Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gordes, a Beautiful Hilltop Village in the Luberon

Gordes is a beautiful village in the Luberon region about 1 hour southeast of our home in Sablet. The obviously strategic site where Gordes sits has been occupied since prehistoric times. The stone buildings were built against the base of the cliffs and spiral up around the rock to the top where the chateau was built with a panoramic view over fields and forests and small perched villages.

The village's setting is striking and lots of tourists come to visit in the summer. Gordes is classified as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, literally translated, one of the most beautiful villages of France; Gordes is one of 156 French villages with that classification. It is said to be the #1 tourist attraction in the Luberon.

Cubist painter André Lhote discovered Gordes in 1938 followed by Marc Chagall, Victor Vasarely and other modern artist who visited and summered in Gordes. More recently the village gained exposure as one of the locations for a movie filmed in the Luberon, "A Good Year" based on a novel of the same name written by Peter Mayle starring Russell Crowe.


At the top of Gordes and in the center sits the chateau which dominates the town. Built in 1031, reinforced in 1123, the castle was rebuilt in 1525. Today the castle is home to the Pol Mara museum, a contemporary Flemish painter who lived in Gordes, and the tourist information office. In summer there are concerts and plays in the castle's courtyard.


The Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, translated as the "white penitents chapel" is located near the castle. Dating from the 17th century, the chapel is an art gallery today.

White Penitents Chapel

The fountain in the square by Hôtel Renaissance seen below, is where Max waits for Fanny Chenal, the character played by Marion Cotillard in "A Good Year" movie to get off work. Hôtel Renaissance was transformed into Fanny Chenal's bistro for the movie, and where Max famously tells an obnoxious American couple that "MacDonalds is in Avignon, fish and chips in Marseille. Allez".

Fountain in center of Gordes

A stone tower in Gordes next to Hôtel Renaissance

The memorial to the children of Gordes who died in wars for France is in the main square and where Russell Crowe's character, Max Skinner circles several times in his little yellow smart car looking for the notaire, a self-employed legal specialist with public authority to draw up contracts for clients, in the "A Good Year" movie.

War Memorial in center of Gordes

Every Tuesday morning is market day. Merchants from around the area set up stalls on Place du Château and sell their wares: fresh fruits and vegetables, Provençale pottery and linens, art work and clothing.

Place du Château and the fountain where Max waited for Fanny


The original Romanesque church in Gordes was dedicated to Notre Dame. Rebuilt in 1704, it has a colorful interior and was dedicated to its patron Saint Firmin, a former Bishop of Uzès.

Façade of Saint Firmin Church

Around the center of the village near the castle, you will find various cafés, restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops.

A Gordes tourist shop

During World War II, Gordes was an active resistance village and was later awarded a medal, the Croix de Guerre 1939 - 1945. On the 21st of August 1944, just 6 days after the start of Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France, a German patrol was attacked by members of the Gordes resistance and the day after, the village was subjected to violent reprisals and much of Gordes was destroyed.

Another view of the Chateau

Gordes boulangerie

It's enjoyable to wander around the maze of stone-paved-narrow streets which crisscross Gordes.

Gordes defensive tower

Gordes shop

While there are several Michelin starred and recommended restaurants in the area, we have not discovered any excellent places to eat right in Gordes itself.

Gordes street cafes

As in many villages in the Vaucluse, agriculture is important. Historically, almond trees were the most planted in the area, and though they are still present, olive trees have largely replaced them. Thus olive oil is important to local commerce. You can also find vineyards, with the production of table grapes or wine in AOC Ventoux.


Almost opposite the church, the Caves du Palais Saint Firmin (the Cellars of the Palais Saint Firmin) offer a glimpse into a mysterious underground world. A fortified hill village where space was limited, Gordes developed an extensive network of cellars carved into the rock for use as storage areas and artisans' workshops.

Saint Firmin Church

While strolling around the tiny streets which climb up and down between the tall houses, you will discover here and there beautiful old doorways, arcades and walls of flat stone perfectly restored, and on the other side, there is the panorama of the valley and mountains of Luberon.

The year 1826 on the stone façade of a house

Arched passageway

One of the many narrow stone streets called calades - small paved, sometimes stepped alleyways lined with gutters defined by two rows of stone.


It is definitely worthwhile to visit Gordes. If you have time, you should also visit the Bories village, a collection of 30 stone huts made of dry flat stones made without mortar and the nearby Sénanque Abbey, a 12th century Cistercian abbey, that is surrounded by lavender fields.