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It’s hailed as one of France’s most beautiful villages but there’s more to hilltop Gordes than cute charm and good looks. It has a unique rebellious spirit and an artsy background.
This small village on the side of the Vaucluse mountains has just over 2,000 people, who are called Gordians. They are older than the national average because people usually leave to find work. Their main industry is tourism these days, where they conserve their Roman heritage, medieval history (Gordes castle was built in the 12th century) and independent spirit. The Gordians were against centralisation into the French Kingdom but after local King Roi René’s death in the 15th century and an unsuccessful uprising, they had no choice but to become incorporated into the rest of the country. The village’s beauty is heavily protected today. Residents do not use fences, all new buildings are made of stone and no terracotta roof tiles are permitted. All electricity and phone lines are installed underground.
At the end of the 18th century, the local area around Gordes started to be heavily farmed and was turned into agricultural land. Farmers found lots of limestone rocks in the clearance and built huts as stables, hen houses, silkworm nurseries and sheepfolds. They could have been seasonal or permanent. They were bought and restored through a local initiative in the late 60s and the open-air museum became a national monument in 1977. There are 28 huts in total that make up “Le Village de Bories“.
During the German Occupation of France during the Second World War, the villagers fought back. In 1944, a German coastal patrol was attacked and the village of Gordes suffered reprisals. German soldiers entered homes, shot villagers and the building which housed the town’s records was set on fire. In total, 13 Gordians were shot or executed, 20 villagers fell under enemy fire, and five were deported. The entire village was awarded a medal in 1948, the Croix de Guerre, for being “one of the most active centres of German Resistance under Occupation”.
After the war was over, the village was “discovered” by the outside world, particularly artists who came for the village’s beauty. Nice resident, the painter Marc Chagall was a lover of the village – he is known for his stained glass windows depicting the New Testament in many major cathedrals over France. In 1970, Victor Vasarely opened a Museum in Gordes. He is the “grandfather” of art using optical illusion and his Vasarely Foundation is now slightly further south outside Aix-en-Provence. Nowadays, Gordes still has a reputation for being very artsy and lots of artists have second homes in the area.
The Tuesday farmers’ market is a key tourist attraction when local producers sell wines, seasonal fruit and vegetables, flowers, olive oils, meats and cheeses. People like the L’Eglise Saint Fermin (the local church). It was built on the site of an old Romanesque church from the 12th century and has eight chapels dedicated to the Patron Saints of traditional professions, like shoemakers and blacksmiths. A trip to the local Bories is a must, as is the nearby Sénanque Abbey. Gordes boasts a few spa hotels and retreats that are rated very highly for wellness breaks, notably the five-star La Bastide de Gordes. Mostly, visitors come to walk the cobbled streets, eat an ice-cream in one of the many handmade ice-cream shops and take in the views overlooking the Luberon Valley.