The Luberon (Gordes, Roussillon & the Abbey de Sénanque)
The Luberon region is an area (230 square miles large) composed of 3 mountain ranges, the Lesser, Greater and Eastern Luberon. The valleys to the north and south contain a number of towns and villages and agricultural land.
These villages have been a favorite destination for French high society and British and American visitors for years because of the picturesque towns and villages perched on the hills, and the comfortable way of life. In the last 20 years the Luberon has become very popular due to the series of books written by British author Peter Mayle about his experience living in this area.
We first visit the Abbey de Sénanque (which you may recognize from posters or postcards). The
abbey was founded by Cistercian monks. In the 13th and 14th centuries Sénanque reached it's apogee, operating four mills, seven granges and possessing large estates in Provence. By 1509 the community had shrunk to about a dozen. During the Wars of Religion the quarters for the lay brothers were destroyed and the abbey was ransacked by Huguenots. After the French Revolution the abbey's lands were nationalized and the one remaining monk was expelled and the place was sold to a private individual. Yet in 1854 a new community of Cistercian monks repurchased the Abbey.
The monks that now live at Sénanque grow lavender and tend honey bees for their livelihood. They observe an oath of silence and ask visitors to be respectful when visiting.
A tour of the inside of the Abbey is given but unfortunately only in French. There is a lovely gift shop and restrooms located just within the building. The grounds and views here are lovely and all are welcomed to walk around. When lavender is planted in front of the building it makes a spectacular photograph! There is also a path towards the back of the abbey where you can enter a chapel or continue into the woods a bit. (If you want to enter the chapel please remember no shorts or bare shoulders are allowed).
Roussillon is considered one of the most unique villages in France, and for good reason. It is situated in the midst of one of the largest ochre deposits worldwide. The red cliffs and the ochre quarries are simply magnificent. The ochre was mined in the 19th and 20th centuries until around the 1950’s when synthetic ochre was developed. This ochre vein stretches from Apt to Roussillon and is commonly referred to the Colorado Provencal due to its similarity to the colors of Colorado and Utah.
The village itself is very charming and laid back. Take time to explore the maze of cobbled streets. The ochre is used as a pigment in both paint and added to plaster as you will see in the village construction, from faint pink to a dark rust to yellow. When the ochre buildings are paired with their contrasting, brightly painted shutters; the visual result is stunning. The village is filled with several art galleries, boutiques and nice restaurants. Be sure to wander to the top of the village to find a large square with a viewing platform. The views of the valley stretch all the way up to the mountains of the Vaucluse.
For those wishing to hike the ochre trail, there is a 30 or 60-minute hike available for a small fee. I suggest you do this upon arrival if you are interested as it will be cooler in the morning than afternoon.
Gorde's houses of white and gray stone rise up in a spiral around the rock where the village is set. At the very top is the church and the castle which face out onto the hills of the Luberon. Due to its privileged position, its exceptional charm and its typical architecture, Gordes has been listed as "one of the most beautiful villages of France". While strolling around the tiny streets which climb up between the tall houses, discover
beautiful old doorways, arcades and walls of flat stone perfectly restored, and on the other side, a spectacular panorama of the valley and mountains of Luberon. Once at the top of Gordes, you can see the fortified castle enclosing the city hall and the Pol Mara museum, (Flemish contemporary painter). En route keep your eyes peeled for little stone huts called bories dotting the landscape. Bories are little round huts built in stone (with no mortar) and were at one time used by shepherds or hunters.