A gorgeous hilltop village with drystone houses and cobbled streets, Saumane de Vaucluse overlooks the château where the Marquis de Sade spent part of his childhood.
People began living in the 'baumes' (the name given to the natural caves hollowed out in the steep valleys surrounding the village) as far back as the Neolithic era. A few scattered remains attest to occupation by the Romans. The feudal era saw the seigniory of Saumane pass from the Count of Toulouse to the papacy, and then into the hands of the Sade family, in whose possession it would remain for over 400 years. The view from the top of the village encompasses the plain planted with olive trees and Mediterranean species.
Perched on its rocky peak, the château afforded protection for the village alongside its walls. In the event of danger, it also served as a refuge for the inhabitants of 'Vallis Clausa' (Fontaine-de-Vaucluse). During the Roman occupation, a castrum was built here, surrounded by thick walls, and then a fortified castle that was turned into a stronghold in the 15th century. Remodelled and restored on numerous occasions, this imposing building features a beautiful Renaissance façade on the south side and a medieval fortress on the north side. It was protected by two-metre-thick perimeter walls, a drawbridge and a portcullis. Pivoting cylindrical side embrasures completed this device.
Time needed: 1h30 – Distance: 6.5 km – Easy Elevation: 170 m – Start: The castle car park.
The walk takes you along a 'restanque' (a path lined with a drystone retaining wall) before reaching the bottom of the valley. These restanques were what enabled people to work the land here from the 13th century onwards. The bottom of the valley drains the rainwater towards the vegetable gardens, while the terraces benefit dryland crops (vineyards, olive trees, almond trees). Small drystone huts (called 'bories') serve to store the tools. The trail then continues through the oak grove, after which an uphill section leads directly to the cave dwellings of Marcouly and around the rock until you reach a limestone slab, at which point the 'garrigue' vegetation takes over the landscape. Farther on, at the Les Fayardes farm, the cliff towers over the chasm of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. The plateau was used to grow cereal crops or for summer pasture. A 'draille' (wide road metal path that facilitated the movement of draught and pack animals and carts) brings you to the village via the Combe de Beringuier (valley) and then the château.
Classified as a Historic Monument and fief of the Sade family, the Château of Saumane-de-Vaucluse is worth visiting both for its architecture and for its unusual exhibitions.Discover