Simiane-la-Rotonde has remained practically unchanged for centuries. Clinging to a small hill on a high plateau in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, it is situated to the northeast of Apt and the Luberon, not far from the Mont Ventoux. In June and July, the surrounding fields explode in a profusion of lavender.
The village huddles against a hillock on top of which the stands the truncated cone-shaped edifice that gave Simiane-la-Rotonde its name: the keep, or rotunda, of the old Château des Simiane-Agoult. Built in the 12th century, its massive exterior is remarkable for its hexagonal shape. The interior, an uneven dodecagon, is especially splendid. It is a vast room with a series of arches topped by finely sculpted capitals. The ceiling has a stone cupola of 12 ribbed vaults towering five metres above you. It is an amazing example of Romanesque architecture, both civil and military.
The southern wing of the castle has also been restored and you can visit parts of the main building and the fortifications. The rooms on the ground floor date from the Middle Ages and recount the castle's history. The upper floor, in Renaissance style, houses the Sainte Victoire Aromatherapy Laboratory, which offers workshops in essential oils to the public.
The castle is also the magical setting for exhibitions and the international festival of early music “Les Riches Heures Musicales de la Rotonde” in August.
Simiane la Rotonde and lavender fields
Aerial view of Simiane-la-Rotonde
Simiane la Rotonde in the Alpes de Haute Provence
The old village is just as splendid. A row of very old and very high narrow houses forms the ramparts on the side facing the plain. Behind them, you find the warren of cobblestone streets typical of Provençal villages. Thanks to a flourishing glass industry, Simiane-la-Rotonde experienced a period of great prosperity starting in the 16th century. Private town mansions were built, adorned with mullion windows, richly carved wooden doors and lintels in sculpted stone. Try to see the 17th century gate of the Ostau Montjallard with its pilasters, balustrade and sculpted frieze. The 16th century covered market with its beautiful colonnade and the art galleries and crafts studios offering works ranging from traditional pottery to contemporary art evoke the commercial past of this once dynamic market town.
The village also has its religious edifices. You can see a 16th century bell tower, the only remaining vestige of the Saint-Jean Church (which no longer exists). Even though it was partially destroyed by a bolt of lightning in 1897, it still chimes the hours.
The Church of Saint-Pierre, one of the most beautiful in the region through its perfection, presents a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
And take some time to visit the 12th century Valsainte Abbey, four kilometres from Simiane-la-Rotonde. One of the four Cistercian Abbeys of Provence, it is the “daughter” of the famous Abbey of Silvacane. You can visit the ruins of the cloisters, the monastic buildings and the 17th abbey church, which has been restored. But the most beautiful part to see is the rose garden, labelled Remarkable Garden and rich with 550 varieties of roses interspersed with others plants, some cultivated and others growing wild. Many of the rose varieties, as well as derivative products, can be purchased at the Abbey's boutique and garden centre. The festival "L'Abbaye en Roses" takes place at the end of May.
In the area around Simiane-la-Rotonde
The town is situated on the GR4 hiking trail and on the Lavender Road.
To the south, you have the Colorado Provençale with its striking landscapes of brightly coloured rock formations.