Cavorting in Charismatic Cotignac

Cotignac is one of the most beautiful villages in France

It’s official—the petit Provençal bijou of Cotignac has joined the distinguished list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, the most beautiful villages in France. In short, this honor is bestowed only on very special rural villages—with a population under two thousand—that boast a compelling cultural heritage or unique architecture.

Crag Martins and Jackdaws buzzed all around the cliff housing looming over Cotignac

But it wasn’t Cotignac’s troglodyte dwellings carved into the porous rock cliffs that loom over the town or its famous pilgrimage sites that inspired us to spend a few days there. Nor was it to be a dedicated birding expedition though our binoculars would most certainly tag along. And it wasn’t an attempt to fulfill my fantasy of bumping into George Clooney who owns an estate in the area. (He was spotted recently at the posh resto, the Secret Garden—part of the luxe property Lou Calen—perhaps sipping a luscious pale rosé from nearby Domaine Mirabeau?)

La belle vue from the terrace of La Picotte restaurant

The fact is we were hankering for a uncomplicated autumn mini-break but with gasoline shortages plaguing France, exploring our own backyard made perfect sense. Plus, for eons we’ve been curious about this tucked-away village—under two hours from Saint-Rémy. Years ago before we moved to Provence, it was a Cotignac property I’d seen online that had captured my imagination. The proprieté was utterly impractical because it consisted of a swimming pool with no more than a tiny cabanon for shelter. But, oh là là, the belle vue over the verdant valley sent my heart aflutter.

And there was one other source of inspiration for our brief sortie of discovery. Lovely local entrepreneur Susana Iwase (provencelivingcotignac.com), a fellow University of California grad—she from Berkeley and me from UCLA—was free to get together so that clinched it. We packed our bags for Cotignac.

And the picturesque village exceeded our expectations. First of all, the terra cotta tile-roofed enclave enjoys a striking setting tucked into the base of 80-meter high escarpments. Numerous lively cafes, stylish boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants offering tantalizing menus flank the plane tree-shaded main street, le Cours Gambetta.

Faded ochre-toned structures with fancifully colorful doors and shutters cram the maze of narrow, winding passageways that open on to spacious squares with graceful fountains. Stopping constantly for snaps was de rigueur, especially from on high where the panoramic view over the valley was captivating. And let’s not forget the vibrant Tuesday marché where locals greeted each other with cheek kisses (yes, contact is making a comeback), often pausing for a chat over a mid-morning espresso. Clearly, shopping was secondary in this convivial ambiance.

Our Cotignac escape may have been brief, allowing us only to scratch the surface of this historic town with heart, but it was exceedingly memorable —even though Monsieur Clooney was a no-show. Maybe next time?

Pristine waterfall outside Sillans-la-Cascade, close to Cotignac

Stay safe and well.

Bises, Gayle

A bucket of bounty from our single olive tree

PS

It’s olive harvest time in Provence. We have but one olive tree in our small yard so we’re hardly self-sufficient in the golden nectar arena. But luckily, olive producing experts like the fabulous Domaine Castelas are at hand—just on the other side of les Alpilles in les Baux-de-Provence, a 15-minute ride away.

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