If you come to Aix-en-Provence, after having a walking tour of the town, why not visiting the surroundings? Tour to the Mount Sainte-Victoire in the footsteps of Cézanne and Picasso!
The Mount Sainte-Victoire is a remarkable limestone formation located East of the city Aix-en-Provence, this is the symbol of the town in a way, a landmark in the surroundings of Aix for sure. The range runs East to West over about 18 kilometers (11 miles) and the highest point called Pic des Mouches rises to 1011 meters (3317 feet) above sea level. However, the Croix de Provence, just above the famous Priory which is now a refuge for hikers and rock climbers is more famous than the highest point and is a popular destination for them.
Indeed, Sainte-Victoire is cherished by locals, being a place where they enjoy hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, flying from the top for hang-gliders… or simply having a picnic lunch in a peaceful field at the foot of the cliffs. The South side is a very impressive limestone wall and there are many hiking trails and rock climbing routes.
Of course, Sainte-Victoire was also the favorite subject of the painter Cézanne who featured it in many works, oils and watercolors. He painted it from different points of view, from the West from the family property of Jas de Bouffan for example, from the South and South West… The last series he made from the top of the hill of les Lauves just above his last studio is particularly interesting since the freedom in the artist’s touch is really visible.
Sainte-Victoire is never the same, sometimes white, sometimes grey, pink, blue, there was even a little bit of snow on Saturday when I went hiking!
No wonder why Sainte-Victoire is so interesting for painters: a very unique and particular “silhouette”, the changing light and colors, the red clay, the pine trees. Fascinating! Just like painters, I am never tired of it and I will go again and again!
When having the scenic drive along the South side of the mountain, there are a few charming villages like Le Tholonet and its majestic road with centenary plane trees leading to the Bastide built by the Galliffet family in the 17th Century, the tiny Saint-Antonin-sur-Bayon from where the view on the mountain is much more dramatic and the picturesque Puyloubier. Further East, you’ll cross Pourrières to discover the North side of Sainte-Victoire. It’s different, wilder and not as rocky. I like taking the lovely hiking trail going to the Pic des Mouches from the Col des Portes and to stop and have a drink in the village of Vauvenargues afterwards, facing Picasso’s castle.
Picasso purchased the castle of Vauvenargues in 1958 and lived there for a while (until 1962) escaping from his hectic life on the French Riviera. He was close to the favorite subject of the Master of Aix he admired and worshipped. From Paris, he took there his private collection of paintings (Gauguin, Degas, Courbet… Cézanne of course…), as well as his own works and he completed some famous paintings in Vauvenargues but never painted Sainte-Victoire! He is burried on the terrace in front of the entrance of the castle with his last wife Jacqueline whose family still owns the property.