High on a rocky finger of the Alpilles, the twin villages of les Baux blend seamlessly with the bau (Proven√ç¬µcal for escarpment). At the southern end of the ridge, the 11thC Counts of les Baux carved a citadel out of the rock, claimed kinship with Balthazar of the Three Wise Men, and created themselves Emperors of Constantinople until the dynasty foundered in the 14thC. Huguenot dissenters later attracted the attention of Richelieu who demolished the Protestant stronghold in 1632, but even he was unable to raze the natural rock foundations.
This is the ‘Dead Village’ or Ville Morte, now held to ransom by the ‘Living Village’, a delightful but completely tourist-orientated collection of 16th-17thC hôtels turned gallery-cum-souvenir shops, small museums and overpriced cafés. The views stretching to Arles and across the olive orchards to the Camargue make the visit worthwhile. Just north of the village on the D27, the Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell) is said to have inspired the poet Dante’s vision of Inferno.