We look at some of the most beautiful villages in Provence – in a region known for its extraordinary charm, these three stand out…
Gordes – the heart of Provence
If there is one place on the bucket list of most visitors to Provence, it has to be Gordes. It’s almost like going to Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tour, it is the iconic Provencal village. The best way for your first experience of Gordes is from afar at the lookout point. Once you are in the village, your perspective is completely different, and you simply can’t appreciate the grandeur upon which you stand.
Exploring the nooks and crannies and hidden secrets of this picturesque hill top town will enchant you. Cobblestone streets, a majestic 16th century chateau and mellow, yellow stoned houses make this the town the poster boy for Provence. Don’t just take it from me, Gordes is a Plus Beaux Villlage, officially one of the most beautiful villages in Provence.
Take time to view the lower fountain where 400 shoemakers worked until the 19th century, when an earthquake deviated the underground water sources and ruined their businesses. Go underground and discover the Caves of Saint Firmin where dedication and hard work by a local family unveiled silos, vats and an olive mill – 7 floors under the main house!
The environs of Gordes are truly marvellous, such as the Cistercian architecture of the Abbey de Senanque where the monks make lavender from the fields that surround it. Relax in the dry-stone huts known as bories that pepper the landscape and offer respite from the sun for those who choose to hike one of the many glorious trails.
Menerbes – the “floating” village
Allow yourself time to be swept away by the quiet beauty of Menerbes. Like Gordes, on the other side of the Luberon valley, Menerbes is also officially one of the most beautiful villages in Provence, but you’ll discover a very different kind of soul. The legacy of the famous artists who settled in the village – Picasso, Dora Maar, Nicolas de Stël, Jane Eakin and Joe Downing to name a few – have left their mark. Not to mention the late, great Peter Mayle who lived there and featured the town in many of his novels.
As you walk the cobblestone and narrow lanes passing houses from the 15th, 17th and 18th centuries, you won’t be distracted by postcards and lavender sachets for sale. The mass of tourists tend to stay in Gordes and Roussillon so Menerbes is an ideal spot for lunch and a peaceful stroll through a typical Provencal village. There are two bakeries in the village and a general store. Just enough to pick up some snacks for a light lunch you can enjoy perched on a bench in the shade at the top of the village in front of the 16th century church Saint Luc.
Venasque – one of the most beautiful villages in France
Venasque often seems to be overlooked by visitors to Provence. Perhaps it’s because of its location, perched high on a steep ridge and tucked away on the other side of the canyon from its rival gorgeous Gordes. The unique treasures in this tiny village set up high on a crag, where it almost feels as if you’re on a ship that has set-sail, are endless. Perhaps your favourite will be the “Place de la Fontaine” where you can marvel at the beautiful fountain with its cast iron masks spewing water. It’s amazing to think that villagers still fetched water from here until 1960, when finally running water reached the village homes!
Or your highlight might be the story behind a painting in the church that the village had to fight to get back from the Louvre. The 6th-century baptistery and the “capital of cherries” are two more reasons why Venasque is a top place to visit in Provence. It also qualifies for the label of one of the most beautiful villages in Provence.
Emily Durand is a local tour guide who runs tours taking in the most beautiful villages, authentic experiences, fabulous restaurants and vineyards – in short her Your Private Provence tours are an entry to Provencal paradise…