The South of France is like a fairy tale come to life. On my solo trip to Avignon, I had the chance to visit Gordes on a small-group tour, but since it was the very last stop of the day, I only had 40 minutes to photograph this enchanting place! Fortunately, the center of Gordes is very compact so it didn’t take much time to explore the entire hilltop.
One moment, we were driving away from the red village of Roussillon on a very flat, but curvy road, and the next moment, we were somehow looking out above an incredible landscape, the terraced stone buildings of Gordes watching over their kingdom below. The surrounding landscape was dotted with vineyards, olive groves, rows of statuesque cypress trees, old hamlets, and little winding roads. The sky that day was heavy with rain, the clouds just barely managing to hold it all in.
The color of the village harmonizes beautifully with its surroundings, probably because the limestone it’s constructed out of was sourced from the mountains nearby. No fences are allowed in Gordes, just traditional stone walls, some of which are topped with sharp vertically-placed stones to keep the wolves away. Nowadays, wolves aren’t really a problem, but they continue to construct exterior walls like this simply to preserve the town’s heritage. In fact, all new constructions must be finished in the native limestone in order to maintain the visual integrity of the village. As we were making our way up to the top of the hill, we spotted a house in mid-build; our tour guide pointed out that while historic buildings relied solely on the stone blocks for structural support, modern buildings use modern materials, then cover it all up with a veneer of stone. Even though it seems like an unnecessary expense, it’s actually one of the best parts of France: their commitment to honoring the past and their appreciation of beauty.
As I walked through the streets, I would sometimes turn a corner and be graced with a completely unexpected landscape view, the steeply angled street dipping away into open space. At this late hour in the afternoon, and in the low season of tourism, it felt like I had the village all to myself. I came across only a few other people, and the rest of the time was pure, calm, and silent.
Our tour guide said that the population of this village practically doubles during the summer months, since most of the property owners are based in bigger cities or other countries, reserving their houses for vacations and holidays. Part of the reason for its international popularity was its prominence in Peter Mayle’s bestselling book A Year in Provence, as well as being the setting in the film A Good Year, with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard.
I’m itching to get back to Provence someday and discover even more of this region. It’s dripping with beauty, romance and old-world charm that I just didn’t get enough of. I’m kicking myself a little bit for not exploring more of France outside of Paris while I was on that side of the world!