradou, Mouries and Fontvieille. These villages are all different in size and each has its own atmosphere. What they have in common, however, that they are perfect for those seeking the best of Provencal village life without being isolated.
Maussane les Alpilles is in the valley only a few kilometres south from Les Baux. Here village life is centred around an attractive main square with its impressive “Fountain of the Four Seasons” and attractive 18th century church. Around the square are several good restaurants and brasseries, and after a long lazy lunch under the plane trees it is easy to understand why property in this village is in such high demand.
Next to Maussane is Paradou, a miniscule postcard Provencal village which is jokingly referred to as the “rich suburb” of Maussane. Le Bistrot du Paradou comes highly recommended and is Charles Aznavour’s favourite hangout. He lives in nearby Mouries, only 5 minutes east from Maussane, which is a quieter village with fewer restaurants, but no less attractive. It seems hard to believe that it is still possible to find an un-restored village house with garden here for less than 400,000 euros. You do have to hurry though!
Buzzing Fontvieille is slightly larger and has the benefit of being only 12 minutes from Arles. It is famous for its stone quarry, Daudet’s windmill and magnificent Montmajour Abbey. Although all this results in thousands of visitors each year, it does not appear to have affected village life.
Since 2007 the Alpilles villages are in a protected nature reserve (Parc Naturel Regional) and property owners do not need to fear ugly or noisy developments. The Marseille and Avignon airports and TGV stations are within easy reach and many commute to London or Paris. Houses here have excellent holiday rental potential and with property prices having remained stable throughout the economic crisis buying your dream house in the Alpilles can also be a very sensible investment.