A new view of Bonnieux
In October 2004, a few weeks after we arrived in Bonnieux to live here for 6-1/2 months, we went hiking with our new friend Kevin, who owns Le Mas Perreal, a beautiful B&B in St. Saturnin. Kevin suggested we drive up toward the Fôret de Cèdres, where he knew a place we could see lots of bories. We were intrigued by the bories and liked this plan.
In the year since, we’ve come across many bories in the Luberon (perhaps 100), especially on our hikes in the woods and on the mountains. (The photo at the top of our blog is of a borie we discovered in a field on the Plateau de Claparèdes near Saignon.) Bories are old stone huts, made by stacking dry stone slabs in just a certain way, not using any mortar. Bories are found in abundance here in the Luberon, some 3,000 of them. Stone is the primary building material in this area, and the bories were made using stones gathered from the immediate area. The bories were normally used by farmers… perhaps a place to live with their sheep or goats high in the hills or to store tools or to provide protection for a well. They’re built in a variety of styles. Some bories are may be more than 1,000 years old, but others date to just the 18th or 19th century. Some bories are perfectly intact (some have been restored), while others have crumpled into a mass of stone. They have been catalogued and are protected here in the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon.
One of the many bories at L'Enclos des Bories
Anyway, back to that October day a few years ago… we drove up above Bonnieux to the Fôret de Cèdres road and then turned down a small dirt road. We had just started on our way when we encountered another vehicle. Kevin got out to talk to the man and came back to the car disappointed.
"He said we can’t go down there any more. It’s closed,” Kevin reported, very disappointed. We really enjoyed our alternate hike up high on the Petit Luberon, but we remembered that road and the man and the bories that Kevin said were down there somewhere.
Then this past March, when we were here for two weeks of hiking with Kelly, we met an American couple with a house in Bonnieux. They told us their favorite walk was on a bath up the Petit Luberon from Bonnieux that took them to an area with lots of bories. But they said the last time they tried to walk there, they found a fence and couldn’t get near the bories. It sounded like the same place Kevin had described.
So when we returned for our Luberon Experience trips in May, we weren’t surprised to find a few posters up around the village for something called “L’Enclos des Bories.” We saw a banner up on the Fôret de Cèdres road, right there at the dirt road we been on with Kevin. We decided to wait to go there until Kelly was with us this summer.
Inside L'Enclos des Bories (photo by Kelly)
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really liked L’Enclos des Bories. It is a big area—four hectares or about ten acres—on kind of a natural plateau near the base of the eastern end of the Petit Luberon in an area called Les Rinardas. You can reach it by car from near the beginning of the Fôret de Cèdres road above Bonnieux. Then you’ll take a long and rough dirt road more than a kilometer. Or, you can also reach it by foot, by taking a trail that begins below the playground in Bonnieux, on the D3 near the campground and the cherry cooperative. In July and August—due to the restrictions in the forest—access to the area closes at 12 noon. Otherwise, they are open April to November, 10 am until 7 pm. There is a entry fee of five euro, which we thought was reasonable. We were there at least an hour.
We really liked this double borie
L’Enclos des Bories is a massive area of dry-stone construction, what seems to be an agricultural settlement. There are several large enclosed pens for animals, at least 10 intact bories, wells, an irrigation system, and many stone walls. And there was one two story stone house, much more recent.... now in a very sad shape.
The two-story stone house
Although there’s obviously been some clearing of brush, the area is very very natural and in some places the walls and bories are ruins. A few signs point generally in the direction you should follow, but you’re free to wander as you like. The perimeter is restricted by a chain link fence. We enjoyed wandering through the area, trying to get a sense of the use of the various structures. It’s so large, we felt sure that many people must have been involved in building in and then living there.
We don't really know what this unique enclosure with the alcoves is... maybe a place to keep birds or bees?
The property is owned by Serge and his wife Sophie. Serge is a very likeable man, who speaks only French. He told us that the property has been in his wife’s family for many years, and he has been working to get it ready for the public for three years—about the time we tried to go there with Kevin. We asked Serge several questions about the area. We really wanted to know how old the settlement was, though we didn’t really understand his answer. He said “six mille” a couple of times, which means six thousand. On our IGN map, the area is called “Le Village Gaulois,” which means The Gallic Village. The leaflet for L’Enclos des Bories says the area was occupied by the Celts and was also a refuge for the Vaudois, when they fled persecution in the 16th century.
More bories at L'Enclos des Bories
There’s another tourist spot involving bories here in the Luberon, called Le Village des Bories, just outside of Gordes. This is a much tighter grouping of some 20 bories, another farming community. These bories are estimated to be 200-500 years old. We’ve visited there, and found it interesting, but it’s much more of a tourist place with a small giftshop and a map to follow. And those bories are much more pristine and restored, sort of like Gordes itself. Our family decided we preferred the more natural environment of Serge’s borie enclosure. He said that other than cleaning up the area, he hasn’t rebuilt any of the structures. And there isn’t a giftshop or a numbered map—just Serge.
Le Village des Bories near Gordes (photo taken in March 2005)
In addition to the bories and other dry-stone structures, one of the best parts of L’Enclos des Bories is the fantastic view from a lower grassy area, seen at the end of the walk through the property. There’s a beautiful view out across to Lacoste, out across the plain all the way to Mont Ventoux. And then a little farther along the curve of the mountainside, there’s a absolutely fantastic panoramic view of Bonnieux.
Looking toward Lacoste from L'Enclos des Bories. We can pick out the house where we're staying in this photo.
Beautiful Bonnieux, from L'Enclos des Bories (photo by Kelly)
We were surprised to very easily pick out the house where we’re living down here in the plain between Bonnieux and Lacoste—almost a direct line from L’Enclos. Now we sit on the terrace looking up at the gentle rise of the Petit Luberon to the west of Bonnieux, looking for the old stone village. Even with very good binoculars, the settlement is invisible, hidden somehow in the trees. With the binoculars, we can see just a few rocks, but that’s it. So perhaps it was a very good place for the Vaudois to hide…