The so-called 'villages-perchés' are found in various parts of Provence, especially in the Luberon region but also in several other regions / departments, and are instantly recognisable because of the distinguishing features of these villages:
- they are located high up on a rocky crag. As a result the perched villages in Provence all have very impressive views across the surrounding countryside
- they are usually in a historically important defensive position e.g. on the edge of a steep valley or high an a hilltop. Most of the villages were originally built around castles and surrounded by fortifications, although these are often no longer apparent.
- The entrance to the town was through a narrow, easily defended, doorway in the defences. In many villages you will still see these original entrances.
- narrow steep streets winding steeply up through medieval houses
- arcaded narrow passageways
- traditional Provencal architecture, with the houses (often tall) built of the local rock, and having stone or canal tile rooves
- there are frequently decorative features on the houses e.g. carvings, decorated lintels
- a village fountain, often highly decorated, is usually found and was originally the only source of the water for the village (often there are several smaller fountains as well, and usually a lavoir - a public washhouse)
- a small simple village chapel, quite often with a decorated or frescoes interior
The villagers who lived here never had an easy life, even after the defensive role of the perched villages was long forgotten. The villages are usually in inaccessible locations with little access to water or fertile ground, and growing enough food to survive was in itself a challenge.
Transport and communication difficulties meant that the villages needed to largely exist as self-sufficient communities.
By the end of the 18th century most of these Provençal villages had started to fall into decline and the trend in depopulation and deterioration continued well into the 20th century.
Even now many of the villages have only a very small permanent population, but tourism has brought a new lease of life to many of them.
They tend to be very popular destinations on the Provence tourist trail, and their streets in summer will have far more life than they ever had in the past. Many of the properties are second homes however, so even the most popular woth visitors can still be very quiet in the middle of winter.
Visiting the perched villages
The most visited perched villages in Provence fall in 'clusters', including:
You will come across others both on this site and as you travel around Provence.