Bouches-du-Rhône (13410) Population: 6,698 Altitude: 204 m
Lambesc is a small town about 20 km northwest of Aix-en-Provence. The town is situated in the farming plains south of the Durance, near some low hills, including the Chaîne des Côtes just to the north. Market day 2nd Sat.
Aix Historic NW
We hadn't heard anything about Lambesc, and so when we stumbled across it, it came as a delightful surprise. The buildings around the center form a circular wall, no doubt for defensive reasons. A huge church in the center, a bell tower with a magnificent campanile [photo-1], lots of little fountains, plenty of narrow old streets for exploring, and a few fine restaurants make this a good place to visit.
This isn't a tourist town, so you won't find a big selection of gifts and trinkets, but there are a fair number of shops. In the 17th century Lambesc was considered the Petit Versailles; many notables and the well-to-do of Aix-en-Provence built their grand hotels particuliers here. The gentry of Aix have faded into history, but many of their fine old houses still lend a touch of class to the town. Ste Anne, 6 km north in the Chaîne des Côtes hills, has troglodyte habitations.
Jacquemard - Campanile
The campanile on top of the tall square clock tower is really something special. Inside the wrought-iron work, a family of four life-sized figures, Jacquemards, ring the bells every quarter hour [photo-2]. Clockwork Jacquemards exist in a couple of dozen sites across France, many of them now to be seen in the local museums rather than on the job. The Jacquemards still busy in Lambesc's campanile were restored in 1993. You can see a small model, and read about them, at the excellent Lambesc museum.
You can see a Jacquemard in action, and see its extreme capabilities, in the 1946 film "The Stranger", by and with Orson Welles, with Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young.
Stage Coach - Diligence
Lambesc was a stage stop on the Paris-Lyon-Aix stage coach (diligence) line, the principal form of transportation from the capital to the south from 1623 until the 18th century. The stage travelled at about 25 km a day, making the trip From Paris about three weeks. The south bound stage departed Paris at 2:00 AM, and travelled about 24 hours before each overnight stop, departing for the next stage around 2 or 3 in the morning.
History of Lambesc
First record, 961 Lambesc
Gallo-Roman: Vestiges of rural Gallo-Roman habitation have been discovered in the area (St-Estève) and a sarcophagus was found in the hamlet of Janet. These and other artifacts are on display in the town museum.
Medieval: Lambesc was the fief of the Porcellet until the 12th century, and the Pontevès until the 14th. It was the meeting place for the rulers of Provence from 1646 to 1786. In 1688 it was made a Principality by Louis XIV, with the responsibility for the King's stables. In 1598, the town was besieged by La Valette.
More Recently: A serious earthquake on the 11th of June, 1909, caused severe damage, and killed twenty-some people.
Market day: 2nd Sat.
Sep - Fete village
(Every Whit Monday) - Foire - Autumn Fair Whit Monday
• GPS: 43.655067, 5.260442
IGN (1/25,000) #3143 ET "Aix-en-Provence, Vitrolles, Lambesc"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #14 "Luberon, Sainte-Victoire"
Walks along small roads and country lanes the only possibilities directly from Lambesc. About 3-4 km north, however, the Chaîne des Côtes offer some forested hill hikes. Both hiking and riding trails run northeast to the Durance and to the west. About 10 km northwest of Lambesc the GR 6 (Grande Randonnée) trail passes, between Mallemort and Salon-de-Provence.
There's more than one good restaurant in Lambesc, but we had Sunday lunch in the Relais des Côtes, and would gladly recommend it. The restaurant is housed in the 17th-century stage coach relay building, named after the Chaîne des Côtes hills the stage had to pass through when arriving at Lambesc.
The pleasant looking dining room in the front of the old stone building could be empty, but don't be put off. In the back is a lovely little outdoor terrace [photo-10], far from street noise, and shaded by surrounding old stone walls and an overhead trellis of vines. Starting at 65 F (weekday lunch) and about 100 F for a mid-level meal, their Provençal specialties are good value -- and excellent quality.
2 ave de Badonviller
Tel: (33) 442 57 00 55
Closes: Saturday mid-day; Tuesday
Musée du Vieux Lambesc
This small-town museum has the class, the care and the content of a big-city museum. Housed in the old girl's school at the edge of town, complete with walled courtyard, the museum presents local history and folklore, prehistory and archeology.
One central main room and a pair of equally large rooms on either side depict the history of the town and the region, from the 1929 earthquake back to medieval and even Roman times. There's a life-size diarama of a Provencal farmhouse kitchen [photo-9], a myriad of tools, pottery and implements of unguessable purpose. Original document, well-organized coin collections, photographs and objects bring the history alive. The museum is dynamic, with well-cared-for displays, doing a good job of presenting items that could use far more space.
When you think you've seen it all, one of the kind ladies will take you through the back courtyard and up the stairs to the archeological wing. Again, neatly planned displays present Greco-Roman and Neolithic artifacts, geological displays, Roman and medieval coin collections, and even an ancient skeleton layed out in an ancient casket
Cost: 10 F per person
Open: Saturday 10h-12h; last two Sundays of the month, 15h-18h.
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).