Oppède le Vieux
Embedded halfway up the north face of the Luberon, like someone clinging to a tree to escape a bear, the dramatic and haunting Oppède-le-Vieux is coming back to life after years of abandonment. The village grew in this elevated position because of the turmoil that raged for centuries, when this region was regularly won and lost in wars and embroiled in persecutions.
One of the worst offenders, the bloodthirsty Jean Maynier, Baron of Oppède, took Oppède-le-vieux's castle as his seat in the 16th century and waged a crusade against the Vaudois population, carelessly destroying 11 villages in the process.Two Oppèdes
When peace finally came, the villagers found it a little impractical to live up here and farm their lands down below, and so a new, breakaway Oppède started to form in the plain. Eventually, gravity and convenience brought the whole village down and the name of Oppède came with it, while the old village became Oppède-le-vieux (the old Oppède), and turned into a ghost town.
Oppède-le-vieux starting coming back to life during WW2, when a commune of artists, sculptors and writers started colonising the empty houses and renovating them (including the wife of the writer Saint-Exupéry). That is not to say that they transformed the village into a lively one. There is still a sense of 'what happened here?' as you wander up through the remaining old gateway into the village and up towards the two churches and ruined castle. On the left of the path are a couple of caves, one of which is occupied by a fellow who prefers it to modern living.
It is beautiful to look at though, old village walls, cobbled paths, homes hewn into the mountain rock, and then the spectacular castle and church of Notre-Dame-d'Alydon above the village - a 10-minute walk up a stone path.
Halfway up the path is the 19th century chapel of Saint-Antonin, which seems to be undergoing renovation (hard to tell).
Oppède's church and castle
Then you come first to Notre-Dame-d'Alydon, which is a little gem of a Romanesque church. It has a gargoyled, hexagonal bell-tower, and was started in the 13th century, and rebuilt in the 16th. Inside there are some lovely though faded frescoes and it is an intimate venue for classical music recitals in the summer.
Church and valley from Oppede castle
From up here you can see the whole plain of the Luberon stretched out below you. Then you can clamber round the atmospheric castle, just above the church, which is more tumbled than standing, and thoroughly gutted. Turrets are open to the sky, massive stones scattered like dice, but there are enough details remaining to fire up the imagination about how life was lived here. The castle is precariously balanced, soaring into the sky, with vertical drops straight down from some walls into the forested gorge far below.
Note that up at the top around the castle there are sheer cliff edges and no fences or safety precautions. Dramatic to look at, but if you come up here with small children they must be closely watched or held at all times.
Parking: you can't park inside the village, there is a parking lot out of sight just below the village, leaving you with a 5-minute walk uphill.
Oppède-le-vieux is still dominated by the church