Mysterious Oppede Le Vieux, A Guide

Oppède Le Vieux is in many ways my favorite village in the Luberon in Provence. I was lucky enough to travel in November, when there were few tourists in Oppede.

View of the valley from the castle of Oppède Le Vieux

Colorful tee shirts were replaced with the end of fall colors and the clouds of an approaching storm. The honeyed rocks sang their glory, beat into my soul their history. The village clinging to the hill quickly and quietly became my favorite place in France to photograph.

Oppède Le Vieux view

The old high village, abandoned in the 17th century when folks moved into the valley to get close to the source of water and their fields, is undergoing its rebirth, coming to life with potters and artists starting to move in. The village seemed to draw me into the medieval times, as if there were folks waiting just inside some of the abandoned houses. Yet, on the main road, a cafe was open and the vines covering the square were ablaze with color. There is also a village pottery shop. The town started to fill with artists fleeing the Nazis during WWII.

View of the village of Oppède le Vieux, with the castle on the higher ridge.

The village has quite the history with many dark clouds in it.

During the Great Schism, the castle of Oppède sheltered the antipope Benedict XIII. Once again obliged to flee, he “flew off” from the very top by way of an arched postern opening onto the empty space below, borne, it’s said, by the devil himself.

Later, the diabolical Jean Maynier, Baron of Oppède, made the castle his seat from which he waged a bloody war against the Vaudois, destroying 11 villages while he was at it.

And let’s not forget to add a bit more mystery to the mix.

bq. Also enigmatic is a magic square engraved on a stone in the fortifications. It is the palindromic Sator Square that can be read from left to right and back, and up and down. The latin inscriptions read SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS, each one a 5-letter word. — Oppède le Vieux

The new village is just down the hill. It has big modern houses and swimming pools.

Lower town: Oppède Le Vieux

Oppede le Vieux is a mere 4 km from Provence’s favorite Menerbes. I hope you’ll take time to visit its evocative medieval and Renaissance facades, then walk up the steep slopes (15 minutes) to see the churches and chateau ruins—especially on a crisp fall day with clouds.

Getting There and Staying

You’ll need a car to get to Oppède Le Vieux unless you’re a very energetic walker.

If you wish to stay in the village along the road, we highly recommend the Belle de Nuit. Otherwise, I’d stay in Menerbes if you like a little more liveliness in your evenings. The Bed & Breakfast Nulle Part Ailleurs is very highly rated.

I highly recommend visiting Oppède Le Vieux on your next trip to Provence.

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