Hiking in the Luberon Landscape from the Abbaye de Sénanque to Gordes:
The Abbaye de Sénanque is a 12th century Cistercian abbey about 4 km north from the village of Gordes in the Vaucluse département of Provence. We wanted to visit both of these places and asked at the tourist office at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue if we could get to them by public transport. From the reaction of the young girl at the tourist office, it seemed that we had a challenge on our hands.
4 Kms from Gordes
There is a limited bus service from Cavaillon to Gordes (Line 15.3) but from Gordes, the only way to get to the Abbaye de Sénanque is by taxi.
As we had intended on doing a bit of walking in the Luberon countryside, we asked if we could walk from Gordes to Sénanque and back. The young tourist official in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue gasped and replied – “Ah non, c’est impossible!” – it is not possible. She wasn’t to know that we regularly walk 6 kms for our grocery shopping and so 8 kms was not so “impossible”.
No bus to Gordes
On the day of travel we set out early by train from L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to Cavaillon. At the bus-stop in Cavaillon I asked a bus driver if the Gordes bus would be coming soon. “Ah non, il ne marche pas audjourdhui!” she said. Unless you had pre-booked the Cavaillon to Gordes bus journey, the bus would certainly not run.
We had heard about this at the tourist office in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, but we didn’t quite believe it. It seemed inconceivable that you’d have to pre-book a public bus service and that the booking had to be made through a private travel agency. Surely they must be trying one on to get us to book a private tour with the travel agency? But it seemed that the young girl in the tourist office was correct. For a moment it seemed that our plan to visit Gordes and the Abbaye de Sénanque was sunk.
Some intrepid travellers
But we weren’t the only ones waiting for the Gordes bus to arrive. A group of three young Vietnamese students and two Japanese girls were also hoping to get there. When I explained to them that there was no bus today, they remained adamant that they wanted to get to the picturesque village.
The three Vietnamese had travelled six hours on the overnight bus from Barcelona. Their mission was to see the lavender fields and then travel back that same evening. Nothing was going to stop them. According to Karina, they were “young and invincible” and they could do it.
If they had a Plan B for getting to Gordes and Sénanque, it wasn’t evident to me. The two Japanese girls (Masumi was actually from Vienna), were also on tight schedules to visit Gordes. And so, this was the start of a rather unusual and adventurous travel day.
Lucky to find a nice taxi driver
We hailed a passing cab and as none of our new travel companions spoke any French, I negotiated a fare with the taxi driver. He said that he could only take a maximum of six people, but I convinced him that seven was possible as we were mostly quite petite. He finally agreed and said to give him five minutes and he went off and re-arranged his taxi seats. Tony sat in the front seat and the rest of us fitted in the back without any problem.
Our taxi driver was a very nice and friendly guy and along the way Tony asked if he could take us all the way to the Abbaye de Sénanque. For 5€ more than the initial negotiated fare he agreed to take us to our desired destination. On arrival at Sénanque, the beautiful sea of purple lavender was enough to make everyone forget the earlier trauma of not finding a bus. The Abbaye de Sénanque and its lavender fields is a photographer’s delight and there were many happy snappers there.
Retreating to Gordes on foot
We were lucky that our trip from Cavaillon to Sénanque was a relatively painless one. However getting from Sénanque to Gordes was a different story. After an hour of enjoying the lavender fields and photographing the abbey, it was time to find our way back to Gordes. There was absolutely no public transport of any kind there and so our Plan B was to walk to Gordes.
A walk in the Luberon countryside
The woman at the Sénanque Abbey gift shop was not very generous with her information on how to get to Gordes. All she volunteered was that the road out of Sénanque was from the back of the abbey. It was an uphill walk but when we got to the top, we were rewarded with impressive panoramic views of the Luberon valley, which you’ll see in Tony’s video. We took a break to catch our breath and take some snaps.
Not an easy or level walk
Although the tourist brochure indicated that the trail from Sénanque to Gordes was a level and easy 4 km walk, it was anything but easy or level. We came to an intersection where the signpost for Gordes pointed to a path that was stony and uneven. The walk would have been a breeze for our young companions, except that one of them wore open sandals and Karina had a roller bag. When wheeling the bag became impossible, her boyfriend Toan had to carry it on the trail.
I asked Karina what possessed her to bring a roller bag on a day trip like this and she said that her backpack had been stolen in Barcelona. The roller case was the only bag she could find in a hurry to store the supplies that she had bought. In her pink skirt and matching pink roller bag she looked liked a model on a photo shoot for roller bags rather than someone doing a walk in the Luberon countryside. Needless to say, she attracted some quizzical looks from people in the passing vehicles.
A surprise Bories sighting
When we reached a stretch of very nicely built and maintained stone walls on the trail, it was obvious that we were nearing civilization. We were also lucky to see a double borie. We didn’t have time to get to the Village des Bories to see the collection of stone huts in the open-air museum, so it was a bonus to come across one here.
A not so quiet walk in the Luberon countryside
We had envisioned a peaceful walk in the Luberon countryside, but what we ended up with was a trip with a group of young adventure seekers in tow. They were a very nice bunch of young people and their optimism was refreshing. Like a Pipe Piper Tony led the group towards Gordes.
The sight of the hillside village of Gordes was a welcome view. Karina exclaimed once again that they’re young and invincible, however her poor friend obviously wasn’t feeling so invincible. He was quite knackered by the time we got to Gordes. Wild horses couldn’t have dragged him away from his long drink and café seat.
We made a video of our hike to Gordes:
“From Abbaye de Sénanque to Gordes: A Walk In the Luberon”
Taxi back to Cavaillon
Our transport problem didn’t end at Gordes. There was no bus back to Cavaillon and we had to organize a taxi back. The madame in the tourist office was intrigued at how we managed to get to Sénanque without a car. How many of you in a taxi she asked? I’m sure if our cab driver had been there he would have copped a smack from her for carrying more than the legal number of passengers.
In any case, apart from handing me the phone number of the taxi service, she wasn’t too keen to do any more. Luckily the young guy working with her was more obliging and arranged a maxi-taxi for us. This time we had to pay 10€ each as the taxi driver knew that we were at his mercy.
Loch Ness Pub in Cavaillon
On reaching Cavaillon we headed for the Loch Ness Pub and drank to our successful day. They served a nice Murphy’s Irish Ale which Tony enjoyed very much. Who would have thought that in Cavaillon you would find Irish ale at a “Scottish pub”.
At 5 pm our Vietnamese friends dashed for the bus to Avignon from where they were to catch another bus back to Barcelona. Masumi was headed to Gras to experience the perfume country and the other girl went to Roussillon. We caught the train back to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Yes, it’s possible to get to the Abbaye de Sénanque and Gordes without a car, but if you’re planning a trip like ours, it is advisable to book the Cavaillon to Gordes bus!
The Luberon Coeur de Provence tourist office has some more details on Gordes at this link: Gordes, together with lots of other helpful information about the Luberon region.