Carole had been wanting to visit the Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux de Provence for quite some time and we finally made it, stopping by on our way to Spain a few weeks ago. Situated in an old, abondened quarry, this “light show” is really something special. The exhibition we saw consisted of paintings by Van Gogh (probably my favorite artist, so a big plus there). The concept itself is really pretty simple: images of various Van Gogh paintings are projected onto the inside surfaces of the quarry, including the floor. The images swirl, fade in and out and just generally dance across the surfaces. Now, I say the concept is pretty simple, but the execution is certainly not. I’m sure it takes a lot of work to pull this off.
[more info after photo gallery]
The exhibition is in the picturesque medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence. Another of the “Most Beautiful Villages In France.” If you go to the exhibition it is well worth spending a little extra time in the village itself. As you can see from the photo in the gallery here it’s a little difficult to distinguish the village from the rocky outcrop on which it is situated. The village runs along a ridge of stone and was built to maximize safety from invaders. It almost looks like the village was just carved right out of the stone. You’ll find lots to do in the village, including paid visits to the fortified chateau. You can easily spend an entire afternoon just wandering through the narrow, twisting cobbelstone streets. It can be a bit overrun with tourists in the high season, but when we were there on an evening in early October it was just perfect, it seemed like we almost had the place to ourselves.
Accomodations are fairly limited in the village itself, so we spent the night in nearby Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just a fifteen minute drive. Now, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is another wonderful place to explore and I would encourage you to do just that if you make this trip. It’s a vibrant, bustling little town in the heart of Provence. There are loads of restaurants, shops and hotels. As with Les Baux-de-Provence, it can get very busy in the summer, but during other seasons it’s not too bad. We stayed in an Airbnb, a nice little apartment in the heart of the town. I spent an entire morning just wandering around the town, especially the “old town,” taking pictures and having a great time.
It’s a good idea to book reservations for the exhibit online before you make travel plans. It’s open every day of the week. The hours change from season to season, but generally they are open from at least 10AM to 6PM, earlier and later during peak seasons. They close each year for most of January and February. Only a certain number of people are allowed into the exhibit at any given time. Entrances are spaced about 90 minutes apart. Tickets run between 11€ and 13€ and there are discounts for senior citizens and families. There is plenty of parking, though you might have to walk a short distance from one of the parking lots. Once your entrance time arrives you are allowed into the quarry, which, of course, is quite dark. But soon the swirling colors and lights appear and you are transported into a magical land of sensory overload. The exhibit covers a fair amount of the quarry so you can wander around to see different paintings projected onto different walls and blocks of rock. Things are constantly moving and changing and it really is a special experience. The walls are very, very high and the paintings just seem to swallow the entire atmosphere. I will say, however, that pictures of the exhibit can be a bit misleading. Especially the photo on the official poster that you’ll see in the gallery here. In that photo the colors are incredibily vivid and vibrant. That’s not how they actually look in the exhibit. Even my photos make the colors a bit brighter than they actually are to the naked eye. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a stunning visual display, but things are not quite as bright and colorful as photos seem to indicate.
In addition to the portion of the quarry where the exhibit is held, you can also walk around some other large sections that are quite interesting as well. After the exhibit we spent another hour or so roaming around and exploring the rest of the quarry. There is also a nice little café/restaurant and a souvenir & bookshop. I bought a poster from the exhibit which I know have framed and hanging in our living room.
The Van Gogh exhibit ends in December. Next up is Salvador Dali, another of my favorite painters. Carole and I are already planning another trip west to see that version. It’s about a three hour drive from Vence, but there’s just so much to do in the area. I could spend several days exploring just Les Baux-de-Provence and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. In addition, you’re just a short distance form Arles, Nîmes and Avignon. It’s an incredible part of France, one of my very favorites.