France is dotted with picturesque villages that marvel at their charm and history. Among them, Gordes stands out with a singular beauty that earned it the prestigious title of “most beautiful village in the world” by the American magazine Travel + Leisure, last March. Nestled in the heart of Provence, Gordes has fascinated visitors for centuries with its stone houses, steep streets and breathtaking views over the Luberon valley. With its medieval architecture, the famous Provencal village also boasts several listed monuments. Let’s discover this tourist mecca in the heart of the Monts du Vaucluse, which attracts over half a million visitors every year.
History and heritage of Gordes
Gordes traces its origins back to the Celtic Vordenses, who built an oppidum (an overhanging fortification) to protect the town of Cavaillon. Its strategic location on a steep hill also played a key role in the defense of the territory and shaped its unique architecture. Over the centuries, the village has flourished under various influences, notably Roman and medieval. The dry-stone houses, built into the hillside, give Gordes a harmonious appearance with its natural surroundings. The judicious use of local materials has preserved the village’s architectural identity over the centuries. Numerous historic buildings, such as the Renaissance château and the church of Saint-Firmin, bear witness to Gordes’ rich past and offer visitors a captivating insight into the region’s history. In addition to its historic heritage, Gordes is famous for its breathtaking panoramas. Perched 340 meters above sea level atop a cliff, the village offers spectacular views over the Luberon valley and surrounding olive groves and lavender fields. At different times of the day, the light plays with the nuances of the stone, painting ever-changing pictures that have inspired many artists over the years. Undeniably one of the most beautiful villages in France, Gordes is also surrounded by unspoilt natural landscapes, ideal for hiking and exploring. Walks in the surrounding hills reveal a variety of landscapes, from sheer cliffs to lush valleys, and offer visitors an immersive experience in nature. Gordes is also home to a thriving craft tradition, perpetuating ancestral know-how. Local artisans create unique products such as pottery, Provencal fabrics and lavender-based cosmetics. Visitors can discover these artisan treasures in the village stores and take home a piece of Provencal authenticity.
The awarding of the title of “most beautiful village in the world” by travel magazine Travel + Leisure last March has inevitably attracted an influx of tourists to Gordes. However, local authorities and residents are aware of the importance of preserving the village’s identity and heritage, while ensuring sustainable tourism. Measures have been taken to regulate traffic and construction in order to protect the landscape and maintain the architectural harmony of the village. In fact, during the summer months, Gordes can welcome up to 10,000 visitors a day! Ecotourism initiatives are also encouraged, offering visitors a more immersive, environmentally-friendly experience.
Castle of Gordes
Atop the picturesque hill stands the Castle of Gordes, a historical treasure steeped in rich history and timeless beauty. Built into the side of a rock, it is a fine example of medieval architecture and offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Luberon. This imposing Renaissance castle was built in the 16th century, replacing an earlier feudal castle from which two towers have survived. The major demolition and restructuring work was undertaken by Bertrand Rambaud de Simiane, who was strongly inspired by Renaissance art, which had its origins in Italy, as evidenced by the magnificent, richly sculpted fireplace that adorns the first-floor great room. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the cellars were used as prisons, the upper floors as lodgings for garrisons, and the large rooms as attics and sheds. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the castle was once again at the heart of village life. There’s a café, boys’ school, school canteen, post office, Justice de Paix office and even a pharmacy! Listed as a historical monument since 1931, the medieval building was bought by painter Victor Vasarely in the late 60s. In 1970, President Georges Pompidou inaugurated a museum housing the artist’s works, thus propelling Gordes’ reputation around the world. The castle’s large rooms were home to the Vasarély Museum from 1970 to 1994 and the Pol Mara Museum from 1995 to 2011.
This remarkable religious edifice is nestled at the bottom of the verdant valley, surrounded by fields of purple lavender that provide a spectacular, spellbinding backdrop. Sénanque Abbey was founded in 1148, on the initiative of the Bishop of Cavaillon, by a group of Cistercian monks looking for an isolated place to practice their faith and monastic life. They chose this secluded valley near the village of Gordes to establish their abbey, surrounded by fertile land suitable for farming and stockbreeding. Over the centuries, the abbey has seen periods of prosperity as well as decline, but it has always been a symbol of religious devotion and commitment to the community. Romanesque in style and inspired by Cistercian architecture, it has become an emblematic site of Provence and a must for visitors seeking a unique cultural and spiritual experience. The abbey church, with its elegant facade and sober interior, is a perfect example of Cistercian architecture. Listed as a historical monument since April 1921, Sénanque Abbey is still inhabited by 6 monks. You can visit the choir monks’ dormitory, the abbey church, the cloister and the chapter house where the monks used to meet. Lavandin cultivation, tours and a bookshop remain the main sources of income for his hosts.
The Cellars of the Palais Saint-Firmin
In addition to its splendid facade and sumptuous gardens, this palace also houses treasures hidden beneath its foundations: the cellars of the Palais Saint-Firmin. Located beneath one of the most beautiful buildings in Gordes, this unusual space is made up of cellars and pipes dug into the limestone rock on seven levels. The vaulted galleries and stone pillars bear witness to the craftsmanship of the period. Each vault seems to tell a story, and the atmosphere in these cellars is both bewitching and fascinating. In the past, the underground site served as a workshop, chapel, bread oven, grain silo and sheepfold. A veritable troglodyte activity was going on beneath the surface of Gordes! This rock-cut space houses the archaeological remains of the village’s craft activities in the Middle Ages. Opened to the public in 1999 following excavation and restoration work, the cellars of the Palais Saint-Firmin have also been classified as historic monuments.
The history of Saint Firmin church
The origins of Saint-Firmin church date back to the 12th century, when the priors of the Benedictine abbey of Saint Chaffrey built a church dedicated to Notre-Dame. Having become too small and dilapidated, it was rebuilt in the mid-18th century and dedicated to Saint-Firmin, bishop of Uzès. The preserved square tower, now used as a bell tower, was probably a belfry. The interior of the religious building is adorned with painted decorations, ironwork, sculptures, woodwork, paintings and eight chapels. The church is a classic example of Provençal Romanesque architecture, with its clean lines, thick stone walls and barrel vaults. Its sober, solid exterior contrasts with its richly decorated interior. The façade features a rib-vaulted porch, typical of the period, leading to a carved wooden door. As you enter the building, you are immediately struck by the height of the vaults supporting the nave. The finely carved capitals depict biblical scenes and floral motifs, offering a moving testimony to the talent of the craftsmen of the period. Colorful stained glass windows add a touch of luminosity to the interior, creating a spiritual and peaceful atmosphere.
The village of Les Bories
The village of Les Bories is 4 kilometers from Gordes. This is a collection of dry-stone buildings, most of which date from the 17th century, but some of which may date back to the Bronze Age. This group of bories, or dry-stone huts, is one of the best preserved in the region. Every year, thousands of curious visitors come to discover this amazing village and immerse themselves in a bygone era. The distinctive feature of the village of Les Bories lies in the architecture of its buildings. Bories are built using an ancestral mortarless masonry technique, where stones are ingeniously arranged to form domes. This ingenious technique enabled the ancient inhabitants to protect themselves from the rigours of both summer and winter weather. Indeed, the stone’s ability to regulate heat meant that a pleasant temperature could be maintained inside the bories. The dwellings vary in size, from modest little huts to more elaborate constructions, testifying to the diversity of agricultural and pastoral activities at the time. Other features include livestock pens, storage areas and handicraft structures. The village of Les Bories was listed as a historic monument in 1977, contributing to its preservation and enhancement. The local authorities, aware of the value of this unique heritage, have undertaken restoration and conservation efforts to ensure its longevity.
Gordes, voted most beautiful village in the world
Gordes, voted “most beautiful village in the world”, richly deserves this distinction. Its rich history, unique architectural heritage, breathtaking panoramas and vibrant cultural scene make it a must-see for all lovers of beauty and authenticity. However, beyond its international reputation, Gordes remains an inhabited place, where daily life blends harmoniously with craft traditions and the flow of visitors. Preserving this harmony is essential if this timeless jewel, located just a few kilometers from Avignon and its Palais des Papes, is to continue to dazzle future generations.
If you like beautiful panoramas, we invite you to visit the Mont Ventoux site, which can be reached in an hour.
Information, reservations, calendar of events…visit the Gordes website.