Some time ago someone posed the question on Twitter ‘What are your favourite 3 hill-top villages in Provence?’
Of course there are many to choose from, each having their own merits, whether it is Gordes with its beautiful Chateau, narrow streets and incredible views, Lacoste with its annual concerts and stunning sculptures or the sleepy and very pretty Saumane De Vaucluse on the route to St Didier.
It doesn’t matter though how many I visit, I still would put Oppede Le Vieux at the top of my list of favourites – it may not be the best-known, nor is it home to a wide range of attractive galleries or souvenir shops, but it has a delightful old-world charm, which hasn’t really changed over the years that we’ve been visiting.
Perched on the northern flank of the Petit Luberon, between Maubec and Menerbes the village is a stunning mix of buildings sitting on a rocky fold that flows from the long flat summit.
The properties there range from grand houses decorated with elaborate stone carvings, to ivy-clad, skeletal remains of others that open onto the rutted, cobbled streets that wind their way towards the ruins of the once impressive castle.
Whilst most villages in this area have a polished appearance, Oppede-Le-Vieux has a natural, relaxed character and remains an oasis of calm even in high summer, when other villages can be packed with tourists.
There is no car park in the village itself, but there is a large car park situated on the outskirts, from which there is a lovely walk through old terraced gardens to the centre of the village.
A really nice alternative is to arrive by bike, following the gentle, marked route, which meanders through lavender, oaks and vines from nearby Maubec, although the climb into the village would probably deter some people (we have noticed increasing numbers of e-bikes being used to overcome this though).
Equally there are lovely walks from Maubec, via woodland tracks, and Oppede, following the road through Les Petitions and up the ancient track signposted to the right, which takes you into the village on the Rue De Sainte Cecile.
Arriving in the village square you’ll find two cafes, our favourite being Le Petit Café ……
……a fantastic studio selling wonderful pottery and bronze figures
………. and often in the afternoon, ladies selling local fragrant melons and apricots or other local produce.
Walking through the arched gateway at the back of the square you start to get a real sense of what the village was like before it was abandoned in the 19th century when the residents moved down to the valley floor. The shaded, cobbled streets weave up the hill past the ruins of old houses. Here old doorways open onto spaces that were once someone’s home, but are now wild rooms reclaimed by nature and filled not with possessions but rather with figs, flowers and brambles.
As you walk up you can learn more about the village thanks to signs at key points along the way, which explain its history, why it was abandoned and what has happened since.
If you take the right-hand path when the street first splits then you follow a winding path that leads along the edge of the Luberon, before turning back on itself in front of an almost derelict Chapel built on the path.
Despite my best efforts I haven’t managed to glimpse inside this building as every time we have visited the doors have been locked and there is no way of looking in (even through the keyhole – believe me I have tried) I hope that in years to come this will change and that one day it will be opened again.
After the Chapel a last flight of stone steps brings you first to the Church, which has recently undergone major restoration and is certainly worth a visit, with its unusual tower and stunning and vibrant wall-paintings, then on to the ruins of the Castle. This would have once been a dominant feature in the landscape, but like many of the houses in the village it has fallen into ruin & has been reclaimed by nature, but still its thick high walls provide an imposing backdrop for the Church.
However the main attraction here for me is not necessarily the Church or the Castle, but the incredible view from the open terrace in front of them.There are so many magnificent views from the hill villages in the area, but for me, this is by far the best and certainly a favourite spot for breakfast when out for an early cycle.
Sitting on the warm stone wall in front of the Church the whole of the valley is laid out before you, with its ever changing colours and shifting shadows. Immediately below are the tumbled ruins of the old village, then your gaze moves across the bright terracotta roofs of the renovated houses just beyond, before the view drifts away into the patchwork of fields that decorate the wide valley floor.
Views can be described in so many ways, perhaps dramatic or spectacular, but this one is simply expansive, stunning and calm with the ever present summit of Mont Ventoux, in the distance providing a tantalising sight for any adventurous cyclist (us included). There are no nearby roads so there is little man-made noise to distract you and you can simply immerse yourself in the sounds of the birds and insects that call and chatter around you – how often in our busy and constantly connected world is that really possible?
When the rest of the valley is busy it is still possible to find true peace here, although there is always something happening from birds swooping above the castle to the muted grumble of tractors working in the fields below. Breathing in the warm, herb-scented air that defines the area helps you slow down to the point when you can truly relax, so close to the realities of life, but yet so far away.
Some may say it’s ‘boring’ ( I regularly hear that from my teenage boys), but this is a ‘special place’ and I can’t think of anywhere that I would rather go to pass time and truly immerse myself in Provence.
Shared via Monday Escapes #51