Off the Beaten Track: Simiane-la-Rotonde
If your travels ever take you to the beautiful and bustling city of Aix-en-Provence, in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, be sure to spend some time getting to know the surrounding countryside. With its lavender fields, ancient farm houses and hidden towns, the area is a joy to explore by car, by bicycle, or on foot.
About 60 miles North of Aix-en-Provence, off the beaten track, you’ll discover Simiane-la-Rotonde, a small village perched high up at 2,100 feet above a plain. Some of the streets in this picturesque little town are so narrow that they can only be accessed by foot. There are some ancient buildings, like the imposing 17th century portal of the “Ostau Montiallard”, that speak of the wealth and financial success of past inhabitants. There is also a covered market with a fine 16th century colonnade. The unusual bell tower of St. Jean, partially destroyed by a thunderbolt in 1897, still chimes the hours.
The Rotonde referred to in the town’s name is a beautiful room in the local Castle, which once belonged to the Simiane-Agoult family. This great space has a magnificent ribbed cupola opening into an occulus with a sculpted wreath of flowers. A concert of early music – Les Riches Heures Musicales de la Rotonde – is held here every summer. With its Romanesque architecture, its sculpted ornamentation and its excellent acoustics, the Rotonde provides an exceptional setting for this event whose musical quality and original programs account for its success and reputation.
The first floor of the castle is dedicated to the intriguing world of aromatic and medicinal plants. Demonstrations of distillation, conferences and workshops are open to the public.
Accommodations right in town can be found at a couple of very lovely B&Bs, and there are hotels nearby. Several small restaurants feature local food and friendly service.