Market day: Tuesday
Of all the Luberon villages, Gordes is the pin-up girl, and everyone has to have a picture of her. The view from the D2 road is so terrific that there’s even a pull-out conveniently located so people won’t be put in danger when they stop to snap their photos. If tour buses visit only one Luberon village, this is likely to be the one. Midday tends to bring a steady stream of daytrippers. Unfortunately, the eager groups of well-heeled expatriates moving in from cooler climes, including movie stars and artists, means that Gordes has been so well restored that it positively gleams, and the population in the evening still seems predominantly non-French and certainly non-Provençal. Alas and alack, the one place in the Luberon that the tourists seem to have claimed for their own – and I wasn’t even here in high season! Consequently, your favorite thing about Gordes may be that photo you take from the D2.
Nonetheless, you may well find yourself unable to resist a stop here. Gordes, one of the largest of the Luberon villages with a population of about 2,100, is capped by the Church of St. Firmin and a castle which houses the city hall. Sharing the same square is the World War I memorial, a statue of a soldier dedicated to "the children of France who died in the war"; nearly every Luberon village seems to have a memorial for WWI soldiers located near its central landmark. The Church of St. Firmin is an unremarkable pale limestone box from the outside; the interior is painted an eye-poppingly intense shade of provençal blue, a shade somewhere between lavender and turquoise. The ornaments would be more correctly categorized as folk art than high art. A tour around the village paths takes you past carefully restored villas which somehow manage to look brand new, despite their attention to traditional style and details.
Other sights near Gordes which you may find more engaging than the village itself are the Cistercian Abbaye de Sénanque, 4km north of Gordes and hikable for the energetic along the GR6 hiking trail, which follows the D177 road, and the Village de Bories, a group of now-deserted conical dry-stone huts serving a wide variety of village functions.
The abbey is part of a still functioning monastery, but most of the buildings are open for view, including the church, the original monks’ dormitory, the very attractive arched cloisters, and the chapter-house, the only room where the monks were permitted to speak. The abbey is surrounded by lavender fields, and if you are here in mid-summer, be sure to visit to take in the fields in full bloom. The abbey’s hours vary with the seasons, but you can count on its being open from 10am-noon and 2-6pm daily except Sundays, and Sundays 2-6pm; admission is €4.
The Village de Bories is located just outside Gordes. The bories are dry-stone huts that look something like igloos made of stones, and they dot many areas of southern Europe to as far north as Switzerland. They can date back to pre-Roman times, although the ones in Gordes are only about 200 years old. Many were used for storage or as simple shepherds’ huts. The Village de Bories is unusual in the variety and number of bories built in a single location. Bories were a practical building solution where timber was scant and stone plentiful. They were constructed by carefully selecting flat stones of varying thickness and stacking them into tight, compact walls with neat, straight edges. The simplicity of method belies its tremendous functionality; with no cement to crumble or wood to deteriorate, bories can stand for centuries in pristine condition. The Village de Bories is open 9am-5:30pm daily; admission is €4.