Sitting in a café in the walled market town of Apt, I knew I was near Saignon. I had a perfect view of it, perched along a ridge on the Luberon massif just 2 kms out of the town. A fellow customer took pity on me as I poured over my road map, trying to work out which was the right route.
“It’s the road straight ahead of us,” he said, without an ounce of condescension, and proceeded to tell me it was one of the most beautiful villages in the area.
Ten minutes later I could see he was right. The winding road out of Apt heads straight towards the Rocher, the rocky outcrops that look like an old castle from a distance. They come into focus as you get nearer, sheer vertical cliffs that rise up from the town with a fabulous panoramic view of the whole area.
Saignon’s beautiful architecture dates from the mediaeval period and as the town is closed to traffic it feels as if you are stepping back in time. In the centre of the village, where three roads meet, lies the fountain whose tinkling water exudes an air of restfulness.
Indeed, it’s difficult to be busy or stressed in Saignon. We stayed at the corner house next to the bakery where you can sit at the first floor kitchen window and watch life go by slowly. Upstairs on the glorious roof terrace we would spend lazy evenings over a long meal, enjoying the sunsets and the quietness of the valley below.
There aren’t many shops or restaurants in Saignon. The boulangerie or tearoom is the main focal point where walkers and cyclists stop for a rest. In the summer a shop next door sells local handbags and baskets, and there’s a small store where you can stock up on essentials.
Just behind the boulangerie is the 12th century Romanesque church of Notre Dame de Pitie, with its 12 arched façade dating from the 14th century and possibly representing the twelve apostles. The clock tower, which dates from 1584, is best observed from the top floor of a nearby building if you get the chance.
Most walks through the village end up at the Rocher. Take the route through the stone arch and past the chapel, now a private house. Just round the corner you’ll see the steep stone steps that lead up to the top. From the top there are fabulous views of Mont Ventoux to the north and across the plains to the south. On a clear day you can even see Avignon, 60 kms away and a fabulous day out.
With its pretty shuttered houses, cobbled streets and ivy covered walls, Saignon is a mediaeval gem in today’s modern world. Once you’ve discovered it, you are bound to go back.
Sarah Cartledge is a journalist and media consultant.