Outside Aix-en-Provence are several beautiful villages.
The D10 road leaves Aix and leads northward through the charming countryside on the north bank of the Bimont reservoir. The latter is in fact not visible from the road, and it is worth making a detour to the wall of the reservoir in order to enjoy the impressive view of the bold triangular mountain peak, the Montagne Ste-Victoire.About 12km/7.5mi east of Aix, above the river which supplies into the reservoir, lies the village of Vauvenargues, known for the abundance of game and wildlife in the surrounding countryside. The pretty village church dates from the 12th and 16th C., and the Renaissance palace, where Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues, wrote his famous 18th C. philosophical maxims, was purchased by Picasso in 1958. Picasso and Jacqueline Roque, his second wife, are buried in the park.Today the palace is owned by the daughter of Jacqueline Roque and is not open to visitors. Jacqueline wanted to instal a Picasso Museum here, but the local authorities would not allow it, for fear that the little village and quiet valley would be spoiled by hordes of artists and other visitors.
Croix de la Provence
To the south of Vauvenargues towers the Montagne Ste-Victoire ridge, made famous by Paul Cézanne. From the little hamlet of Les Cabassols to the west a road - part of the GR9 walking trail - leads to Croix de la Provence (945m/3,100ft). The climb - about 5km/3mi and taking about 1.5 hours - is mainly over gravel and rocky ground; sure-footedness, stout shoes and a good standard of fitness are essential. The superb panoramic view - on a clear day - from the Camargue in the west across the Maures massif as far as the Alps in the south make the effort so worthwhile. The masses of flowers among the rocks are also most impressive.
Ventabren is a picturesque "village perché", or hillside village, dominated by a ruined castle high above the Valley of the Arc, some 15km/9mi west of Aix. Few other places can so clearly portray what is meant by the term "perché": "like a bird perched high up in a tree" is one description of it. The 11th-12th C. Parish Church of St-Denis is worth visiting; there is a magnificent 180 degree view from the castle ruins over the idyllic landscape to the north of the Etang de Berre and Martigues on the southern bank of the river.
4km/2.5mi west of Ventabren in the Valley of the Arc lies the Celtic rock-sanctuary of Roquepertuse; an unsigned footpath leads southward from the junction of the D65 and D10. Most of the important finds made here can be seen in the Borély Museum in Versailles.
Four km/2.5mi to the south of Ventabren, along a charming lateral valley of the Arc, is the Roquefavour Aqueduct, an imposing construction conveying the Durance Canal over the valley towards Marseilles. The aqueduct - three stories, internal height 83m/272ft and length 375m/410yd - was constructed between 1842 and 1847; although modeled on the Pont du Gard and in fact considerably larger, its modern construction is rather too perfect and thus it fails to achieve the same powerful effect.The upper level of the aqueduct is accessible from the D64; coming from Ventabren, turn left towards Petit Rigoués just before reaching the D65, and then turn right to the watchman's house.
During World War II, when France was occupied by the Germans, some 3,000 German Jews who had fled from Nazi Germany were interned here in the local brick-works. Some escaped, but the remainder - together with a further 2,000 Jews betrayed by the Vichy Government - were sent to German concentration camps. There is a plaque in memory of this sad tale to be seen near the loading bay at the railroad station.In a beautiful park south of Les Milles, by the D59, stands the 18th C. Lenfant Palace.
Overlooking the Aygues valley is this 12th century chateau d'Ansouis. Fitted along the terraces below the chateau are a series of gardens. From the gardens an excellent view of the Alps can be seen.
Château la Gaude
Château la Gaude was designed in the form of a circular labyrinth is the moated box parterre. A series of steps lead down from the labyrinth to the broad terraces and smooth lawns with yew and fountains.
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