Is France’s ‘Most Gorgeous Village” Genuinely All That?

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During his presidency half of a century ago, François Mitterrand had a discreet village hideaway built in Provence’s Luberon Valley, where he would exhaust holidays holed up along with his secret 2nd family.

Unlike the 18th-century opulence of the Élysée Palace, the stone condominium became small and simple—more nation cottage than luxurious villa. It became at this relaxed refuge that Mitterrand, his longtime mistress, Anne Pingeot, and later, their daughter Mazarine, would whereas away the hot summer season days, safe from the scrutiny of the click. So intent became the dilapidated president on keeping the puny condominium a secret, that it became reportedly off-limits even to his bodyguards.

The clandestine presidential be pleased nest became positioned in Gordes—a minute perched village with stone homes the coloration of gentle sand and a tangle of slim, cobbled alleys leading as a lot as a medieval chateau. Town became so off the radar that Mitterrand would possibly perhaps freely stroll the streets without being chanced on out. On the times villagers did witness the head of recount, (who as soon as in a whereas strolled along with his daughter in tow) they stayed mum.

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Station du Château

Philippe Royer

“What’s humorous is that François Mitterrand would possibly perhaps walk around Gordes incognito with a straightforward hat and sun shades,” French journalist and author Pierrick Geais knowledgeable Madame Figaro. “Other folks known him, asked him who the puny woman became, nonetheless no one asked extra questions.”

He added: “This day with social media, that will perhaps successfully be now no longer capacity.”

He’s honest, clearly, nonetheless on the grunt time it isn’t handiest Twitter and Instagram that will perhaps hinder a French president’s strive at duplicitous summertime dalliances. Since the days of Mitterrand’s presidency, the village of apt 2,000 other folks has evolved from an unknown hamlet to 1 of essentially the most sought-after stopovers in Provence. Indeed, few French cities had been the topic of as noteworthy media hype in contemporary years as Gordes, which makes usual appearances in “prettiest villages in France” listicles on all aspects of the Atlantic.

Unparalleled of the village’s up-to-the-minute-day recognition would possibly perchance moreover be traced abet to the gradual Peter Mayle’s wildly well-liked be pleased letter to the place, A Year in Provence. Even supposing Mayle lived about a 20-minute power away in neighboring Ménerbes, Gordes made a number of appearances in his handiest-selling circa-1989 memoir. Since then, vacationers started flocking to the residence in droves looking out for the solar-soaked landscapes and the bucolic, lavender-scented belle vie that the British author evoked in the e book.

Mazarine Pingeot unruffled spends summers on the puny condominium that her father built in Gordes, nonetheless on the grunt time she isn’t its handiest high-profile resident. Fugitive film auteur Roman Polanski is rumored to luxuriate in a residence in the village, and Ridley Scott, whose frothy comedy-drama primarily primarily based on Mayle’s eponymous original A Superb Year, owns a winery about eight miles to the south. So a range of are the rich and neatly-known who drop on the village each summer season, that Paris Match honest lately referred to Gordes as “the village of the jet-assign sublime.”

Earlier this 365 days, Gordes snagged the #1 position in a piece of writing in Hump + Leisure’s ranking of essentially the most magnificent small cities on the earth, leading to additional world media protection lauding its medieval architecture and, as one French daily life and custom residing assign it, “unmatched appeal.”

“A veritable postcard landscape,” became how France TV assign it, crediting the city’s indispensable person to slim passageways, white stone homes, a chateau, and a church which can be “emblematic of a unparalleled Provençal village.”

In its assign of igniting my curiosity, the myriad superlatives had me feeling a puny skeptical all the diagram via the flexibility from Avignon to Gordes a number of weeks ago. The “world’s most magnificent village,” is lots to are residing as a lot as, and I’m consistently a puny cautious of locations with masses of hype hooked as a lot as them. Besides, any residing that’s globally neatly-known is sure to entice huge crowds. A stroll via Montmartre (where I are residing) or Venice on the tip of tourist season is more claustrophobic than romantic, without reference to how many celebrities will seemingly be lurking within the tsunami of vacation makers.

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“A classic village fruit and vegetable store with potentialities in Gordes.

Getty Photos

I arrived in Avignon final month to brisk winds and grey skies, and as I made my capacity to the village, the Insta-worthy landscape of cypress trees and fields of shimmering red poppies appeared a puny touchy and out of residing beneath an opaque cowl of clouds as a substitute of the renowned Provençal sunshine. Then issues purchased even weirder.

“Something, one thing rocks and monkeys,” the motive force announced as we approached Gordes, snapping me out of my reverie and filling me with confusion laced with a surge of adrenaline. I’ve had an irregular phobia of monkeys since childhood, and the foundation of them anywhere shut to the vehicle, let by myself making ready to hurl rocks in our direction, became ample for my fight or flight response to kick into high equipment.

“The monkey rock,” he acknowledged again, gesturing to our left where, thank God, a line of cell phone-wielding vacationers, now no longer primates, stood gathered before a craggy lookout. From a distance, the row of heads peering over the boulders did evoke unparalleled simians, and it became easy to explore how the scenic position purchased its title. What they didn’t know, he explained, became that there became one other lesser-known lookout nearby that now no longer handiest had higher views nonetheless became free of crowds.

He became honest. The varied lookout, positioned a puny bit extra down from the rocher des singes became deserted, which allowed me to soak up my first views of the city without a need to apprehension about being jostled by fellow company vying for the splendid shot. And even supposing I had seen photos of the village, the peep of the imposing, rocky hill with its nautilus-fashioned maze of stone homes and fortified fortress on the summit had a wow-element that photos simply can’t snatch.

The “monkey rock” and the “locals’ lookout,” I’d later peep, are one of many dichotomies in a village that has experienced myriad incarnations over the centuries and possesses a resounding and indefatigable resilience. In spite of historical previous has thrown at it—invading Huguenots, earthquakes, or Nazi bombardments—Gordes has managed to rise from the proverbial ashes and open anew.

“In summer season, there are two Gordes, apt love there are two Provences,” Le Figaro seen some years ago, relating to the contrast between the frigid mornings and the searing midday warmth. Nevertheless there are moreover two Gordes all via the 365 days (in winter, the village is reportedly deserted) and all via historical previous, and I became moreover struck by how a residing that’s at this time lauded for its natural elegance and serenity has a previous rooted in centuries of tumult.

After I arrived in town, an annual literary festival became winding down and school holidays had been in full swing, so the streets had been busy nonetheless now no longer overwhelmingly so. Pedestrians walked in single file along a slim sidewalk lined with stone structures the coloration of solar-bleached bone, and a tent had been assign up in entrance of the chateau that became manned by writers flanked by stacks of books ready for signing.

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A seek of the Abbey of Senanque in Gordes, Provence, France.

Franco Origlia

Gordes dates abet to Roman times, nonetheless the village as we comprehend it emerged all the diagram via the 11th century when its chateau and fortifications had been built. The neighboring Abbey de Senanque became constructed about 100 years later, nonetheless its low-lying position became a predicament all the diagram via the brutal Wars of Religion that raged in the latter section of the 16th century all the diagram via which the Huguenots raided the monastery and murdered many of the monks. Heavily fortified Gordes, nonetheless, resisted the assault from its strategic hilltop position because it had resisted assorted aggressions since its inception. The chateau underwent a Renaissance-model remodel in the early-1500s, and when it’s now no longer internet hosting readings from the French literary assign, it homes the city corridor and an exhibition residence dedicated to works by contemporary Twentieth-century artists (and onetime residents of Gordes) Pol Mara and Victor Vasarely.

Airelles Gordes, La Bastide served as my residence all the diagram via my preserve, and the property can be easy to leave out had been it now no longer for an unobtrusive impress hooked as a lot as the façade and a orderly wood door that truly reminded me of a assign part from a Shakespearean drama. Perched on medieval ramparts, the core of the building dates abet to the 16th century, nonetheless the relief became added on some two-hundred years later. The Christophe Tollemer-designed interior has an trim, nation manor-model ambiance and is filled with 18th-century furnishings that had been sourced from the antique markets at nearby l’Isle-sur-la Sorgue.

“Like a fairytale” seems to be so cliched, nonetheless there are parts of the resort that on the replacement hand seem to luxuriate in tumbled out of the pages of a luxurious narrative. Per chance it’s the severely silly yet whimsical 18th-century-model attire of the attentive workers, who bustled about love a coterie of fairy godmothers (and godfathers), or my colossal room with the paisley wallcoverings, ridiculously blissful bed, and Alice in Wonderland-esque assortment sweet treats ready on the coffee desk, including blue and tan Ladurée macarons that matched the coloration scheme of the couch. Or presumably it became the immense breakfast buffet that spilled across two rooms and had ample cakes, pastries, and crepes to rival the sugar-weighted down daydreams of my childhood.

The walls are adorned with stern-faced 18th-century oil portraits whose eyes appeared as if it would apply me as soon as in a whereas, and lush animal heads are mounted trophy-love along the corridor leading to the younger other folks club as though a trigger-blissful hunter had gone on a safari at FAO Schwarz. This vogue of a puny zany class adds a contact of playfulness to the experience—almost love you’re visiting the summer season residence of an advanced, yet eccentric aunt—and after a protracted day of metros, trains, and vehicle journeys, it’s easy to sink into a at ease couch on the parlor-love bar and unwind over tea (or one thing stronger) in entrance of the fire, which is exactly what I did.

It’s the views that snatch the enchanted mansion ambiance up a notch, though, and whether I became looking out on the break of day from my room or feasting on up-to-the-minute Provençal delicacies on the terrace of Clover Gordes, the peep of the sprawling Luberon Valley dotted with pointy cypress trees and broken-down stone structures became nothing attempting cinematically magnificent. The Emily in Paris manufacturing designers apparently felt in an identical diagram, because Clover Gordes and its scenic terrace stood in for the L’Esprit de Luberon restaurant in season 3 of the accepted series.

A much less sublime, nonetheless traditionally wealthy position to soak up the seek is on the Cercle Républicain—an unassuming cafe-bar that’s a immediate walk from the resort and became a hotbed for covert exercise a protracted time before Mitterrand’s secret condominium existed. It became primarily based in 1912—apt three years after a sturdy earthquake struck the place and broken or destroyed a range of structures—and became one of thousands of its kind all via the nation.

These members-handiest establishments originally functioned as native assembly spots to guard the values of the French Republic from the risk of the church and any royalists who had been unruffled pining for the days of the court of Versailles. Within the early Forties, when France became facing a original and more frightening risk, Resistance members would procure right here and collude towards the Nazi occupation. The Cercle Républicain in Gordes is one of apt a handful left in France and remains a well-liked native dangle-out.

After I walked in, a 60-one thing lady in the abet of the bar became shouting at an older gentleman to “shut your mouth” in a tone that prompt that this diagram of banter between the proprietors and native patrons became rather usual. A low impress dangling shut to the entrance listed the contemporary president, vice-president, and treasurer, and moreover the cost for day-to-day and annual membership cards—20 centimes and €6 respectively—nonetheless the policy didn’t appear to be heavily enforced because the brusque madame in the abet of the counter apt took my drink characterize without asking any questions. In a rather-decorated abet room, a younger man became strumming a guitar and the small terrace originate air became crowded with other folks sipping gradual-afternoon beers or glasses of rosé and watching out on the sprawling Luberon Valley.

When French Resistance opponents weren’t plotting towards the Nazis over beers, they had been making exhaust of the underground tunnels on the Caves du Palais Saint Firmin. Simply two minutes from the Cercle Républicain, this charming warren of underground cellars dates abet to the Middle Ages, and became chanced on in the gradual-1970s all the diagram via the restoration of a Renaissance-era mansion.

Curiously, even abet in the medieval era there had been two Gordes—one above ground and one below. While the inhabitants lived aboveground, switch and commerce had been conducted underground. The caves safe the workers from the summer season warmth and the violent mistral winds, and remnants of Middle Ages-era switch, including an olive oil press, a cistern, and grain silos, are on grunt in the frigid, dimly-lit areas. Bullets believed to luxuriate in belonged to Resistance members had been chanced on in the tunnels, nonetheless the cave community became ancient as a hiding residing centuries earlier all the diagram via the bloody Waldensian wars when residents took refuge there.

I knew that Gordes became minute, nonetheless it took me circling it twice to take dangle of apt how small the city middle is. Excluding the chateau, assorted major sites encompass the Romanesque-model Eglise Saint-Firmin with its 18th-century woodwork and vibrant murals in masses of shades of periwinkle and shell red, moreover the Station Genty Pantaly and its 14th-century fountain.

For the interval of 1 of my first treks via town, I handed tourist-centric boutiques selling linen attire, perfumed soaps, and shiny pottery, nonetheless moreover more offbeat storefronts, including L’Alchimiste et La Fée—an incense-scented esoteric store whose series of amethyst nightlights, story bundles, tarot cards appeared straight out of Berkeley, California in the ‘70s. It became the series of artisanal booze, including rum and pastis infused with flavors love cayenne ginger and lavender, nonetheless, that caught my ogle more than the woo-woo ephemera.

On the varied facet of the avenue stood a sanatorium offering kinesiology, vitality remedies, and one thing known as pose minerale that I think has one thing to full with healing crystals. The California vibe continued as I made my capacity via the tangle of slippery, cobbled streets previous an organic wine store and a juice bar. Wellness is mountainous in Provence, and Gordes is no longer any exception. A cursory Google search unearths about a dozen massage and wellness facilities in the village, and that’s now no longer including the colossal spa at Airelles Gordes, La Bastide that became inspired by the Abbaye de Sénaque—think stone archways and heavy, wood ceiling beams—and presents every little thing from customizable massages to high-tech hydrating facials the exhaust of LED gentle therapy.

The most absorbing storefront (whereas it is likely you’ll well even name it that) became positioned on the purpose of the city middle, and featured a low impress tacked onto a weathered wood tour offering truffles available on the market straight from a native producer with a cell number below it. The windows had been barred shut and there became no assorted marketing. I cast a cautious witness on the empty avenue. Were these illicit truffle dealers? Or presumably it became an outpost for members of the truffle mafia, which, by the capacity, is a element in France.

In spite of became occurring, the impress sparked a craving for the practical fungus, which luckily became available in sauce kind and bottled in trim jars when I stopped by the weekly market later in my preserve. Within the event you leave out market day, one other position to rep native delicacies is at Vanille & Lilas, which is owned by Airelles Gordes and is stocked with upscale artisanal products, including appetizing, high-stop olive oils produced on the Airelles resort neighborhood’s Château d’Estoublon property in Fontvieille that’s a puny more than hour some distance off from Gordes.

As a result of Gordes became the form of French Resistance hub, the Gestapo one way or the opposite retaliated, bombing the village and executing over a dozen residents. So infamous had been the village’s anti-Nazi exploits that three years after the battle, the French govt presented Gordes with a prestigious Croix de Guerre medal for being “one of essentially the most energetic facilities of German Resistance below Occupation.”

The battle would possibly perchance had been over, nonetheless Gordes became loss of life. Over time, the village’s inhabitants had been leaving the hilltop town in droves, and in the months after the battle it became all nonetheless deserted. This modified from the stop of the ‘40s via the early ‘60s when up-to-the-minute artists love Marc Chagall, Victor Vasarely, and André Lhote chanced on the village and became seduced by its landscape and natural gentle.

“Whether at Senanque Abbey or in essentially the most humble residence in Gordes, a small sq. window in a orderly wall lets in so noteworthy gentle…” Vasarely recalled in 1964. “This same opening, viewed from the originate air, turns into an ethereal and unfathomable sad dice. The villages and cities of the South, blasted by an implacable solar, had been my introduction to the contradictions of perspective.”

The contemporary housing market in Gordes is off-limits to most artists without have faith funds, nonetheless some members of the ingenious assign had been residing and working right here long before the village’s jet-assign sublime days and had been savvy ample to preserve onto their property.

Jean-Max Toubeau grew up in Gordes at a time when working water and electrical energy had been scarce and Marc Chagall would continuously fall by the family residence to seek recommendation from his father, who became moreover an artist. Born in 1945, the painter at this time divides his time between Paris and Gordes, and has witnessed the village trot from peasant village to world tourist hub.

“For the interval of my childhood, there had been two forms of different folks in Gordes,” he recalled. “Artists and farmers. This day it’s wealthy other folks and vacationers.”

Indeed, in contemporary a protracted time the city has been beset with a assorted form of invasion. These interlopers reach bearing money as a substitute of medieval weapons, nonetheless their sheer numbers can annoy the residents and assign a strain on the village’s renowned tranquility.

“Nightmarish, hellish, and insane,” had been amongst the words several other folks ancient to list the crush of company that drop on Gordes each July and August when I asked about them, and my suggestions turned again to Montmartre all the diagram via high season. France Info reported honest lately that the preference of day-to-day company can high 10,000, which is frightening given the city’s small dimension. Add the blistering summer season warmth to the equation and “hellish” seems to be about apt.

“There luxuriate in consistently been a range of different folks,” Pierre-François Lamiraud, a Paris-primarily primarily based singer and actor in his 30s, who has been visiting the village for the previous decade, knowledgeable me. “Nevertheless each 365 days there’s more.”

He believes that the inflow of wealthy retirees procuring 2nd homes right here combined with the throngs of company, a number of of whom even send drones buzzing over native properties, luxuriate in introduced about the village to lose a puny of its authenticity in a identical capacity that Montmartre’s artist colony previous on the long-lasting Station du Tertre has been overshadowed by pricey trusty property and annual swarms of vacation makers.

In spite of this, he’s unruffled drawn to Gordes’ natural elegance and “quality of lifestyles,” recounting the originate-air concert events and non-public parties which can be held in the abet of high backyard walls all the diagram via the summer season months. One time, he knowledgeable me, a neighborhood of revelers even hauled a piano out onto a terrace for an impromptu recital.

The native action, he added, happens farther down the hill and some distance off from the major sites in the village.

A consultant on the Luberon’s tourist residing of enterprise appeared as if it would agree, telling me that it wasn’t a request of too many company, nonetheless rather the timing of their travels and a tendency to cluster across the same landmarks.

“The principal scenario is that a range of the vacationers reach on the same time, which creates a mass develop,” Bianca Ogel of Destination Luberon acknowledged in an e mail, explaining that autumn and spring had been a wiser wager by strategy of climate and crowds. Visits, she added, would possibly perchance unruffled be opened as a lot as encompass the gradual-afternoon and the early morning, and company would possibly perchance unruffled snatch the time to “receive misplaced in the village.”

“Most of them preserve in the upper levels of the village, whereas the lower section is apt as charming and practically empty of company.”

On the day before I left, I took a closing early-evening walk across the city. The retail outlets had been closing up for the day, and as I ventured extra down the hillside the slim streets became increasingly empty. Excessive stone walls hid a range of the homes from seek, and my suggestions turned to illicit conferences and furtive music recitals underway in non-public gardens.

As the shadows grew longer and the blasts of the mistral purchased cooler, the alleys became even quieter, and it became easy to relate a band of revolutionaries lurking in the abet of a blind flip or a philandering flesh presser peering out from in the abet of a orderly straw hat. It became as though, for a number of temporary minutes, I purchased a watch of the varied facet of Gordes; the Gordes that for hundreds of years has served as a refuge, an inspiration, and a protector of secrets.

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