Pearls of Provence: Gordes

It rises majestically in front of you, as you drive towards it from the south, sunbaked sandstone and golden rock against the vivid blue sky. It has been well-deservedly named one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France – one of the most beautiful villages of France. It’s a moviestar, vantage point of the Luberon valley and a major tourist attraction. Gordes.

Gordes has become fashionable during the last 20 years, since the area was immortalized in Peter Mayle’s novels A Year in Provence and A Good Year, that was made into a film by the same name. It is chic Provence, where movie stars and rich Parisians stay in cypress tree-shaded, five-star-spangled and thousand-euro-quoted hotels and spas. But that doesn’t affect the charm of Gordes, only perhaps the price tag, and luckily you yourself is in control of your spending.

The imposing castle, dominating the skyline, dates from the 10th century and was remodeled during the Renaissance. During the Wars of Religion in the 12th century, Gordes – solidly fortified as it was, perched on a rock – resisted the assaults of Baron des Adrets, a Huguenot chief, notorious for his cruelty, who then fumed his destructive fury on the Abbey of Senanque, a lovely abbey nearby amidst lavender fields, that’s also worth a detour. A 10 kilometre hike will get you into some beautiful Provençal landscape, past the abbey and back to Gordes in time to enjoy a well-deserved lunch.

Gordes is small, cute and quick to cope with. In the summertime it can be pretty packed and a hassle to find a parking spot (which even off-season is 4€). We can recommend visiting in April/May and again September/October, when the weather is still nice but the crowds have diminished. Alas, if that’s not an option and parking proves impossible, try parking at the Abbey of Senanque and walk to Gordes. It’s a 3 kilometre hike, and will help you build an appetite, that can be gratified at a restaurant with views to the Luberon valley.

The city is centered around the castle, which nowadays houses the City hall and changing exhibitions but the real treasure is Gordes itself. Stroll around the tiny streets, climb the narrow stairs between the tall houses, discover beautiful old doorways, arcades and restored houses and admire the panorama of the valley and mountains of Luberon.

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If the outside is too hot for you – and it can get pretty sizzling in the summer time – explore cave-like halls, cisterns and underground stairways in the Caves du Palais Saint Firmin  (6€ entry) (link in French), listed as a Historic Monument. Another historic attraction nearby, also listed as a Historic Monument, is Le Village de Borie (link in French), an open-air museum of 30 stone huts and the largest concentration of such found in the Luberon. The origin of bories goes as far back as the Bronze Age and the adorable structures are easily recognizable in the entire Provençal landscape and form part of the region’s rich history and heritage.

Gordes is one of the seven Plus Beaux Villages de France in the department of the Vaucluse in Provence, like the nearby red village of Roussillon (check out our article about Roussillon and the fifty shades of ochre), and another darling among artists, Ménerbes. The three villages, all resting on each small hilltop in the Luberon Valley watch over each other in the valley and you can spot them when admiring the landscape from the vantage point of Gordes.

But there are several other Provencal Pearls to discover nearby, that hasn’t made the Plus Beaux Villages de France designation (yet), like the mysterious Oppède le Vieux and its ruins, Lacoste and the castle of Marquis de Sade, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with its many water wheels and the charming Bonnieux where Château La Canorgue was used as setting for one of my favourite movies about Provence; A Good Year. If you want to discover the sites in the movie, the small tour operator The Luberon Experience has produced this guide.

There are many pearls in close vicinity of Gordes in the valley of Luberon, one of the most charming regions of Provence, which makes this area a good choice for cultural explorations, road trips among cypress trees and gastronomical encounters.

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