Elizabeth II, the Queen of England, discovered Provence in May 1972. On the programme: Arles and its Roman monuments, Fontvieille and Les Baux-de-Provence – the jewels of the Alpilles -, together with Avignon and its must-see Popes’ Palace. Let’s take a trip back in time to the royal Tour de Provence…
Arles and its Roman monuments
After an official visit to Paris, the Queen of England landed in Nîmes for a 24-hour stopover in Provence on May 17th, 1972. It was 11.15 am when Elizabeth II stepped off the plane, welcomed by three Arlesiennes dressed in traditional costume. The sovereign’s journey through Provence kicked off in Arles, the capital of Camargue. There she was, walking through a Guard of Honour formed by the local “gardians” – the bull-herding cowboys of Camargue – on her way to Arles Arena, the icon of the ancient Roman city. Elizabeth II roamed the majestic amphitheatre, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, where gladiators clashed in days gone by. She went on to tour all of the local sights: the Roman Theatre, then Saint-Trophime cloister (the Queen was impressed by its gate), both on the UNESCO list. A short while later, after mingling with the crowd, it was time to head to Fontvieille.
Drinks in Fontvieille
Lunch time! After a ride in a dashing convertible – after all, only the best will do for Her Majesty! -, Elizabeth II arrived in Fontvieille in the Alpilles. The town is famed for its mill, a source of inspiration for the Provencal author Alphonse Daudet. The Queen was soon comfortably seated at the restaurant “La Regalido”, a genuine local institution. Her Majesty sipped a gin & tonic, before savouring some typical Provencal delicacies: scrambled egg with truffle, followed by a grenadine of veal with morel mushrooms, goat’s cheese and strawberries. All washed down with an excellent Côteaux des Baux-de-Provence wine of course… As Elizabeth II was expected in Avignon, she didn’t have time to linger for an after-lunch stroll to Moulin de Fontvieille mill. It was time to head to the City of Popes!
Avignon and the Pope's Palace
The Queen of England arrived in Avignon in the early afternoon. After a short stop-off on Place de l’Horloge, famed for its restaurants and café terraces, she pushed open the doors of the Popes’ Palace. It was a brief visit that lasted just 15 minutes, although that didn’t prevent Elizabeth II appreciating the western world’s largest Gothic palace to the full. Erected in the 14th century, it is the work of two enterprising builder Popes, Benoit XII and Clement VI. That day, the Queen of England also discovered the palace’s impressive surroundings: the Rhône River, Rocher des Doms rock and Pont Saint-Bénezet (the famous “Pont d’Avignon”), together with the town’s ramparts, forming a genuine jewel of Provence listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Fit for a queen!
Tea in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Nothing can stand in the way of the Queen’s tea time, but on this day it had a resolutely Provencal flavour! Elizabeth II had set her heart on Château de Lagoy, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Erected in the 18th century, this castle – a listed monument – stands overlooking a renowned wine estate. Sadly though, the Queen didn’t have time to taste Provence’s fine wines: she was expected in Les Baux-de-Provence for an “intimate dinner” (in the company of thirty or so guests even so…).
Dinner in Les Baux-de-Provence
Dinner was served at 8.30 pm at L’Oustau de Baumanière, one of Provence’s finest eateries and now a Michelin three-star establishment. Elizabeth II savoured stuffed sea bass with a pistou crust, a roast leg of Alpilles lamb with green pepper, petits pois and a green bean bake, followed by raspberries with lemon sorbet, cream and millefeuille. Before retiring for the night, the Queen admired the medieval castle forming the centrepiece of Les Baux-de-Provence from afar, perched on its rocky spur. The following morning, Her Majesty treated herself to a stroll through the village’s steep old lanes, enjoying the last few moments of Provencal sunshine before heading back to the grey skies of London.