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At the heart of a steep valley overlooked by towering cliffs, a tall, slender silhouette rises above the oak trees. The 12th century bell tower is a masterpiece of Romanesque art and is now the emblem of the Luberon. It stands in the middle of the priory, as if time had stood still. Who would suspect that this former Benedictine convent that stands next to it in perfect harmony was almost entirely rebuilt? Stone by stone, more than twelve years were needed to recreate its original appearance. The property is decorated with great sobriety (but not devoid of elegance) and has even returned to its primary vocation of welcoming travellers. Guests are left no choice but to be captivated by the moving beauty, as were Prosper Mérimée and Marguerite Yourcenar many years ago.
During my childhood in the Luberon, I would come to the edge of Aiguebrun for picnics with my family. The silhouette of this old medieval priory, abandoned and overgrown with vegetation, struck me at a very young age. At the end of the seventies, during an unexpected meeting with director Roger Vadim, I was told that the priory he had bought for Jane as a wedding gift was for sale. In 1979, I bought it.
The Priory of Saint-Symphorien is a former Cistercian abbey from the 11th century. It is now a private property listed in the inventory of Historic Monuments. To the east, in the side chapel that was added in the 12th century, is a high window, and to the south are two beautiful semicircular doors that lead to the inner courtyard. In a nod to the old cloister, the buildings stand in an L-shape. Its former single-nave church, about fifteen meters long, ends with a so-called horseshoe apse. The most remarkable feature is the bell tower built in the 12th century.
A Carolingian necropolis preceded the establishment of the first church of Saint-Symphorien, which was given to the abbey of Saint-Victor de Marseille in 1053. A community of Benedictine monks then took possession of the property and made many changes to the building from the beginning of the 12th century onwards. The original church became the monastic church and a domestic building to house the community was built in front of the church's western facade. During the Revolution, Saint-Symphorien was sold as a national asset to a farmer and became a farm in the 19th century. In the middle of the 20th century, the priory was gradually abandoned. The bell tower was classified as a Historic Monument in 1921, the rest of the priory followed suit in 1949. When I bought it in the late seventies, the building was in ruins. I began a vast restoration and development project with the help of archaeologists, architects and builders. We went back in time in order to restore and refurbish this monument, which is over a thousand years old. The archaeological excavations allowed us to open the way to a faithful restoration, respectful of the monument's history and environment.
A priory that has been converted into a private residence with respect for the religious architecture and monastic atmosphere. A thousand years of history, in a house with the same volumes it had in the 11th century and the comforts of the 20th century. An isolated, quiet place, in a remarkable natural environment.
Le Fournil, in Bonnieux, is a restaurant serving southern cuisine. It has a small square in the shade of plane trees and a troglodyte room with contemporary decor. A meal at La Bastide de Capelongue prepared by the twice starred chef, Edouard Loubet, awakens the senses. There are many markets in the region and that of Apt on Saturday mornings is one of the oldest and most animated in Provence. Tours take place around the Renaissance castle of Lourmarin which currently houses a cultural foundation. Between Bonnieux and Gordes, the Château de Lacoste, which once belonged to the Marquis de Sade, houses Pierre Cardin's private collection and contemporary works of art selected by the famous fashion designer (who is the current owner).
The Priory of Saint-Symphorien is a Romanesque church located in Bonnieux, in the heart of the Luberon. It is fully accessible and offers a trip to the heart of the Middle Ages, in the middle of a national park in the Aiguebrun valley. It can accommodate twelve people.