Friday, November 4, 2011

Lacoste, a contrarian village in the Luberon

When we are in Sablet we usually take a day trip to Gordes and Roussillon, two of our favorite villages in the Luberon. Sometimes we go to Bonnieux and other times to Lourmarin especially on market days. Slowly, we are making our away around the Luberon to visit the villages where we have not been before.

This summer we finally made it to Lacoste, a picturesque old village perched on a hill with great views to the east across the valley towards Bonnieux and the Grand Luberon Mountains about one hour from Sablet. Sparsely populated (less than 500 people live here), the architecture of the buildings and cobblestone streets give the impression of a village where time stood still.

Lacoste has had a tumultuous history. During the Wars of Religion in the 16th century, the Parliament of Aix ordered the destruction of certain villages in the Luberon including Lacoste because the inhabitants were not considered sufficiently Catholic. The Baron de Oppède, Jean Maynier, slaughtered the entire village population in 1545.

The ruins of the Marquis de Sade castle crown the top of the village. Unless you have a kinky side, mind you I'm not making any judgments here, you may not know that the Marquis de Sade was an aristocrat, politician, philosopher, and writer famous for his libertine sexuality and lifestyle who lived in the family castle during the 1770s.

He is best known for his writings which combined philosophy with erotic images depicting sexual fantasies with an emphasis on violence, criminality, and blasphemy against the Catholic Church. He was a proponent of extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion, or law. His writings gave rise to the term sadism – enjoyment of cruelty.

After World War II, Lacoste - which has nothing to do with the tennis player and his crocodile shirts - was nearly empty, with fewer than 30 people on the electoral rolls. It was a base for the French resistance, and many of the structures were in ruins.

In 2001, the Italian-born French designer Pierre Cardin bought the ruins of the castle along with an attached quarry. He renovated the quarry into a performance area and stage and established a summer music festival. It is said that today Pierre Cardin owns more than 40 buildings in Lacoste.

Here are a few pictures from Lacoste. There are few shops and cafés.

The entrance to the church.

The Church of Saint Trophime.

Sea shells in the stone on the church walls.

Rue de Basse, known amongst locals as the “Cardin Champs Elysées” leading down to the arched entryway.

An ornate old fountain.

Portail de la Garde, a fortified entrance into Lacoste.

One of the many cobblestone streets of Lacoste.

The old boulangerie - bakery - in Lacoste and cobblestone street which leads to the castle ruins.

A vaulted doorway we passed as we walked through Lacoste.

A passageway beneath the bell tower in Lacoste.

The ruins of the Marquis de Sade castle.

As I said before, Pierre Cardin has been renovating the ruins of the castle since 2001. He brings various art exhibits to Lacoste as part of his goal to turn the village into a “cultural St-Tropez". This was a piece on exhibit when we visited.

More castle ruins.

Another view of the castle ruins.

Wife Shirley and me smooching in the window of the castle ruins.

One more view of the castle ruins.

A window in the castle with magnificent views of the farmlands in the valley below.

The ruins with views of Bonnieux in the distance.

A cobblestone street winds its way down to the vaulted passageway and bell tower.

Artwork tucked in the courtyard of a home in Lacoste.

Portail des Chèvres, literally translated the goat's door - opens to the south.

An old stone planter in Lacoste.

A tree-shaded cobblestone street.

A pretty garden we passed as we wandered around Lacoste.

An old house with vaulted passageway.

In 1958, an American painter named Bernard Pfriem came to Lacoste and fell in love with the village. He bought a house then bought a few more and began to restore them. In 1970 he started the Lacoste School of Arts which was taken over in 2002 by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), based in Georgia.

SCAD facilities include a library, gallery, dining hall and housing as well as teaching studios dedicated to painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography and digital imaging.

The town hall - Mairie with sundial on the wall.

Locals are called “Lacostois” and they have been a contrary bunch. A Protestant village set among mostly Catholic villages, the base for the resistance during World War II and a communist mayor for 50 years. You probably won't be surprised to know that locals are not happy with Pierre Cardin's plans for turning Lacoste into a glamourous place. Oh well!

If you find yourself in the Luberon, go to Lacoste and walk through the village up to the castle ruins. The village is beautiful and you will be rewarded with fabulous views. Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.


  1. SCAD was where Melanie Easterbrook went to school one year. She loved it! I never put it together before that where she went to school was located so close to your home in France.

    Always enjoy reading your blog!


  2. We'll have to visit this village next time we're over! Sounds fascinating. I just love all those little streets and the old houses.

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  4. Lovely photos...thank you for the visite guidée! This is definitely one of those places I (along with the Sheepfarmer) would love to manage visiting one weekend.

  5. We are leaving to spend a week in Luberon next Friday and Lacoste is on our must see list for this trip. Thanks for the preview.

  6. I never get tired of castle ruins. Thanks for sharing your beautiful (as always) photos!

  7. Connie - Thanks for checking in and leaving a comment. Bill had told me his daughter studied abroad but didn't realize it was so close either.

    Barbara - Thank you!

    Claudia - Definitely worth a visit if you are in the Luberon.

    Labergerebasque - I hope you and the sheepfarmer can manage to get away to explore the region some day.

    Lee - Thanks so much for checking out my blog and leaving a comment. I hope you have good weather.

    Camille - Thank you. I love wandering around old villages and shooting pictures of what grabs me.

  8. What a great post and there is always so much history with all these places. Really interesting. Diane

  9. Lacoste has such an interesting history...and love the photos - especially of the two of you, how cute! Really love reading your posts that take me to the other side of Provence, learning a lot :)

  10. I loved your photos and I have taken so many of the same one you have! My family has been to Lacoste two or three times and it is just marvelous. I have such fond memories of taking our young children there and them running around the castle grounds. It happens to be one of my favorite places because it has such a medieval feel to it! Thanks for sharing this wonderful place:)

  11. I love your photos from Provence thank you for a great impressions !

  12. Diane - Nice to hear from you. I hope you got moved ok.

    Tuula - I try to share information about the places we visit to provide a more meaningful experience for readers. I am glad you like it. I couldn't resist sharing the picture of Shirley and me in the window; I like it too.

    Ashley - We have visited villages all around Lacoste and have seen the Sade's castle ruins in the distance from all directions but somehow never made it till now. I am sure we will be back again and again.

    Theresa - Thanks for checking in on my blog. I am very happy you like the pictures of Lacoste and Provence that I post.

  13. looks like a nice place, I'll put it on my list of places to visit.

  14. I have this strange feeling that I met your wife once maybe about 3 years ago after a jazz concert I played in somewhere around Carpentras...I can't remember if it was in town or one of the little towns around there, but an Americaine came up to talk to me afterwards and she looked like your wife.

  15. Megan - Definitely worthwhile to visit; very pretty village with great views.

    Meredith - Always possible as we are in and around Carpentras often when we are in Provence. How often do you play at jazz concerts?