I suppose any A to Z of this area wouldn’t be complete without having an entry about Gordes, the beautiful, picture-postcard village that sits high on a hill above the Luberon valley.
I have often written about it, whether we’ve stopped on the viewpoint, whilst out on a bike ride, or perhaps as our destination on a walk from the Abbaye de Senanque, the beautiful Cistercian abbey, surrounded by lavender fields just below the village.
It is just one of those places, understandably classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, a ‘must-visit’ destination for people visiting the area, and in the summer it is packed with people, exploring its streets and enjoying its many cafes and restaurants.
The first time we visited was over 30 years ago, on that first trip to Provence, when we fell in love with the area, and which sparked our desire to live here one day. Back then the village was just as beautiful and the views, just as spectacular, but looking back at the photos, it certainly wasn’t as polished as it is now.
The heart of the village is built around the beautiful, golden stone walls of the chateau, which was first built in the 11th century, taking a dominant position above the valley. It must have been a formidable fortress in an area that would have looked very different to how it does now. Work started to transform the building into the castle we see today at the start of the 16th century, carried out by the powerful Agoult family, that owned chateaus across the region, and ruled the Luberon, during this most turbulent of times.
I love to sit on the long stone bench that runs the length of the south-facing, chateau wall, just watching the world pass by in front of me. The village is always busy, but early in the morning it has a wonderful peace, as if it is just catching its breath before throwing itself headlong into the day ahead.
Before the shops open, there is just a quiet bustle, the gentle noise of shutters being opened, tables being set for lunch time and the low babble of voices, as shop-keepers and early visitors chat quietly, as if not wanting to break the relative peace.
Just to the side of the square is the Renaissance Restaurant, used in the film ‘A Good Year’, which is one of our favourite films for a cold winter’s evening, filled with beautiful images of the Luberon and the village, bringing with it a promise of summer sun to come.
On Tuesday mornings though, there is no early peace to be enjoyed, as the roads and squares around the chateau fill with the colours and scents of the weekly market, drawing people to the village to browse the stalls and fill their baskets with fresh produce and local crafts.
It is such a vibrant place, and it’s hard to imagine that in the early 20th century it was abandoned by most of the residents, after crop failures, earthquakes and disease led to a dramatic decline in its fortunes, in a similar way to nearby Oppede le Vieux. I can easily understand why both villages attracted new residents and artists in the mid 20th century, who helped reestablish communities, bringing with them, a new way of life.
Although the buildings and streets are beautiful, the real jewel in Gordes’ crown is the view. It doesn’t matter if you are looking towards the village from the valley, or the viewpoint, with its higgledy-piggledy, tumble of houses clinging to the hill…
Or looking out from the village walls across a patchwork of colour…
The views are simply jaw-dropping…
The whole of the valley is laid out at your feet, with the vineyards and lavender fields working with the other crops to create a living patchwork, for as far as the eye can see.
In the summer the colours are vivid under the summer skies, but in winter they are just as beautiful under a fine veil of mist that often hangs below the village….
They really are very special and make this a place that I will always return to, just to sit and enjoy a moment’s peace amidst the bustle and busy-ness of life.
Of course there are other reasons to visit Gordes too, with the beautiful Village Des Bories set just outside the village. An amazing old hamlet of the dry stone bories, the self-supporting domed structures, that are so typical of this area. There are so many of these little buildings scattered across the landscape, that were used as shelters or even temporary homes , but the size and scale of the buildings in the village is quite astounding and it is good to see that it has been restored and can be enjoyed for generations to come.
There is also the beautiful 12th century Abbaye De Senanque, tucked in a valley behind the village, and still home to a small community of Cistercian Monks, who tend the land, cultivating the lavender fields that have made this such a well-known and much-photographed site.
And in summer there are regular concerts taking place in the open-air theatre on the terraces at the front of the village – a truly beautiful setting for a warm summer evening of music.
From wherever you look at it, it really is a beautiful place and well-deserving of being listed of one of the most beautiful villages in France…. and it is just so lovely to have it on our doorstep.