Oppede-le-Vieux. It’s the old town of Oppede, about four kilometres from Menerbes on a back road where cars coming from opposite directions are so close they just scrape past. Unless you drive a white worker’s van. Then you can do anything – you’re invincible!
Oppede-le-Vieux is layers of history that unravel as you climb the hill to the ruined medieval castle that dominates the village.
At the base there’s a cafe under a shade tree, a bistro, tourist accommodation and a smattering of locals who have resisted the move in the nineteenth century to the new and much more amenable Oppede on the plains. The base of the village seems to exist solely for the tourists.
I go under the renaissance arch into the old village behind the walls. Here the tiny cobblestone paths wind past houses which are inhabited and beautifully restored, but also past ruins .
As I walk along a path I hear what sounds like the beating of a rug above me. I look up. An old lady at an gorgeous arched window is emptying a vacuum cleaner bag down on top of me.
There’s only one way to go – UP!
The higher you go the less restored the buildings and you find yourself in the medieval part of the town. Saplings and shrubs have taken root in the living rooms and bedrooms. Vines curl the wrong way through empty windows. When I look through them into the houses I can see the sky. Here families slept, children played in the lanes, the mothers called from the windows, they huddled behind barred gates while marauders razed their fields.
There’s not much left of the medieval houses near the castle. They’re now facades with windows and doors blocked with stone, or just stone walls. The paths become narrower and the steps steeper.
Then you come out on top and I can see across the plains of vines to Menerbes and Gordes on neighbouring hills, and Mont Ventoux in the distance. The old inhabitants of Oppede-le-Vieux left the heights to escape the sunless winters – it’s built on the north side of the hill – and the need to haul water up to their homes every day.
The castle is undergoing restoration and is also closed. Signs warn of falling rocks and looking at the supported wall it’s a real possibility.
Needless to say I go straight to my notebook when I get home. Some places touch you deeply. Oppede-le-Vieux is one of those places for me.