Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Section
Oppede-le-Vieux, a perched village in the Luberon
Oppede-le-Vieux, a perched village
Oppede-le-Vieux is perched on a rocky promontory on the northern side of the Luberon Mountain, with three sides hanging over a deep precipice.
Oppede is therefore a well-deserved name, as it evolved from oppidum, a word of Celtic origin that means stronghold.
Indeed, Oppede-le-Vieux seems unreachable.
It can’t be accessed by car, but a path leads to it from the small car park located at the bottom of the village.
But most of all, the perched village nestled in the lush vegetation is different, as it is semi deserted.
The reason for this goes back to the 16th century.
Jean Maynier, Baron of Oppede, was not only the president of the Parliament of Aix-en-Provence, but also a committed Catholic.
He therefore based himself in the castle of Oppede in order to lead a crusade against the Protestants of Luberon.
This religious group known as Vaudois followed the doctrines Pierre Valdo (or Vaudois) implemented in the 12th century.
The most tragic episode of this conflict, the Massacre of Mérindol, ended in 1545 with the death of 3000 people and the destruction of 24 villages.
Those who managed to escape fled the region and joined the reformed church of Calvin.
When peace eventually returned, the inhabitants found that the elevated position of their village was quite a hindrance when it came to farm in the valley.
They therefore slowly moved down in the plain, dismantling their old houses and their castle in order to build new farms.
By the late 19th century, the perched village was a ghost village that became known as Oppede-le-Vieux – Oppede the old in order to differentiate it from the new village, today known as Oppede-les-Poulidets.
A village that comes back to life
However, the deserted village shortly came back to life during WWII.
Various artists and writers – among which the wife of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - indeed settled there and started restoring the ruined houses.
Most eventually left.
The unique atmosphere and peace of the village, however, attracted new artists and writers, who in the past decades embarked in bringing the old stones back to life.
After years of neglect and abandon, they indeed steadily return Oppede-le-Vieux to its original state.
The ruined castle that stands on the abrupt cliff, however, is still frozen in time and is not open to the public.
Indeed, very little is left standing of the once impressive fortress that was built in the 13th century.
The cobbles lanes run between the ruined and restored medieval and Renaissance houses and the Italian-style village square.
They lead to the top of the village, from where you can easily see the vestiges of the old rampart, but can also enjoy spectacular 360° views.
Notre-Dame d’Alidon Church
The 12th century Collegiate Notre-Dame d’Alidon stands on the village second highest ground, below the castle.
It was partially rebuilt in the 16th century, but is considered a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture.
It indeed boasts a hexagonal bell-tower adorned with gargoyles and a series of frescoes (some faded).
Each summer it serves as a venue for classical music recitals.
Tip: The lanes are quite steep and/or uneven, so adequate shoe-wear is compulsory, and some areas with steep drop are not secured.
Department of Vaucluse
Coordinates: Lat 43.828627 – Long 5.161410