The medieval village of Gourdon is slightly off the beaten track for most cruise visitors to the French Riviera but if you do see it mentioned in your tour programme you’ll find it well worth visiting. At an altitude of 760 metres, it sits on a rocky spur that juts out about 500m directly above the Loup river where the Gorges du Loup comes out at the Pont-du-Loup village. Gourdon offers some of the best panoramic views of the Mediterranean coastline and pre-Alps you’ll ever see – and the drive up is breath-taking.
You should count half a day to visit this charming village as it’s just under an hour’s drive if your port of call is either Villefranche-sur-Mer or Cannes. Once there you’ll need another hour or so to explore Gourdon as it’s quite spell-binding – and possibly another hour if you wish to have lunch or a snack there.
Cruise tour buses park at the bottom of the village in the designated area set aside for them. From there you walk up ‘Montée du Village’ a wide gently uphill pedestrian tarmac path before reaching Place du Portail.
Smaller vans, carrying between 6 to 8 people, are allowed to park in the Aire de Rougière that’s opposite the Monument aux Mort. This gives you a shorter uphill walk but still with the possibility of encountering the odd scooter or delivery van whizzing along depending which time of day you visit.
There are public amenities (sign-posted) at the top of Montée du Village.
You’ll find three toilets, one being a urinal (no door) and two others (with doors). There’s a small corner sink to wash your hands but this isn’t drinking water so don’t fill up your empty water bottle here.
Gourdon is special because, in many ways, it’s the French Riviera encapsulated. Apart from stunning views Gourdon is also famous for its artisan soaps (you’ll find La Source Parfumée on Grande Rue a delight) and craft shops selling perfumes, clothes, Provençal textiles, olive oils and other local delicacies as well as sweets, biscuits and some excellent cut-glass crystal glasses and jewellery.
There is also a good selection of restaurants, ice-cream and crepes parlours. It also comes with a castle for those interested in the region’s medieval history. And on a fine day you’ll see hand-gliders swinging past over-head.
Most of the commerçants do not live in Gourdon, but drive up the windy D3 road from Châteauneuf-de-Grasse. Indeed, its population only numbers around 370 inhabitants – and this includes people living in Pont-du-Loup as well.
A Passing Note to Drivers
If you intend to hire a car and drive up to Gourdon yourself – be warned – this is a rugged road that will require your complete and utter attention. While your passenger(s) will be in raptures over the spectacular views you should keep your eyes fixed on the road at all times as about half way up it becomes narrower, steeper, with frequent tight hairpin turns and sheer drops. Barriers are few and far between and low and if you’re driving back down in the dark – there are no road lights.
It’s also possible you’ll encounter groups of cyclists as this is good training terrain for them – but overtaking the ‘peloton’ would be ill-advised as line-of-sight isn’t brilliant on this twisty road. Patience will be required. Per chance as I was driving up to Gourdon to double-check some items for this article I passed a helicopter hovering by the edge of the road with emergency crew either practising a hoisting rescue – or doing one – but you can see what I mean about the road.
There is a large car parking area at the bottom of the village (Parking Campagnon) where you’ll find two good restaurants. Le Logis Sarrazin is a rather nice restaurant with very friendly staff. Their cold buffet (for starters) is well appointed and their outdoor terrace is very pleasant in summer. The second, slightly smaller, car park is the Aire de Rougière I mentioned earlier.
If you’re hungry and have a head for heights, I would certainly recommend the amazing Le Nid d’Aigle restaurant having eaten there on many an occasion and never left disappointed. Not only does it have gorgeous food and excellent service, but if you reserve in advance you’ll have the chance of sitting by the glass windows looking over the Loup valley and down to the Mediterranean Sea.
Another restaurant (that’s also a tea room) but which has a rather more relaxed and informal atmosphere is La Taverne Provençale. Their salads are wonderful, service prompt and friendly and their menu à la carte very affordable.
On a practical note, there’s an ATM located next to the Town Hall which might prove useful if you’re low on Euros. While most shops do take credit cards you’ll find that many don’t accept Amex.
The main street will lead you into Place Victoria where you’ll find Gourdon’s Tourist Office. Here you’ll also find a couple of wooden benches to sit on and admire the view, two orientation tables and two coin-operated tower telescopes.
The Château de Gourdon
Of ancient origin the village is like an eagle’s nest over the Mediterranean. At one time the Romans occupied the area and there is still a Roman camp some 1.15 kms to the North West, with double enclosure and oppidum. After the Romans returned to Rome, the Barbarians settled in. Frankish kings conquered and Saracens fleets invaded. The “eagle’s nest” became a refuge and stronghold for the valley farmers.
By the ninth century the Château de Gourdon already existed – three centuries before Paris placed the first stone of the Louvre. By the twelfth century the Counts of Provence drew up plans for a veritable fortress, to strengthen their frontier. Various wars came and went and yet, the Château stood the test of time.
After the First World War, Gourdon became the property of Miss Norris an American citizen with a generous and cultured personality who was charmed by a past that she could not acquire in her own country. She became Lord of Gourdon until her death in 1938.
Occupied by the Germans in the Second World War as an observation post, it was finally opened to the general public in 1950 and assumed its place as a historical monument in 1971. The Château can be visited most of the year round, with an admission fee of only 4€.
The gardens can only been seen during July and August at 3 pm, while between April and June and September one needs to telephone (+33 (0)4 93 09 68 02) to reserve a visit. For a few Euro more you can also visit the Art Deco and Modernist Museum.
I spy with my little eye…
Can you find ‘Mr Lemon Head’? He’s in the village on a stone wall but I’m not saying where. So look carefully as you walk round Gourdon and see if you can find him. No prizes if you do – but just a bit of fun.
Gourdon Tourist Office, Place Victoria, 06620 Gourdon
Tel: 0811 811 067
Fax: +33 (0)4 93 09 68 25
Open every day, all year round
Jan/Feb/March/Nov/Dec: 11:15am – 5pm
April/May/June/Sept/Oct: 11:15am – 6pm
July/August (7/7) 11am – 7pm