How to Spend a Day in Saint-Remy
Our 24-hour itinerary in St. Remy revolves around the southern section of town in the shadows of Saint-Paul asylum, an area where Vincent Van Gogh painted some of his most famous paintings, within an easy walking distance of the ancient Roman ruins of Glanum.
- Glanum, the interesting Roman site built upon a Greek one at the foot of the Alpilles mountain range, with some interesting drainage features, a wine smoking room, an intact mausoleum, triumphal arch and more.
- Visit Van Gogh's rooms in the Saint Paul asylum (Maison de santé Saint-Paul) and stroll the grounds. Still an active mental hospital, it was once an Augustine monastery built in the 12th century and still carries some of the features of its Romanesque history. You can visit the van Gogh's (reconstructed) rooms, the gardens and landscapes familiar from van Gogh works.
- Have lunch outside your hotel, the Villa Glanum.
Van Gogh Art Trail
The Promenade dans l'univers de Vincent van Gogh is an art trail with information markers which snakes through the city, heading south from the parking lot of the Tourist office. The promenade allows you to visit the spots where van Gogh had set his easel and painted some of his most famous paintings.
Sound artistically idyllic? Not so much. You'll find fences, high walls and cut forest. It seems there is nothing left of the Provence that inspired the famous painter. Wealthy suburban dwellers with a very high budget for very tall cement walls have cut off all the great country views.
But hold on until the end. The magic of the whole walk comes together at the end. It was the golden triangle of St. Remy de Provence, anchored by the medieval monastery/asylum, the ancient Glanum, and a decent lunch in the shade of trees around a country hotel called Villa Glanum.
And right in the center of this golden triangle is a single sign, which actually shows the exact location of a van Gogh painting called Les oliviers (ciel jaune et soleil resplendissant)--sprightly olive trees right in front of the hospital van Gogh checked himself into. You can see, finally, the exact scene that inspired van Gogh.
So, if you're driving through Provence and are looking to stop for a night or two in the countryside with lots to do right out your door, spend a day exploring this corner of Provence.
Van Gogh's Rooms at the Maison de Santé Saint-Paul
The public entrance to the Maison de santé Saint-Paul has tourist information on the wall surrounding the hospital. You need to buy a ticket, then walk down the gravel road toward the chapel, Passing the statue of Vincent and turning right at the stones with "Visite Touristique" carved and painted on them.
The picture shows the reconstructed room of Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh had two rooms, one of which was to be the studio. The second room you'll see now holds a pair of bathtubs. Van Gogh had a weekly two-hour bath as part of his therapy.
If the rooms were the only part of the visit, you'd feel a bit cheated. But the self-guided tour also includes a visit to the Romanesque cloister and garden, as well as the area in back of the building, a wheat field that Van Gogh painted, in the late spring resplendent with red poppies.
The full name of the asylum is Maison di Sante Saint-Paul de Mausole. The "Mausole" refers to the Roman Mausoleum which sits alongside the triumphal arch, making up what the locals call "Les Antiques."
Mausoleum of the Julii and the Triumphal Arch
Mausoleum of the Julii sits on a rise just outside the Roman city of Glanum. It's one of the best examples of a Roman mausoleum in the world.
The second half of Les Antiques is the triumphal arch. It was built during the reign of Augustus Caesar--10-25 B.C. The arch was a sign of the power of the Romans and is certainly well-preserved.
Les Antiques are surrounded by trees and blocks of stone. Painters congregate here to paint the monuments. To get to the Roman site of Glanum, you cross the road and follow the path.
The Roman site of Glanum is built upon an earlier town along La Via Domitia, a Roman road that takes you from the Alps to the Pyrenees. When you enter the site, you're looking right down the main route through town, toward the Alpilles mountains. The site is ringed by hills; hills that protected it when their alluvial run-off covered and preserved the site.
Interesting things to see: the wine smoking room which you might mistake for a section of a Roman bath, as the heat generation was similar--and remnants of the water, sewer and drainage systems along the main road. The sacred spring that the older town was built upon is also part of the self-guided tour, steps leading down into a cistern with goldfish swimming in it.
There is a restaurant/snack bar on the premises and a small bookstore selling local products. See their website for tour hours and prices.
Where to Stay and Eat
The shade of the wooded grounds around the Villa Glanum Hotel, 46 Avenue Vincent Van Gogh, is the perfect spot for a light lunch after your trip around the archaeological site of Glanum, which is just down the street.
The menu includes a great many salads, which make a fine meal on a summer's day with a glass of beer or wine. "Salads" might contain lardons, boiled egg, smoked duck breast or foie gras.
The hotel is highly rated by folks who've stayed. It's easy to get to by car and a great place to retire to when you've done this itinerary. Everything on this itinerary is a short and relatively flat walk.
Of course, you can easily get into the city by walking or by car. Wednesday is market day in Saint-Remy, and it's a good one if you like those sorts of things.