Simiane-la-Rotonde is a typical Provençal village, classified « City of character » perched on a hill surrounded by fields of lavender.
Classified « city of character »
Simiane-la-Rotonde is a perched village, hanging on a promontory advanced from the Albion plateau above a plain where the vines of lavender stretch harmoniously aligned in a row. It is a magnificent example of a Provençal perched village, classified as a « city of character » but which could undoubtedly claim to be among the most beautiful villages in France. The village is nestled against a mound on which stands the frustoconical silhouette of what gave Simiane-la-Rotonde its name: the keep, or rotunda, of the old Simiane-Agoult castle. Built in the 12th century, its massive exterior is remarkable for its hexagonal shape. The interior, an irregular dodecagon, is truly splendid. A large room has a series of arcades with finely carved capitals. The room is surmounted by a stone dome with 12 cross-ribbed vaults of an impressive height of 5 meters. An astonishing example of Romanesque architecture, both civil and military. The south wing of the castle has been restored and you can take a tour of the main building and the fortifications. The rooms on the ground floor date from the Middle Ages and tell the story of the castle. The upper floor, dating from the Renaissance, houses the Sainte Victoire Aromatherapy Laboratory which offers the public introductory workshops on essential oils. The place is also the magical setting for exhibitions and the international festival of early music “Les Riches Heures Musicales de la Rotonde” in August.
Cobbled streets typical of Provençal villages
The old village is just as splendid. A row of very old and very tall narrow houses forms the ramparts on the plain side. Behind it is a maze of cobbled streets typical of Provençal villages. Thanks to a flourishing glass industry, Simiane experienced a very prosperous period from the 16th century. Mansions have emerged, adorned with mullioned windows, richly carved wooden doors and carved stone lintels. Don’t miss the 17th century portal of Ostau Montjallard with its pilasters, sculpted frieze and balustrade. The covered halls with a beautiful 16th century colonnade and the galleries and craftsmen’s workshops which offer works ranging from traditional pottery to contemporary art, evoke the commercial past of this once very lively town.
550 varieties of roses
The village also has its religious buildings. You can see a 16th century bell tower, the only vestige of the old Saint-Jean church (which no longer exists). Although partially destroyed by lightning in 1897, it still strikes the hours. The Saint-Pierre church, one of the most beautiful in the region due to its perfection, presents a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles. 4 kilometers from Simiane-la-Rotonde, take the time to visit the 12th century Abbey of Valsaintes, one of the four Cistercian abbeys in Provence and the daughter of the Abbey of Silvacane. You can visit the ruins of the cloister, the monastic buildings and the restored 17th century abbey church. But the most beautiful thing to see is the rose garden, labeled Remarkable Garden and rich in 550 varieties of roses intermingled with other cultivated or spontaneous plants. Many of the varieties as well as derived products are available for sale in the abbey’s shop and nursery. The « Abbaye en roses » festival takes place at the end of May.