St Maximin-la-Ste-Baume from the Grotto

The Jewels of St Maximin-la-Ste-Baume, Home of Iconic Mary … Who knew St Max held home to the iconic Mary Magadalene’s last 30 years of life. 

East of Arles, beyond Aix en Provence, count your good fortune stumbling into St Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, a bustling town 45 minutes north of Marseille, which holds a wealth of surprises — from the Basilica of Mary Magdalene, to the grotto high in the Great Massif where she, the iconic Mary, is said to have lived.

Full of crowded cafes spilling onto the street, a walkabout will find you discovering the ancient, cobbled rues, boutique shops and residences. What may surprise you most of all, is how this normal French life holds its own historical and significant treasures — all blended together as a normal day in the life — with — oh — just around the corner, the massive Gothic Basilica of Mary Magdalene, founded in 1295. 

Basilica of Mary Magdalene, St Maximin-la-Ste-Baume

Approaching the wooden doors of the Basilica, with hot-hot creme cobblestones underfoot, creme stucco walls reflecting the blinding light of summer’s heat, the cool of the shadow entry is … inviting. Deceptively simple as you enter, the Basilica may take your breath away when you step inside. 

The wealth and warmth of gold is everywhere. Ornate, mysterious, with a depth beyond perception, it all sits on top of the Crypt, housing the relics of Mary Magdalene.

St Maximin-la-Ste-Baume from the Grotto

The Basilica is perhaps its own day of pondering.

But there’s more. Fifteen minutes away from the town center,  you’ll find the base of the trek through the forest, up the Great Massif to The Grotto — the cave where she took refuge.

Access is from the large, open parking area. From here, you’ll begin the climb. Not too step, it is well-paved with benches along the way.  Bring water and snacks if you think you might get hungry, as there is no commerce available.

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St Maximin-la-Ste-Baume offers you a deep dive into the Provençal culture and region. Leisure activities abound, from vineyards to olive groves, tucked-away places of interest only known locals.

East of Avignon, it’s easy to access by driving (1.5 hours), or by TGV (fast train) to Marseille, where you can pick up your rental car at the gare (train station) and head to your accommodation.

Grotto Mary Magdalene

Grotto Mary Magdalene

En faitI was so blown away with St Max, I built a full seven-day, culturally immersive fixed-itinerary just to take you there. Scroll down the page to find it, and if it serves you, grab one.