Abbey of Senanque, a spectacle in Provence

The Abbey of Senanque has been one of the regular stops on my trips to Provence with Ornella and friends who from time to time have accompanied us to the region of France that most represents romance.

Provence was the first trip we took together with the woman who would become my wife, and I must say that if the spark of love does not strike in this most romantic of regions, leave all hope behind regarding the future of your relationship. We have been to Provence many times and each time, recounting our emotions, many of our friends have asked to join us.

Where the abbey of Senanque is located.

The Cistercian abbey of Senanque is located in Provence, less than 300 km from the Italian border at Ventimiglia and more precisely in the Vaucluse department, one of five in the region, whose capital is Avignon.

To reach Senanque you have to go through Gordes, one of the most beautiful and charming villages in all of France, from which I never wanted to leave. Gordes is an enchantment; it is a small town perched on a hill, it looks like a representation of a Neapolitan nativity scene, and despite its such a small size, it conceals in its territory an artistic, cultural, and architectural heritage so important that it makes much larger and more renowned cities envious.

Gordes abbazia di senanque
Village of Gordes – ph ©Paolo Salvetti
Paolo and Ornella Gordes

The village has been used as a set for many films, most recently including A Very Good Year, a romantic comedy directed by Ridley Scott starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard. Walking through the narrow streets of Gordes, one breathes in history, culture and romance…. tres jolie.

Gordes was really an unexpected surprise since we had only one goal in mind: the Abbey of Senanque, one of the “three sisters of Provence”: Senanque founded in 1148, Thoronet in 1160, and Silvacane in 1175.

Senanque Abbey when to go

A trip to be taken especially in June and July so as not to lose-despite the heat-most of the region’s charm: the sunshine, the wheat fields, the cicadas and especially the lavender, which is in its flowering season in early summer.

Abbey of Senanque

Senanque mappa

Just before entering Gordes, the road begins to climb narrow and in many places with alternating traffic, but since I have traveled a lot within the region on its country roads, this did not bother us at all.

senanque Mappa

At one point on the route, the single-track road travels to the top of the hill. By pure chance during the first trip to Senanque Abbey I stopped the car in a lay-by to see what was below the parapet…. The spectacle is shown in all its splendor: at the bottom of the valley the Benedictine abbey in gray stone surrounded by fields of Lavender cultivated by the monks.

Senanque Abbey as seen from above

On subsequent trips, I wanted to surprise our fellow adventurers with this incredible view. I like to win easy!

If love is not born in such romantic places, leave all hope on the future of your relationship

I had only seen it in books but from the first moment I decided that sooner or later I should visit it! It rises just 5 km from the town of Gordes, and even just the journey to get there is worth the excitement. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the abbey; in fact, if you can, leave your car in the village and use your bicycle to get there: the roads are perfectly safe to ride on two wheels, and the scenery around you is most enjoyable.

Ideally, it is best to tackle the hike during the lavender flowering period in Provence, which usually coincides with late June and early July, although it depends on the specific weather conditions at the time. If you choose to reach Senanque Abbey by car from Gordes, you should still plan to walk the last stretch, because the access road to the site is fortunately precluded to the passage of motor vehicles.

La fioritura della lavanda

The lavender bloom is one of Provence’s biggest attractions. The greatest concentration of Lavender fields is in Haute Provence, particularly in the Valensole plateau, but the entire region is home to this medicinal plant.

Lavender senanque abbey

Abbey of Senanque

The Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, an intense emotion surrounded by the lavender of Provence, and when you finally reach your destination you sense from the parking lot what an extraordinary and magical place it is, mind-blowing in its simple grandeur.
Its construction began in the first half of the 11th century, and it is not surprising that it went on for about thirty years, judging by the majesty of the building.

Senanque abbey

One feels pervaded by a feeling of absolute peace as soon as one walks through the entrance gate of the religious complex, the result of the quiet and atmosphere in this corner of Provence.
We always went at the end of June, braving the high temperatures during the day in these parts, because the spectacle of the full bloom of the lavander, which intoxicates the air with its intense fragrance and fills the eyes with its bright purple fills the heart.

Abbey of Senanque fields front

Senanque Abbey itself is bathed in such beauty, and you’ll realize it when you look out over the side of the complex and see an expanse of purple rows as far as the eye can see. The abbey is still inhabited by monks, so some spaces are precluded from public visitation, but more importantly, you will have to observe a religious silence while inside the religious spaces, but you will certainly not find it difficult.

The visit inside the abbey

I, who love to talk and comment on what surrounds me, in front of such beauty could find no words for the duration of the visit, which begins with the corridor that leads from the entrance to a remembrance room, where the monks could listen to excerpts from St. Benedict, the inspirer of the order and proponent of the ora et labora discipline, still followed by the monks who live here.

One of the most fascinating spaces in the entire abbey is definitely the dormitory, where one can really touch the vow of poverty and simplicity made by those who chose to live here.
It is a bare room in which the monks slept, clothed, on the floor over beds made of straw. The capacity was thirty monks, but in the abbey’s most prosperous periods, far more men of God were housed here and, therefore, more dormitory rooms were made, but these are not open to the public.

The same sobriety of the dormitory, which is the first real abbey environment one encounters upon entering the complex, is found throughout the building but, above all, in the church.
This is located at a lower level than the dormitory and although its dimensions are impressive, especially in reference to the truly majestic apse, it leaves one amazed at its absolute simplicity. From the rose windows on the walls filters the so-called “light of God,” the only means of illumination of the place, which is totally devoid of any decorative elements, as the Cistercian order dictates.

If you view the church when the light is soft, thus in the early hours of the day or after 4 p.m., you will notice how the rose windows are arranged in such a way as to modulate the spaces within the abbey with a particular play of light and shadow.

I would have liked to spend more time inside this church, so much so that I felt at peace with myself, but the urge to discover the other spaces of the abbey was too strong, so I reached the cloister, the beating heart of the complex.
It acts as a connecting junction for all the abbey rooms: there are four galleries, with round arches. Stopping to think, or meditate, in this place is a magical experience.

From here we also reach the scriptorium, a room dedicated to reading and copying sacred texts: it was the only heated room in the entire monastery, the only luxury of a life of renunciation, thanks to two fireplaces that also served to make some light.

I was particularly struck by the presence of a cell, where the monks were literally confined when temptations became pressing in such a difficult and problem-filled life.

Gordes: the medieval village linked to the abbey of Senanque

Gordes

A little more than 2,000 inhabitants populate this small perched village, where one can experience relaxed Provençal life away from the big cities.

the square of gordes

I loved sitting in its main square to enjoy an excellent glass of wine with a board of local cheeses and cold cuts, overlooking the castle dating back to the year 1000.

In addition, a very short distance from the main center are countless small ancient villages, still inhabited, made of stone houses, with paved streets. There are also borie, small agricultural buildings, also made of stone, that are very characteristic, and numerous mills, wind and water powered, that dot the countryside leaving you breathless.

Costs and times to visit Senanque Abbey.

The ticket cost for the visit is 7.50 euros for adults and 3.50 euros for children up to 18 years old. The hours are particularly strict and depend on the monks’ work and prayer schedules; you can take the free tour without a guide every day, excluding Sundays, from 9:45 to 11 am.

Guided tours, on the other hand, are set at set times: in the morning there are generally two, in the afternoon there are 3 in the winter period, and as many as 8 in the summer period, when there is greater demand. Of course, remember that guided tours are in French.
Inside the abbey you will also find a lovely shop where you can buy products made by the monks, with which you can contribute to the expenses of maintaining the abbey and the monks themselves.

Abbazia di Senanque
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