I will guide you, step by step, through the winding, paved streets of this majestic, tiered town in the heart of the Provençal countryside. Past the muddle of terracotta rooftops to discover the sites and treats that Gordes has to offer…
I first discovered Gordes in the early 90’s. Dad and I cycled from our nearby (didn’t feel like it) campsite. I remember learning that 8km was the equivalent of 5 miles and that we are now exploring Provence; the land that all the parents were raving about after having read the famous A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.
You could cycle there; it’s seriously steep and you’ll have to have a cold one once you’ve reached the top – or you can drive up and park right next to the Castle!
Let’s take the car and start with the castle!
Step 1. Gordes Castle
This Medieval fortress was built in 1031 and renovated in 1525 by Bertrand Rambaud de Simiane, of the major feudal family of the Luberon, in attempt to keep out enemies. Part of the feudal castle was renovated into a Renaissance style residence, preserved during the revolution then, for centuries, was oddly used as a granary, barracks and a prison!
It served for a while as an art museum then at the end of the 19th century it hosted pretty much anything at the heart of the local’s lives; a boy’s school and cafeteria, a post office, a chemist’s, a town hall and a bar!
But if you visit Gordes castle today you will find yearly renewed art exhibitions and an impressive Renaissance chimney and tapestries.
Your cyclist friends have now quenched their thirst and are ready to join you in the 17th century Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs. Just next to the castle, the chapel hosts exhibitions displaying paintings, photographs and sculptures.
Step 2. Wander the Streets
Even the cobbled lanes, caldes in Provençal, are historical monuments! You can nosey around the souvenir shops then the art galleries that head down to the city walls for an impressive viewpoint over the Luberon.
The 16th century city walls were erected to protect inhabitants from outlaws during the 100 year war. The locals themselves kept guard and repaired the walls.
Pass through the Porte de Savoie (gate), where behind it you will find a chapel/room used by the guards and for sheltering pilgrims.
Step 3. Saint Firmin cellars
Slowly head back up the hill and keep your eyes peeled – as mum would say – for a door leading to the subterranean cellars. Hidden for years, part of the cellars is now open to the public.
This is a semi troglodyte site, carved by medieval man. With lack of space above ground, the enormous network of artisanal activities (olive oil mill, silos and wine tanks) grew underground.
You can watch a 3D representation of the artisanal activities that once took place here and there is a modest museum displaying tools found during the restauration.
Step 4. The Saint Firmin Church
The Saint Firmin Church, dedicated to a 6th century bishop, was reconstructed and enlarged on top of the 12th century Romanesque church. There are eight chapels which include those dedicated to the patron saint of shoemakers and the quarry and Saint Eloi, the patron saint of locksmiths, blacksmiths and ironmongers.
Fun Fact: This bishop is still celebrated today in the nursery rhyme, Good King Dagobert, originally written to ridicule royalty. It sings… ‘Le bon roi Dagobert avait sa culotte à l’envers’- The good King Dagobert had his pants on inside out!
Tip 1: Look out for evidence of the 1909 earthquake that ripped the paintings at the back of the church.
Tip 2: Find the drawbridge door heading down to the ground that the priest used to drive in and out of in his car!
Now for the trudge back up to your car as your cyclist friends wiz down with a cool breeze in their hair. But don’t fret… we stopped off for lavender ice cream! Hehe!
Step 5. Borie Village
It must be about time from lunch right?
Before you leave Gordes, grab something tasty from Marie Jane’s boulangerie – it’s been in the family for three generations! Or you could also try some of the local produce from the market if you are visiting on a Tuesday.
Take the car or hike the 1.5 km west of Gordes to reach the Borie Village.
The Borie village is an open air museum consisting of 28 huts that date back to the Neolithic! The dried stone was extracted locally from the limestone rocks. These cute collections of cabins are ancient agricultural outhouses in the scrubland. Farmers would use them as seasonal dwellings, to store grains, shelter sheep and cows, keep tools, one was used as a silkworm house, whilst another has evidence of leather sole making.
Testimonies from locals and the study of the tree stumps show that cereals, olives, almonds, vines and mulberries were grown around this site till the 1800’s.
Step 6. Pot Luck
History or Adventure?
|Glass and Stained Glass Museum.
(Le Musée du Verre et du Vitrail)
|4km from Gordes
|Educational guide through the history, science, techniques, and creations of glass
|Le Moulin des Bouillons
|5.4km from Gordes
|Olive oil mill
|10.5 km from Gordes
|Wine estate, wine tasting
|15.1 km from Gordes
|Obstacle course in trees with zip lines.
|16.4 km from Gordes
|Canoe or kayak down the freezing river Sorgue
|21.3km From Gordes
|Wine estate, wine tasting
Step 7. Senanque Abbey
This photo doesn’t really do the place justice. If you go want to capture the picture postcard image, you need to visit the lavender fields earlier in the day and in June.
See the difference?
They are set in front of the Cistercian abbey, founded in 1148 by the monks of Mazan. The monks assemble 7 times a day in the church to pray. They harvest lavender and welcome people on retreat.
You can visit the interior but be careful what you wear…cover up…it’s a place of religious meditation.
Step 8. Viewpoint at Sunset
It’s starting to get late, so head back over towards Gordes to find the viewpoint just 3.8km away from the abbey. A lot of people stop off here so you might need to wait a bit to get your ‘picture perfect’. It’s the most popular view of Gordes and is absolutely breathtaking.
Step 9. Eat Out
In Gordes, you can also sample some traditional French and Provençal dishes. The town is best known for its Boeuf à la Gordienne but there are many other dishes to sample in restaurants such as:
L’Orangerie – Route de la Combe
L’Outsider – Rue de la Gendarmerie
La Trinquette – Rue des Tracapelles
L’Artegal – Place du Chateau
I hope you enjoy the perfectly Provençal day trip out!