Gordes, one of the prettiest villages in Provence

Touring Provence’s prettiest villages

As I mentioned in my first post on Provence, one of the best things about our week there was the fact that we had so many beautiful villages within 20 minutes’ drive of our apartment. Each morning, we’d head out early before it got too hot and spend a few hours wandering cobbled streets, sipping café au lait in sunny squares and generally mooching about enjoying the peace and quiet.

Gordes

The closest village to us was Gordes. It’s one of France’s plus beaux (most beautiful) villages – and it’s not hard to see why.

Gordes-Provence-France

You get the best view of Gordes from the rocky platform on the D2 road just outside the village. There’s a little side road you can pull in to with a dozen or so parking spaces. We stopped there a couple of times and I’d definitely suggest aiming for early morning (pre-9am) or early evening if you want to avoid the crowds. We went for sunset one evening and gave up as the platform was rammed with a group on some sort of photography trip with tripods taking up most of the space.

If the main platform is busy, there’s a smaller one hidden in the trees just to the right of it – it’s lower down, but you still get a lovely view…

Gordes-viewing-platform

Another plus-point for a morning trip to Gordes is that you can avoid the parking charges. It’s 4 euros to park, no matter how long you’re planning on staying, but the money is collected in person as you drive in – when we arrived at 8am, there was no-one in sight, so we got out of it.

Time your visit for a Tuesday if you want to visit the market. At 8am, stallholders were still setting up, so we ducked into a café for a coffee while we waited for things to get a bit livelier (and for the torrential rain to pass – gotta love a summer storm).

Gordes-morning-market

Although there were stalls selling clothes, gifts and antique-y bits (mirrors, chunky silver cutlery), it was the food that I was after – and it didn’t disappoint. Just-baked pastries and croissants, jars of fruity jams and lavender-infused honey, spicy saucisson, huge wheels of cheese, and piles of fresh cherries, strawberries, peaches and apricots. Perfect for picking up a few picnic bits for our drive through the lavender fields!

Gordes-market-Provence

Roussillon

Roussillon was the first village we went to – and what a way to start! Another of the plus beaux villages, it’s set on a hilltop and painted in shades of burnt-orange and terracotta to match the vibrant earth of the old ochre quarry next to it.

Roussillon,-Provence's-villages

After parking up (2 euros, payable at a machine), we headed straight to the top of town to check out the views.

They were OK.

Roussillon-Provence-views Views-from-Roussillon

There are a handful of little gift and clothes shops and a fair few cafes – we had a quick pit-stop at a completely empty one which turned out to have an amazing terrace out the back!

Views-from-Roussillon-cafe

The Sentier des Ochres (3.50 euros) is a must-do if you visit Roussillon. It’s basically a pathway that takes you down into the old quarry. You can choose to do the short route or the long one (which the leaflet said would take an hour, but we managed it in 35 minutes) – both routes take you right up close to the orange cliffs, which looked incredibly vivid next to the pine trees and blue skies.

Ochre-trail-Roussillon-Provence Ochre-walk-Roussillon Sentier-des-Ochres-Roussillon

Definitely avoid white shoes, though, as the orange dust gets everywhere!

 

Goult

Goult-Provence

Goult was very pretty, but unfortunately I was far too hungry to fully appreciate it – we visited on a Sunday evening hoping to get some dinner (we’d tried to go to the supermarket earlier and ended up having to turn back after failing to find a parking space – note to self, never assume you can just pop into town on a market day). The lady at our apartment had recommended a couple of restaurants, but despite being completely empty, they both turned us away. As did the only other restaurant open on a Sunday. Apparently booking in advance really is the done thing.

 

Bonnieux

Bonnieux-one-of-Provence's-prettiest-villages

Luckily, Bonnieux saved the day for us on that fateful Sunday. We parked up (free – or at least it was in the evening) and ended up getting a table at one of the best restaurants, Le Fournil. It had the loveliest setting, in a little square with a fountain shaded by a huge plane tree.

Le-Fournils-Bonnieux-Provence

The food wasn’t cheap (41 euros for a main and a dessert), but it was absolutely delicious, and the dessert was one of the best I’ve ever had (it’s the chocolate pudding – just say yes). It was my favourite meal of the trip, although Mr ST gave that award to the other restaurant we ate at in Bonnieux – Un P’tit Coin de Cuisine, on the road just below Le Fornils. We managed to snag the last table there on Bastille Day and had a brilliant time sampling the cheese and charcuterie platters and drinking rosé while local families chattered around us.

Bonnieux wasn’t all about the food, though. It’s another perched village, so the views are stunning, especially around sunset. The walk up to the top of the town is definitely worth it…

Bonnieux-views

 

Lacoste

Lacoste-cobbled-streets

We were in and out of little Lacoste in under an hour, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t pretty (I would even go as far as saying it was the prettiest of all the villages we saw) – it’s just very, very small.

Free parking is at the bottom of the hill, but be prepared for a short, sharp uphill climb into the village. The streets are all cobbles and stone houses – very photogenic. At the top, you’ll find the ruins of a chateau, once owned by the Marquis de Sade. The views from here are fab.

Incredibly, a lot of the buildings in Lacoste are owned by an American University (the Savannah College of Art & Deisgn), whose students come over for a year to paint and photograph and generally do arty things. As campuses go, I think this ranks as one of the best in the world…

Lacoste,-Provence-villages

Lacoste-Provence

What do you reckon?

 

Ménerbes

Anyone who’s read Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’ will know about Ménerbes. The amazing-sounding farmhouse and vineyard that he restores during said year in Provence is just outside Ménerbes, and there are countless references to the village throughout the story. I devoured the book during our first two days in Provence, so I was very excited to see the village for myself.

We parked up (3 euros) at about 11am and Ménerbes was still lovely and quiet. We spent a good hour or so aimlessly wandering through the hilly lanes, admiring the shuttered houses and stopping for a pain au chocolat at a very cute bakery along the way.

Menerbes-Provence

We then ambled up to the church, where we were met by wide-angle views across the countryside.

Views-from-Menerbes Menerbes-views

As well as this strange little building that seemed remarkably like a prison cell (with a slightly better view).

Views from Menerbes Provence

 

Oppède-le-Vieux

Oppede-le-Vieux-village

We hadn’t actually planned to visit Oppède-le-Vieux, but after the Mistral winds appeared on our last full day, it was too chilly for the pool (seriously, those winds are freezing! Temperatures dropped more than 10 degrees in a day!), so we added it to our itinerary.

The ‘new’ town of Oppède-les-Poulivets sits at the bottom of a hill – Oppède-le-Vieux is up the top. Abandoned by its residents a hundred or so years ago, the village has now started to come back to life, and is a charming jumble of crumbling stone houses and cute cottages that have been turned into artists’ workshops.

Once again, it’s an uphill walk from the car park (3 euros), but on the way you get lovely views back across the valley – there’s a big grassy area that would be perfect for a picnic.

Picnic-spot-Oppede-le-Vieux

As you enter the village, you’ll walk along the prettiest little street.

Pretty-village-street-Oppede-le-Vieux

And end up in the village’s peaceful main square. There are a couple of cafés, but we decided to tackle the climb up to the top of the village first. The path up leads through a beautiful old stone arch and passes a half-collapsed house and a little chapel on its way up through the greenery.

Chapel-Oppede-le-Vieux-Provence

Oppede-le-Vieux-Provence

At the top, as well as the spectacular views, you’ll find a centuries-old church (peek inside – it’s lovely) and the ruins of an old castle, which is currently being restored by the locals.

The village is fairly tiny (even by Provencal standards), so I’m not sure I’d go too far out of your way to see it – but if you’re heading to Menerbes, which is only 10 minutes away, I’d say definitely try and fit in a quick stop in Oppède-le-Vieux as well.

 

We also visited some of the bigger towns and cities while we were in Provence, but I’ll save those for another day. I’m dying to go back and see even more of the area, so if you’ve got any recommendations for other beautiful towns and villages in Provence, let me know!

This post is sponsored by AVIS, who I hired my car through – take a look at their blogs on French holidays for more Provence inspiration. All opinions are my own and I paid for the car hire myself.

21 Comments

  • Reply Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 16, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Laura this trip sounds just idyllic – I hadn’t heard of most of these villages but would love to go road tripping between them all and the idea of a piece of just made French croissant topped with lavender infused honey, whilst driving through the lavender fields of all places, kind of sounds like my idea of heaven!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura August 22, 2016 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks Shikha 🙂 it was a fab trip, one of the best holidays I’ve ever had! I never usually like to go back to the same place so soon, but I think I would make an exception for Provence…

  • Reply MissLilly August 19, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    Really gorgeous and peaceful villages!!!

  • Reply Bethanny Sudibyo August 21, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    OMG your pictures are so beautiful!
    I really love visiting small towns instead of big cities (although I like it too) when I’m traveling in a country. You make me want to go there right this instant! Love love love <3

    • Laura
      Reply Laura August 22, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      Thanks Bethanny 🙂 I’m glad you like it!

  • Reply clare August 21, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    I haven’t visited this region of France, but it looks beautiful. One to add to the list 🙂

    • Laura
      Reply Laura August 22, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      Definitely! It’s gorgeous.

  • Reply tapir tales August 22, 2016 at 10:43 am

    I’m always struck by this old world charm of France. Like a postcard. Superb.
    TT

    • Laura
      Reply Laura August 22, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      Thanks TT!

  • Reply Conor August 22, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    Ohhh la la, it’s all so French.

    I really need to see more of France, and especially rural Provence. Lacoste looks beautiful, I’m going to guess that there wasn’t a Lacoste clothing store? 😀

    • Laura
      Reply Laura November 14, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Haha, definitely not!

  • Reply Alex Datsev August 23, 2016 at 2:43 am

    Loved reading your post! This is exactly my kind of experience – small villages with cobblestone streets, historic architecture, local markets, some hiking, and plenty of good food…Thanks for sharing!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura November 14, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Thanks Alex!

  • Reply Karla at GlobalETA August 23, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Provence has always intrigued me and now even more so! It looks incredible and your photos are lovely. Thanks for the tips when visiting!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura November 14, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks Karla, glad you have found the tips useful 🙂

  • Reply melody pittman August 23, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    I have gotten such an education through your post. Provence is an area I am totally unfamiliar with. What gorgeous towns and impressive architecture. I love historic places like these.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura November 14, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks Melody, I’m glad you liked it 🙂 It’s such a beautiful place.

  • Reply Theresa August 23, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Wow, that was chock full of helpful information for folks visiting the region. So many charming little towns in Provence. I love the old world feel of that part of France. Their lavender fields adds a lovely touch to the landscape.

    • Laura
      Reply Laura November 14, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      It’s so beautiful – and there’s so much more I didn’t get to see, so I’m definitely going to have to go back some day!

  • Reply Julius from Traveltipy August 24, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    No surprise why France is the most visited country in the world. They have all towns and cities, sights, castles or natural attractions so beautiful that everyone can choose what he loves on his holidays! And as I prefer quietness I would choose some of the small towns for sure!

    • Laura
      Reply Laura November 14, 2016 at 2:06 pm

      So true, there’s something for everyone there (as cliched as that sounds). There’s so much more of France I need to explore – luckily it’s nice and close for me!

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