Now that I’ve seen the movie “Loving Van Gogh” — in French no less, with no subtitles — I’m remembering my first visit to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
I started my quest for Van Gogh’s trail in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence early on a beautiful, sunny morning. Temperatures were in the high 70’s and a light wind was blowing. Planned stops along the way to St. Rémy were the towns of Remoulins and Beaucaire.
On Van Gogh’s Trail: Remoulins
I’m not certain why I chose to stop in Remoulins because I had done no research — just a spot on a map. Nevertheless, a cemetery along the way caught my eye while I was passing through the town. I’d been intrigued about French cemeteries since being here, so stopping in Remoulins gave me a chance to check one out. To me it’s interesting to find out how different cultures honor their deceased. In Remoulins, and other areas of Provence, bodies are buried above the ground in family plots. Most grave stones in this cemetery dated back many centuries. Many were adorned with elaborate porcelain flower displays and family memorabilia.
On Van Gogh’s Trail: Beaucaire
Moving onto Beaucaire, the scenery definitely changed. The older part of town where tourist visit is centered around a busy canal. Marine traffic is active, mostly for pleasure boats, and cafes and restaurants cater to transients and locals. Some boat owners who tour the western Mediterranean in summer moor their vessels in Beaucaire in the winter.
Finding the way
1 If you’re wondering how I find my way around, it is relatively easy. On this trip I had a Michelin Atlas of France. I know the main ways in and out if Uzes. So with a couple of stops at petrol stations along the way to ask directions, I got along fine. Note: Both petrol stations where I stopped had female attendants. Neither spoke English. I simple pointed where I was going on the map and they totally understood what I wanted. They gave me perfect directions. Not to be sexist, but a man giving directions would have described every landmark along the way. The females just drew straight lines from one turn to another. Simple.
2 Another guide for finding my way on the roadways is “roundabouts.”I’m not kidding, there are roundabouts every two miles or so along French roadways. That means there are frequent direction signs that point your way.
3 When you get into a city, there’s usually clearly marked signage to follow. If you don’t see your destination on the sign, just keep going straight. Soon there will be a sign that says: “Autres Direction” or “Toutes Direction.” Follow that sign. It will lead you to the right road.
If all else fails, ask a woman.
On Van Gogh’s Trail: St. Rémy de Provence
St. Rémy is advertised as the one place you must see if you want to experience Provence.
Nostradamus was born in St. Rémy and Doctor Albert Schweitzer was “hospitalized” here in 1917-18 when he wrote The Decay and the Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics, part of his philosophical study of civilization.
Most importantly St. Rémy is where the artist, Van Gogh, lived from 1889-90 in the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean
Driving into St. Rémy, an almost “spiritual” feeling came over me. There was something different about the countryside . It felt like a movie set. The road into the city is lined with white-banded “plane” trees, like those leading out if Uzes. But they go on for miles and miles. Ancient stuccoed farm houses and buildings are close to the road with lush farmlands spreading deep behind them.
The historic district of St. Rémy is set in a circle. I found a parking place in the public lot that was close to the entrance of town. After depositing the equivalent of $5 in the meter, I looked for the tourist office. Before I had gotten very far, a menu special at a charming cafe caught my eye– salmon. I stopped for dejeuner.
Perfectly prepared salmon, risotto with tiny chunks of tomato and scallions, and a glass of rose.
I skipped the tourist office and took off to explore the shops. Of course.
Interestingly, I saw more Americans in St. Rémy than anywhere else I’ve traveled in this area. I’m sure its because they’ve read the publicity about St. Rémy being the “place to be” in Provence. They head there on day stops while cruising the Med. There’s definitely a distinctively high-class atmosphere in St. Rémy. Its appeal to the “rich and famous” is apparent throughout the shops and boutiques.
Some of the architecture even looks rich– more “French” than “provincial” or “Provençal.”
On Van Gogh’s Trail: Art and architecture
Walking around St. Rémy, there were so many times I reminded myself, “Van Gogh was here”, I could imagine how he was inspired. It inspired me.
In the footsteps of Van Gogh
The creme de la creme of my day was a tour of Saint Paul-de-Mausolean, the monastery complex and asylum where Van Gogh was voluntarily committed from 1889-90. From here he produced two of his most notable works, “Starry nights” and his self-portrait. Taking the photos below, I was transported to Van Gogh’s day and time. I could imagine how he felt fortunate for all the beauty around him, in spite of his imprisonment. The entrance, the buildings, the inside, Van Gogh’s Garden, the chapel, the view!
Van Gogh was released from the hospital at Saint Paul-de-Mausolean in May 1890 and left for Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris. It is said he shot himself on 27 July 1890 and died two days later.
Fortunately his art lives on.