If you love the sun and are looking for a typical French village experience, a visit to Gordes in Provence may be just what you are looking for. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the south of France, and if you’re visiting, it’s not difficult to see why.
Officially recognized as one of the plus beaux villages de France (meaning one of the “most beautiful villages in France”), Gordes a tiny gem, that is not really that hidden. With plenty of sunshine, plenty to see, and the provençale way of life, even those who live here cannot get enough.
The provençale hilltop village of Gordes is in a stunning location on a clifftop and offers some expansive views of the valley below. The village itself is tiny and much of it is built on a slope.
The houses are all in a traditional Provencal style with tiled roofs, long windows and doors, and small courtyards and fountains.
Nested in the Vaucluse Mountains in southeastern France, the village has approximately 1,700 full-time residents. With the Luberon Natural Park as its backdrop, Gordes is known for its beautiful stone houses, flower-filled alleys and its elegant covered walkways known as ‘arcades’.
It is a remarkable place, since its architecture has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years. The fields and vineyards that surround the Luberon village are home to numerous farms contributing to the bucolic ambiance of rambling countryside.
With a 5-star hotel in its midst known as the Bastide in Gordes, this is a town that tends to attract the wealthy, looking for a getaway that can last all summer. But even if you are coming on a day trip, there is plenty to see and enjoy. So let’s get to the top things to see and do in Gordes, shall we? Allons-y!
Things to do in Gordes
1. Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
About 3 miles (5km) from the center of Gordes is the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. The abbeye 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 abbaye has become very famous as being “the place to visit”, among French and foreign tourists, because there is an gorgeous lavender field in front of the Abbaye.
However, as you can see at the 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.
The abbey is a Cistercian abbey, founded in the 12th century. It is still a working monastery with monks living there, but it is open to visitors. Indeed, when I went, there were a lot of tourists visiting, even though the lavender was not in bloom.
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.
2. Château de Gordes
When you do get to the town center of Gordes, you will immediately notice the imposing Château de Gordes. Built at an altitude of around 300m from the 11th century onwards, this noble stronghold saw many a war during the Middle Ages.
The village of Gordes was built as a strategic fortress on a hill to quickly identify and defend against invaders approaching from a distance. The magnificent Château de Gordes is the epitome of that time.
It was seized during the French Revolution from the Condé princes who owned it at the time, but not destroyed.
These days it houses the Musée Didactique featuring the works of local artist Victor Vasarely and Belgian painter Pol Mara. From the castle, you have excellent views of the provençale countryside below.
3. Les Caves du Palais Saint-Firmin
Gordes being a citadel village (i.e. surrounded by stone walls), space was often at a premium. So the villagers dug down, underground.
The Caves du Palais Saint-Firmin is an gigantic underground network of caves, completely invisible from the town above. Today you can visit the caves, and watch a documentary of its impressive restoration.
4. Eglise Saint-Firmin
Right next to the caves is the 18th century church, the Eglise Saint-Firmin, named after the patron saint Firmin.
The church was built upon an existing church from the Middle ages that was deemed too small. The church is filled with marble and woodwork, as well as lovely murals.
5. Village des Bories
About 1 mile (1.5km) outside the village center of Gordes is a series of stone huts called the Village des Bories. Dating back to the 18th century, these huts were used as outhouses for grain, built from limestone from the surrounding mountains.
The word “Borie” comes is an old French word for barn, coming from the Provençal word “bori” meaning a livestock barn. (Yes, Provence used to have its own language.)
Today it is an open air museum that you can visit, to admire the ingenuity of the local farmers who cleared the lands and constructed these buildings.
6. Lavender ice cream
You can’t come to this part of Provence and not have some ice cream. (Especially when it is hot. Have I mentioned the lack of air conditioning?)
Right across from the château is a lovely ice cream parlor with a variety of flavors. They have everything from rose to things like sorbet tomate and mozza basilic, but their bestseller is obviously the lavender ice cream made with natural ingredients. You can read more about other local foods and drinks to try in Provence here.
There are a weekly market held every Tuesday morning in the village of Gordes, attracting a lot of visitors. It is a traditional marché with a variety of food products, and runs from 8am to 1pm.
It does get quite crowded so arrive early to get a good parking spot, especially in the summer tourist months.
How to get to Gordes?
Gordes is about 25 miles (40km) from Avignon, and about 55 miles (90km) from Marseille. 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.
How many days should you spend?
One day is enough is Gordes, although you could base yourself in the village in order to explore the surrounding cites of Provence. 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?
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)
If you enjoyed that post, you may want to read more about traveling around Provence and the French Riviera. A bientôt!