Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lacoste, from the Marquis de Sade to Pierre Cardin

Lacoste is a well-preserved village that sits on a mountain ridge with great views to the east across a valley filled with vineyards and orchards to Bonnieux and the Grand Luberon Mountains. At the top of the village are the ruins of the castle of the Marquis de Sade now owned by Pierre Cardin.

Café de France

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.

Town Hall (Mairie in French) with sundial on the wall

As I said, the ruins of the Marquis de Sade castle crown the top of the village. Unless you have a kinky side, 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.

Well preserved Lacoste door

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.

Arched 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.

Savannah College of Art and Design

Please check out the sites we saw as we walked around Lacoste.

Lacoste house

Grapevine growing up on Lacoste house

Stone arch gateway to Lacoste

Lacoste gate through defensive walls

Rue Basse seen below, is known amongst locals as the “Cardin Champs Elysées” leads down to an arched stone gate.

Rue Basse in Lacoste

Saint Trophime Church which dates from the 12th century is located outside the medieval walls of Lacoste. The church is the burial place for the former Lords of Lacoste who were from the powerful Simiane family. It is a complicated structure which has undergone several reconstructions. The parts from the time of the Romans is still clearly visible.

Bell tower of Saint Trophime church

The entrance into the church through the Southern façade resulted from a renovation to the Roman door in the 17th century.

The entrance to Saint Trophime church

Saint Trophime church was named after a saint who was the first Bishop of Arles. Legend has it that he came to Arles in 46.

The interior of Saint Trophime church

Bell tower of Saint Trophime Church

One of the many great views from Lacoste

An ornate old fountain in Lacoste

The Portal de la Garde seen below was rebuilt at the same time as the walls of the village in the latter half of the 16th century.

Portail de la Garde, a fortified entrance into Lacoste

Portail des Chèvres, literally translated into English as the goat's door (from the 14th-15th century) seen below opens to the South and is the high entrance into the village.

Portail des Chèvres, literally translated as the goat's door

Old boulangerie (bakery) in Lacoste and cobblestone street which leads to the castle ruins

Lacoste house

A peek through an open doorway to the valley below

Vaulted doorway

The village has charming narrow streets, paved in "calade" stone. You will come across beautiful old stone houses, some of which are being restored. Most are made from ochre and limestone.

Lacoste homes

The belfry seen below was built in 1550. The campanile was added more recently.

Lacoste belfry

The belfry marks the entrance to the area that was reserved for the Lords of Lacoste.

The belfry of Lacoste with campanile

Lacoste castle


Shirley taking in the beautiful views

Modern bronze sculptures near the Lacoste castle

The Lacoste castle sits on an extension of the northern flank of the Little Luberon on which Lacoste stands. This position offers its occupants superb views over the valley of the Calavon, the Monts de Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux and the Alps, as well as the village of Bonnieux which can be seen on a neighboring hill.

The castle of Lacoste

The Lacoste chateau dates back to the 11th century and is best known as the home of the notorious Marquis de Sade in the late 1700's. In 2001 the castle was bought by fashion designer Pierre Cardin as a second home. Since his arrival in Lacoste, Pierre Cardin has done his best to convert Lacoste into a "Saint-Tropez of culture," opening gallery spaces, a café-restaurant, a grocery store and an array of renovated guesthouses and apartments.

The castle of Lacoste

In homage to the infamous former resident Marquis de Sade, Pierre Cardin erected a bronze statue of Sade, using the only known authentic portrait. It depicts the Marquis's head inside a cage, to evoke his fate as a martyr to the freedom of expression.

Bronze sculpture of the Marquis de Sade

Bronze sculpture near the Lacoste castle

The castle of Lacoste

The castle of Lacoste

Old windmill in the quarry outside of Lacoste

The temple seen below was built in the 19th century and later became the community hall.

Old temple, now functions as community hall

Street leading to the old temple

The ruins of the Lacoste castle stand atop the village

The houses of Lacoste cascade down the hill from the chateau

This old lavoir is on the D109, just outside Lacoste. There's a fresh water spring here, and in years past the villagers came here to get water and to wash their clothes.

Lacoste fountain and lavoir

If you are a lover of history and architecture, Lacoste should be on your list of Luberon villages to visit. If your preference runs more to shops and cafes, there are not a lot to be found in Lacoste. So plan your day so you can visit Lacoste and then go to one of the neighboring villages such as Bonnieux for lunch.


  1. I just love the cobblestone streets in this village. And the hotel cafe on the side of the cliff is amazing. Great post!

    1. Thanks Cheryl. I appreciate the feedback. Yes, Lacoste is a very special village in the Luberon.