The village of Cotignac nestles in its greenery at the foot of a 80-metre high cliff. At the top stand two square towers, the “sentinelles”, which have been standing guard over the village and surrounding area since the Middle Ages. The cliff is hollowed out with caves which were used as a refuge by the population during the Barbarian invasions. This mass of rock looks like a colossal wall sculpted by the waters that, over thousands of years, fashioned the stalactites, drilled tunnels, enlarged the galleries. When the villagers took refuge there, they altered the caves and galleries in a picturesque manner. They built walls, openings for windows and stairways. The two-storey cave called Grotte du Gouffre takes its name from the Gouffre des Trompines, a chasm into which poured the waters from the neighbouring springs.
Cotignac and troglodyte cliffs
Troglodyte site of Cotignac
Medieval village of Cotignac
You can tour the cliff by climbing up the village behind the town hall. A wide enough path leads you past the big presses of the mills to the Hospice de la Charité (1314). From there, narrow trails, carved right into the cliff face and protected by iron railings, let you visit this troglodyte site and admire the village below.
But for the most spectacular views, you should take the road that winds up the hill to the sentinelles.
In the streets of the old village, you can admire 16th and 17th century stone houses with wrought-iron decorations while enjoying the coolness coming from the many fountains.
In the centre of the village, big centuries-old sycamores provide shade for the Cours Gambetta, the long square with a fountain in the middle. Rising a metre above the street, the square is surrounded by cafés and restaurants with tables spilling out onto the terraces.
In summer, this small village is particularly lively with two weekly markets, an antiques market on Sundays, a pottery market and more. Open-air cinema at the Festival Les Toiles du Sud, open-air performances during the Festival Théâtre sous les Etoiles and concerts promise that everyone will find something to enjoy.
Also to see in Cotignac is the Notre Dame de Grâce church.
This shrine is unique as the Catholic Church has acknowledged that two apparitions by the Virgin Mary and one by Saint Joseph took place in Cotignac. The king Louis XIV and his mother Anne of Austria made a pilgrimage to the shrine, with the only carriage road leading to it being enlarged to accommodate their entourage. If you continue on foot along this road, you will arrive at the Saint Joseph Monastery.
Your efforts will be rewarded by the panoramic views over the hills of terraced land covered with olive trees, cypress, pines, oaks and other Mediterranean plants.
Six kilometres to the north of Cotignac, near the village of Sillans-la-Cascade, you will find a 42-metre high waterfall, the Cascade de Sillans, in a stunning setting.
In the surrounding area, several vineyards offer wine-tastings of their AOP Côtes de Provence wines.