Last Updated on 14th March 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
One of the most famous places to see lavender in Europe, let alone in France, is at the Abbey of Senanque, which can be found close to the delightful village of Gordes. Famed for its rows of purple blooms set against the backdrop of a medieval ecclesiastical building, here’s how to visit the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, as well as things to know before you go.
What is the Abbey of Notre Dame de Senanque?
The Provençal Abbey is a Cistercian Abbey which is best-known for its lavender production. The abbey is still in use today and seven times a day, the monks who reside there gather to pray together in the church.
The monks make their livelihood by selling lavender and tending to honeybees. Both honey and lavender products can be purchased in the Abbey’s gift shop. As you’ll see, the Abbey has been resided in on and off over the centuries, though the buildings themselves have been faithfully restored.
Today, the buildings appear much as they would have many centuries ago. Indeed, no decorative elements appear in the church in case this distracts the monks from their main purpose: to worship.
Where is the Abbey of Sénanque?
Alone and in its own valley, sheltered from the elements, the abbey stands proud and solitary. The Abbey is situated in Vaucluse, in the Vaucluse departments of the region of Provence and is only reachable via a single road which winds its way in and out of the wooded valley in which the ecclesiastical building lies.
The Abbey of Sénanque is situated to the north of the popular town of Gordes (just a ten minute drive away). As the crow flies, the abbey is also pretty close to Fontaine de Vaucluse, but owing to the mountainous nature of the terrain, is actually close to an hour’s drive away!
When is the best time to visit the Sénanque Abbey?
Without a doubt, the best time to visit the ecclesiastical building is at the end of June or at the beginning of July when the lavender fields which lie directly in front of it are in full bloom. Unfortunately, the timing of the Provence lavender varies year on year and so it is difficult to say exactly when it will be in full bloom.
As such, if you need to plan your trip well in advance, then I would recommend booking to visit the region of Provence to see the lavender during the last week of June. Although the lavender might have gone a bit past its peak or be a little before its peak, you’ll still at least get to see some!
A history of Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
There has been a Place of Worship on site in some form or another since at least the 12th-century when a Cistercian Monastery was built in the Sénancole valley. The Abbey is constructed in the form of a tau cross (a t-shaped cross where the three ends of the cross are extended).
The original building was constructed in 1148 but was unfortunately greatly damaged during the Wars of Religion in 1544. Subsequently, the Abbey fell into disrepair. By the 17th-century, only two monks resided at the abbey.
Things started to look up for Sénanque in the 18th-century, when the south wing was reconstructed, though this rebirth was short lived when the Abbey was seized during the French Revolution.
It wasn’t until 1854 that the abbey was resettled by monks, when 72 monks took up residence. This, too, was short lived, and in 1903 the monks were forced to leave the abbey again. The abbey was then resided in on and off before monks permanently returned in 1988 as a priory of Lérins.
How to visit the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
The easiest way to visit the Abbey is as a day trip from the nearby village of Gordes, which is around a 10-15 minute drive away depending on the traffic. The road is quite steep and narrow so I recommend not renting a car which is too big!
The road is also single track in some places and so you should be prepared to reverse, particularly in peak season. Please also note that there is no mobile phone reception at all at the abbey so be sure to download anything you need ahead of time!
The abbey is open every day of the week. And while tickets can be purchased at the site on the day (this is what we did), I would recommend booking ahead of time as, once the visit is full, no more tickets can be purchased. This is especially important during peak times, such as at the weekend.
There are several parts of the abbey which can be visited. There is the ancient dormitory, the cloister (truly one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen), and the chapter house, which is located just off the cloister. The church is currently closed for renovation.
There is also a fairly substantial gift shop which is open to all regardless of whether you’ve purchased a ticket or not. I was quite impressed with the offerings, which include plenty of lavender themed souvenirs from the local region, as well as guidebooks to Provence in English and French.
The exterior of the abbey is free to visit and parking at the site is also free. Due to damage from past visitors, there is only a small amount of lavender which can be wandered through to take photos of (a few rows in front of the wall which is in front of the abbey).
Unfortunately, the Abbey can currently only be visited via guided tour, and this is only provided in French. The acoustics of the building are such that it is all but impossible to hear what the guide is saying, particularly given that the groups on the guided tours are up to 50 people.
For those who don’t speak French, histopads are provided, though our friend’s one didn’t work at all. The positive about paying the admission price is that the money is used towards the upkeep and maintenance of the abbey so that future generations can continue to enjoy this special place.
All in all, I was happy to have been able to finally see inside the interior of the abbey but was underwhelmed by the organised tour and hope that there are plans to reinstate the self-guided tour of the abbey in the future so that visitors can enjoy the space at their own pace!
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Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She currently splits her time between Paris and London. Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.