A little off the beaten track for most visitors to the French Riviera, if you do have half a day free, hire a car and drive up to Gourdon. I can guarantee you will love it.
Though somewhat a little off the beaten track for many visitors, this charming perched village is really well worth the effort. With views right across to the Mediterranean Sea the drive up is simply incredible and you can’t help but be captivated by the scenery. While most tourists to the Cote d’Azur make a bee-line for St Paul de Vence and Eze, Gourdon is very much their equal – just on a much smaller scale.
Gourdon is the French Riviera encapsulated. Stunning views, wonderful Provençal boutiques with a gorgeous range of artisan soaps, perfumes, olive oils and vinegars, beautiful locally made cut-glass and jewellery, art galleries, superb restaurants, medieval history and mind-boggling hand-gliding as the local sport only goes to make this medieval village just that little extra special.
Located 13km from Grasse, just over 40km from Nice airport and under 30km from Cannes, Gourdon is one of those magical perched French villages that would be a shame to miss. At an altitude of some 760 metres, it sits on the edge of 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.
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.
Upon arriving at Gourdon you find two large car parking areas (Parking Campagnon and Rougière) as well as a moderately-sized parking lot for tourist coaches with nearby 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. From this lower parking area you will need to walk up a steep incline, passing the Castle Gardens as you do so on your right, and into the main shopping street rue Armand Fallières.
This is an absolutely charming pedestrian area (as are the other narrow streets leading off it) and brimming with pretty craft shops, glassware, perfumery, Provençal textiles and a variety of other eye-catching boutiques. The views from the main square (Place Victoria) are breath-taking and must be seen to be believed.
If you’re hungry and have a head for heights, we would certainly recommend the amazing Le Nid d’Aigle restaurant having eaten there on many an occasion and never leaving 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 straight down across the valley 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 – and the magnificent panaroma mentioned earlier.
The Château de Gourdon
Of ancient origin the village is like an eagle’s eye 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 of 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 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 to reserve a visit. For a few extra euros you can also visit the Art Deco and Modernist Museum.