•Bouches-du-Rhône (13126) • Population: 1,027 • Altitude: 458 m
Vauvenargues is a small village, stretched along the side of a hill a few km east of Aix-en-Provence. The village is mostly hidden from passers by, just the Vauvenargues Chateau, last home of Picasso, visible on its hilltop island further out in the valley.
The backdrop of Vauvenargues is the long forested ridge of the Sainte-Victoire mountains.
- Aix Historic NE
The village is small, but has a typical Provencal-village life, with a café or two, a couple of places to eat and a couple of village shops.
Access to the village. The D10 road passes along the valley, beside the village that's hidden just below. An entry road branches down into the village from the west end (closest to Aix-en-Provence). There is some parking in the village, but it's limited. Probably best to park on the main road and walk down into the center. At the bus stop on the main road, steps lead down to the village. This is also the passage point of the GR9 hiking trail.
Looking south from Vauvenargues, the Montagne Sainte-Victoire stretches across scene, with the ridge only a couple of kilometers distant. The steep northern slope facing Vauvenargues is forested and the top of this shady can keep its snow into early Spring.
The chateau was acquired in the 16th-c by the Clapiers. After a series of other owners, it was sold in 1790, following the French Revolution to the Isoard family, who retained it for 150 years. In 1943, Simone Marguerite d'Isoard Vauvenargues sold it to three industrialists from Marseilles. The industrialists stripped the interior of the chateau of all furniture and decoration, and in 1947 it was turned into a vacation center for a maritime welfare organization.
Pablo Picasso bought the Chateau de Vauvenargues in September 1958, a week after he saw it for the first time. He moved into the chateau in January 1959, leaving his home at the La Californie area of Cannes. His intention was to make his permanent home here and work here in Vauvenargues.
In April 1959 Picasso moved his whole personal art collection from bank vaults in Paris into the chateau. He also brought all the bronze sculptures from his garden in La Californie, which he arranged on the terrace in front of the principal facade of the chateau and in the entrance hall.
Picasso occupied Vauvenargues, off and on, between 1959 and 1962. The works of art he produced while at Vauvenargues are said to be one of the high points of his career. He painted a variety of themes, including portraits of Jacqueline, but he never painted the Sainte-Victoire.
In June 1961, Picasso moved to the mas (farmhouse) of Notre-Dame-de-Vie at Mougins.
Picasso died in his villa at Mougins on 8 April 1973. On 16 April 1973, Pablo Picasso was buried beneath the shaded terrace in front of the main entrance of Vauvenargues chateau. Jacqueline visited his grave on the 8th of every month until, 13 years later, she took her own life. She is now buried beside him beneath the shady terrace.
Paul Cezanne, born in nearby Aix-en-Provence often painted Mont Sainte Victoire, including views from here in Vauvenargues.
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History of Vauvenargues
First record, 11th-c Vallis Veeranica
Prehistoric: There was an Iron Age burial site here, in the grotto of the citadel.
Gallo-Roman: A Roman fort stood on this hilltop site.
Medieval: The original Roman fort here was transformed into a Medieval fortress by the Counts of Provence. Vauvenargues chateau passed from the Counts of Provence to the Archbishops of Aix in 1257. It was acquired in the 16th-c by the Clapiers family, who rebuilt the chateau in its present form.
Sambuc Auto Racing
The automobile racetrack of the Grand-Sambuc is located in the hills 3 km north of Vauvenargues village. The track is at an altitude of 500m, and has a 800-m straight finishing with a real parabolic bend. The track is used by driving schools and racing clubs of the region.
• GPS: 43.555348, 5.60091
IGN (1/25,000) #3244 ET "Ste Victoire, Gardanne, Trets"
The GR9 (Grande Randonnée) hiking trail passes through Vauvenargues; this trail is famous for passing along the length of the Sainte-Victoire mountain ridge.
The GR trail is marked by the bus stop on the D10 road along the top side of the village. To the north, the GR9 climbs into the hills, then follows small roads, past Le Grand Sambuc to the village of Jouques.
For the southward trail, the GR9 first goes west along the road (towards Aix) about 1.5 km, then south to climb to the top of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire. (Instead of heading west down the road, you can take the steps down into the village, then head west out the main (and only) street of the village.) At the Croix de Provence on the top, the GR9 goes east along the ridge about 6 km before descending south to the village of Puyloubier.
Department 13, Bouches-du-Rhône Buses
- See Beyond's Bouches-du-Rhone (13) Bus Schedules for downloading Bouches-du-Rhone bus-lines map and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).