Saturday, April 13, 2013

Simiane-la-Rotonde, a Charming, Fortified Village along the Lavender Trail

We have explored many of the towns and villages in the Vaucluse, the French department where Sablet is located, but we have never made it to the famous Saturday morning market in the town of Apt in the Southeastern corner of the Vaucluse.

Since I was meeting cousins Ginette, Pascale, and Yoan in Apt to see the purple lavender fields (lavender routes) and explore the villages between Apt and Banon, I got to Apt early to check out the market (I will tell you about that part of my day in a future post).

Our first stop on the lavender route was Simiane-la-Rotonde, a small, seemingly quiet village (population 584), on a hill (2132 feet elevation) overlooking a plateau with lavender fields. Simiane-la-Rotonde is located at the Southwestern end of the Alpes de Haute Provence department, close to the border of the Vaucluse.


The village dates to the 11th century when a prieuré (monastery) was established in Simiane-la-Rotonde by the Saint-André Abbey in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon that I told you about here.

Simiane-la-Rotonde street

The name of the village comes from the Simiane-Agoult family who were powerful rulers in Haute Provence and from Rotonde, a large conical structure at the top of the village.

Narrow walkway in Simiane-la-Rotonde

As you wander around the village, you will come upon the "Maison des Poupées" (Doll's House), a 17th century house with more than 1000 exhibits, dating from 1920 to the present day.

La Maison des Poupées (Doll's House)

We strolled down narrow stone-paved streets lined with tall stone houses that date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The cousins pause for pictures along one of the stone-paved streets

Simiane-la-Rotonde is one of the main areas for production of lavender. In 1979, Alain Cassan, a farmer who is also the current mayor of the village founded the "Société Coopérative Agricole des Plantes à Parfum de Provence" (Agricultural Cooperative Society of Aromatic Plants of Provence), the largest in France.

Local distilleries transform the cut plants into essence which the Cooperative collects and stores. Its 330 members produce 424 tons of essential oils, which accounts for 34% of total French production of fine lavender, used to make perfume, pharmaceuticals and aromatherapy, and for 40% of total French production of lavendin, used for washing powders, detergents, and cosmetics.

Archway through a stone wall

The Rotonde was built at the end of the 12th century to strengthen the defense of the castle. It was saved in 1841 by Prosper Mérimée, who had it declared a historic monument. It is 62 feet tall, the massive exterior hides a ceremonial room with a twelve-ribbed cupola, beautiful stonework, and columns decorated with stylised leaves of water plants, and sculpted human masks.

The Rotonde

Before lavender, glass-making flourished and the village became prosperous and wealthy families built houses along the paved narrow flower-decorated streets. Mullioned windows, carved stone lintels, and diamond-shaped decorations on the wooden doors are proof that aristocratic and wealthy bourgeois lived here between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Simiane-la-Rotonde street

Besides production of lavender, there is limited commerce in the village except for one goat cheese maker, a bakery, a small food store, a bookstore, a rose nursery and pottery studio.

Simiane-la-Rotonde street

Every August, an international early music festival, “Les Riches Heures Musicales de la Rotonde” takes place in the Rotonde. The Festival specialises in instrumental and vocal early music, performed by famous artists and Provençal musicians.

17th - 18th century Pellissier-les-Granges House

As we walked along the stone-paved streets past the stone houses, all of which are creamed-colored, I thought about the other people who have walked these same streets during the past three-hundred years; what were their clothes like, where did they live, how did they light and heat their homes and what did they do for a living?

Pottery studio

Although there is a 16th century, covered market hall, I can't find anything to indicate that there is a weekly market in Simiane-la-Rotonde so I assume that villages go shop at the weekly markets in Apt, Banon, or Forcalquier.

Pretty flowers in front of the 16th century covered market hall

If you go to Simiane-la-Rotonde, make sure you check out the great views over the countryside from the top of the village near the Rotonde and from the covered market hall.

A view over the lower village and lavender fields from the covered market hall

Have a great week. Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. I have never been to Simiane, though I've heard there is some good hikes around there I'd like to try soon.
    FYI: There will be some great Transhumance events this spring you might be interested in:
    I hope you will be in the neighborhood at that time!

  2. With all that lavender surrounding it, I bet the town smells heavenly!

    And please tell me that giant spider on the wall is a sculpture and not real. :D

  3. Hi! I just discovered your blog, clicking through several other blogs. It is lovely. I look forward to exploring more!

  4. Meredith - I remember that there were signs about hiking trails and information at the TI about hikes. Thanks so much for the informationa about the various Transhumance events. I will take this with me when we return to Sablet towards the end of May.

    Camille - I think it was a sculpture but to be truthful, I really hadn't noticed the spider in the picture until you reminded me.

    Susan - Thanks so much for stopping by to check out my blog and for leaving a comment. I appreciate this very much. I hope you will be a frequent visitor. Have a great day.

  5. Beautiful as usual Michel, loved the pictures and the place. I would love to be there in August to hear the concert.. Did you notice the aunt in one of the pictures? The. Aunt must have so close to the lens that it made it look huge

  6. You were so very close to The LPV! I even have a friend that lives in Simiane :)
    Looking forward to your Apt market post, it's my favorite market.

  7. Mimmo - I think the August concert would be neat to hear in the Rotonde. Shirley and I are debating whether that is real or a sculpture. I think it is a sculpture but frankly I don't remember.

    Sara - I looked at the map after reading your comment to try and devine which of the nearby villages is LPV. I really liked the Apt market too and we will return again.

  8. Beautiful Village!!! Lovely little, stone streets, flowerpots, shops... Mmmm.... J'Adore;))

  9. We can't wait to hit the lavender trail ourselves... and thanks for this great introduction to Simiane, will definitely add it to our "to visit" list, bon weekend!

  10. I had always heard of Simiane and we finally went there while renting in Goult...oh yes, what a wonderful place. It seems so off the beaten, touristy track! There was a very cute patisserie as I remember, sort of gift shop and pastry/coffee? And the views were fabulous! Thanks for the reminder...

  11. I know this route well, and you've done it justice most beautifully, Michel. Bon dimanche!

  12. Your blogs are a gift to open and enjoy. I love your photographs and stories describing them. Thank you so much.

  13. Izka T. - Thanks so much for stopping by to check out my blog and for leaving feedback. I appreciate this very much. I hope you will be a frequent visitor.

    Tuula - The Lavender Route is definitely the place to take a drive if you are interested in seeing lots of Lavender. There are lavender fields everywhere you look.

    An Eye for Detail - Thanks so much for stopping by to check out my blog and for leaving a comment. I am happy the post brought back some nice memories. Have a great day.

    Deborah - Thanks so much for the very nice compliment. I appreciate this.

    Robbyn Coulon - Thanks so much for stopping in to visit my blog. Wow, what a nice comment! I am honored. It's nice feedback from you and other's who comment who inspire me to do these posts.

    Greg, Jennifer and Julia - Thank you guys! We look forward to seeing you soon in Provence.

  14. Michel, this is such a wonderful post on Simiane. I am going to be doing some posts on it as well and I would love to include a link back to you. Would that be all right?

    As much as I love Simiane (and I do), I learned far more from you than in my visits there!! I actually just posted last week about our most recent gite rental, which is just on the road to Banon. :)
    With my Best from Arles,

  15. Heather - Thanks so much for stopping in to visit my blog and for leaving a comment. I am especially honored because the writing and pictures on your blog are so good. I hope you will visit my blog often.