In the summer, one of the most spectacular sights in Provence is the Abbaye of Notre-Dame de Sénanque. The Abbey is famous for being a beautifully preserved building, but also for its glorious lavender fields that are laid out in front of it.
It is located about 3 miles (5km) from the center of the Gordes, considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. The abbey is technically in Gordes but it is on the flat land below, while the village center is 3 miles away “as the crow flies” is on a hill.
The abbey has become very famous as being “the place to visit”, among French and foreign tourists. However, as you can see the first time I visited, the lavender was not in bloom!
Unfortunately lavender is only at its peak between mid-June to mid-July. If you come too early, the lavender will not be very high, and if you come too late, it will already be harvested. So you do have to keep that in mind when planning a trip here.
It is still a working monastery with monks living there, but it is open to visitors. Indeed, when I went both in the on and off seasons, there were a lot of tourists visiting.
You will need a car to get between Gordes and the Abbaye. Alternatively, we saw many locals on bikes. Tickets to the abbey are around €8.
History of Sénanque Abbey
The Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque is a Cistercian abbey, founded in the 12th century and is one of the best preserved Cistercian monasteries in France.
It was founded by Alfant, the Bishop of Cavaillon, and Ramon Berenguer II, Count of Provence, for the Cistercian monks who came from the region of Ardèche in France.
(The nearby Abbaye Saint Hilaire which was also founded around the same time was a Carmelites monastery by monks who came from the Holy Land. The two abbeys are around 11 miles (18 km) away from each other.)
During the 16th century Wars of Religion, the abbey was sacked by the Protestant Huguenots, with many monks driven out. Later during the 1789 French Revolution, the abbey was nationalized and later sold to a private individual.
It was reacquired by the monks in 1854, who endured more decades of turmoil, before finding tranquility in the 21st century (other than the hordes of invading tourists).
These days monks who live at Sénanque grow lavender and tend honey bees, along with entrance tickets to the Abbey to fund its daily activities.
How to get to Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque?
Sénanque Abbey is about 25 miles (40km) from Avignon, and about 55 miles (90km) from Marseille. It is technically part of Gordes, but is a good 3 miles away. Gordes is a perched hilltop village, while the Abbey is on flat land below.
You can easily visit the Abbey without visiting Gordes, which is more complicated to get to as the hilltop roads are quite narrow.
Both Avignon and Marseille have a high-speed train connection as well as local airports connecting from across Europe. You can also take a tour from Avignon to visit Gordes and the Abbey.
How long is the visit?
About half a day is enough to visit Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. You can easily base yourself in a nearby town like Avignon or Aix-en-Provence and take a day trip to the Abbey. From there, towns like Roussillon, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, etc. are all under an hour away.
Where should you stay?
There are no hotels in the immediate vicinity of Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. The closest town Gordes tends to attract a high-end clientele, and its hotels reflect that desire for luxury:
- €€€ – Mas des Romarins, The Originals Relais
- €€€€€ – Airelles, La Bastide de Gordes (with amazing views of valley below)
Other great towns to stay in include Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, but you could also make a day trip from Marseille.
If you enjoyed that post, you may want to read more about traveling around Provence and the French Riviera. A bientôt!