Arriving by a winding road around the mountain, a spectacular view opens up of Senanque Abbey, a Cistercian monastery nestled and surrounded by lavender fields.
It is one of the most fascinating examples of monastic architecture, founded in 1148. Here, silence and peace reign supreme. As it was almost a thousand years ago, the Abbey is home to a community of Cistercian Brothers who live according to the Rule of St Benedict. The community harmoniously divides its life between prayer, lectio divina and work. Seven times a day, the community gathers in the abbey church to pray.
Today, it is an unmissable stop during a lavender itinerary in Provence.
The monastery is open to visitors. Several buildings have been made accessible to show the way of life of the Cistercian monks and the architectural features of the building. It is possible to visit the dormitory, the cloister, the abbey church, the boiler room and the chapter house.
You can choose a guided tour in French or use the free Histopad (available in 10 languages), which allows you to step back in time and observe the life of the monks over the centuries. Indeed, the tablet will immerse you in the life of the first monks of Sénanque and bring the abbey back to life in the 12th century.
Remember that appropriate clothing must be worn and that during the visit, you are asked to respect the peace and quiet of the place.
Senanque Abbey and its enchanting lavender fields represent one of the most famous postcard images of Provence.
Yet, for a long time, the plots surrounding the abbey were used as pastures and farmland cultivated with potatoes and cereals to ensure the subsistence of the abbey’s monks. It was not until the mid-20th century that the monks began cultivating lavender .
Even today, this corner of peace and silence is dedicated to the cultivation of the purple flower, famous for the quality of its essential oil, with which the monks make various handicraft products. In particular, Sénanque grows lavandin, a cross between fine lavender and lavender aspic, a more robust variant that is resistant to life in the highlands.
In this area, lavender blooms from June to July and is harvested under the great Provençal summer sun to favour the concentration of the future essential oil. The harvest is then processed in an artisanal distillery in the Luberon to produce a first-class oil: lavender essence. In the abbey shop, you can buy various fragrances, perfumes, but also biscuits and balsamic candies.
When the lavender fields around the abbey are in bloom, one of the most photogenic and evocative landscapes in Provence is created. The best time to admire the lavender fields is between 20 June and 10 July. During this period, the area is taken by storm by tourists in search of the most evocative shot. For this reason, unlike in other areas in Provence, access to the fields is prohibited in order to preserve the crops. Flying over the Sénanque valley and the Abbey by drones is also strictly forbidden.
The monastery can be reached by car from Gordes. Parking is available to visitors free of charge: it is a five-minute walk from the entrance.
If you wish to take a scenic walk, you can leave your car in the village of Gordes and walk to the monastery. In this case, calculate a 30 to 45-minute walk.
Senanque Abbey is located in the Vaucluse département, just 5 km from Gordes and 16 km from Roussillon.