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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.