After the wild splendour of the Camargue, we back tracked a bit to visit St Rémy de Provence. This is a small town with a well preserved historic heart. On our first day we explored the town, ambling up and down the narrow streets and enjoying the atmosphere. It is obviously a tourist destination and was full of American and Japanese groups enjoying the history and the shops selling local goods.
We found the tourist information office and were given a map with two walking trails. The historic trail around the old town was useful and we used that to ensure we didn’t miss anything vital. The Van Gogh trail we saved for the next day.
The narrow streets worked their usual magic on us. There are a number of statues built into the corners of buildings which we found interesting and we had been unaware that this was the birthplace of Nostradamus. He was born in 1503 and spent his youth here before he became a famous doctor and astrologer. There is a fountain dedicated to him and it is possible to view a vestige of the house in which he is born.
The Church of Saint Martin is a rather miserable place but, it does have a magnificent organ which was worth visiting for.
Following the Van Gogh trail up to the Monastére Saint Paul de Mausole, was informative, as there are panels along the route displaying reproductions of his paintings executed during his stay in St Rémy.
Van Gogh was a troubled soul who, following another of his breakdowns, booked himself into the psychiatric rest home at the monastery for a year from May 1889 to May 1890. A wing of the cloister is occupied by a museum dedicated to the period during which he was resident. The audio guide is extremely informative, particularly in relation to the history of mental health provision spanning 1000 years at the monastery. It is amazing to hear how the monastery provided sanctuary and treatment for the insane over the centuries under a variety of administrations and practices. It is still providing that protection and treatment today.
The rooms that replicate those of Van Gogh overlook the gardens which in his time were open wheat fields. He was treated through art therapy and therefore his paintings constituted part of his recovery. Art therapy is still a major part of the treatment offered today and art exhibitions and sale of art works, by the residents, help to support the work of the institution.
While we were there a Dutch artist, who works with the residents part time, was in the garden painting a picture ready for sale in Amsterdam. He was happy to chat to us while he worked which was most illuminating. He said that he could not paint enough pictures featuring the places frequented by Van Gogh to meet requirement. We can only assume he was no starving artist!
The monastery is close to the archaeological Roman site of Glanum which was destroyed in the Barbarian invasions in 260 and abandoned. It was rediscovered in 1920 and you can see the monuments characteristic of Roman life along the main road. We decided to give them a miss as we had enjoyed a surfit of Roman ruins over the last couple of weeks. We just had a quick look at the triumphal arch as it was across the road from the monastery.
This was a lovely vibrant town with a lot more to visit than we managed in our time there. If you like museums and have an unlimited budget, there were other places to feed the mind.