One of the best things about visiting France in the fall and winter months is the absence of summer throngs. Often, I’ll go to a little hill town and not see another soul for hours, especially if it is between twelve and two, the lunching hours. Once the summer tourists have left, many of the smaller towns simply close their doors and batten their shutters for the winter. Restaurants turn off the stove and gift shops hibernate, especially during late October and November, opening again when holiday visitors arrive.
The more popular towns, though, never go in to shutdown mode. One of those is Gordes, an official “Most Beautiful Village in France.” And, indeed, it is. The town itself looks like it was carved from the cliff on which it perches, rather than built on it. It’s spectacular, and provides a unique opportunity to see buildings evolving in place over centuries.
It you take a look at the picture above, you can see how the town grows downward, from the chateau at the top of the hill. Most of the houses below have existed for centuries, but all have been modernized to accommodate present day residents. This part of Gordes is a great example of an ancient town restored with consideration both to historic preservation and modern day comfort.
Here is a close up look of some of those lower terraces and streets below. One of the most amazing features to me is the incredible gardens attached to some of the houses:
Up above the town is a different story. You get the idea that things might be changing when all of a sudden the cars racing down the hill are no longer those funny, skinny Renaults and Citroens with tires six inches wide but, rather, really shiny Porsches and Mercedes (most with very young and fancy gals behind the wheel.) Up above the town is the first development of McMansions we’ve seen in France. We went for a hike up and out of the village and as we left the borders of the old town, we came upon a jarring blend of pink create-a-stone houses, large pools and huge triple garages. Definitely the first we’ve seen of this kind of concentrated brand new, over the top building – something you’d expect in LA but just really strange to see it growing out of the roots of a medieval town.
We turned around and ended our hike through the ancient cemetery – inhabitants definitely resting in peace with the best view in town…