Visiting Bédoin

The Village & Its History

How many of the 35,000 or so villages in France would lay claim to being the qunitessence of French country life? Most one would imagine, but the Provencal village of Bédoin would have a good case. Nestled on the north slope of hill of Mourre Redon, with its honey-coloured, stone-built three and four storey houses, topped with the ubiquitous pantiles, Bédoin is France in a microcosm. Amongst its warren of narrow streets, which appear to have arisen organically rather than through any kind of organised plan, you will find no less than fifteen fountains, two wash-houses and a local population busying itself about their daily tasks for all the world as if nothing has changed in the thousand years that have elapsed since its first foundations were laid.

The Middle-Ages

Over its long existence Bédoin has been buffeted by the winds of history (oh, and by the Mistral of course, which whips down the Rhône valley from the north and has the residents holding onto their hats and turning up their collars in all seasons). In the Middle Ages a seigneurial castle topped the Mourre Redon and dominated the village. It was unquestionably a premium spot for mounting a defence as the there is an uninterrupted field of vision east towards the Dentelles, south to Avignon and the Palais des Papes and west to the wall of Les Monts de Vaucluse. Of course to the north the bulk of Mt Ventoux provided its own defence. Sadly it was abandoned in the fifteenth century leaving the village exposed to devastation by both sides in the religious wars of the sixteenth.

Site of the Medieval Castle
Hill of Mourre Redon, Bédoin looking south

Site of the Medieval Castle
Hill of Mourre Redon, Bédoin looking north

The Eighteenth Century

However, with their characteristic tenacity, the Bédoinais dusted themselves off and, during the early part of the eighteenth century, began work on the church of St Peter which now forms a distinctive part of the skyline. In truth (and I probably won’t be allowed back in the village for saying this), the over-sized Mannerist façade is rather out of keeping with the rest of the village and, in common with so much ecclesiastical architecture, was built without much sensitivity to people it served. Much more in keeping is the tiny The Beccarras chapel on the Flassan road which stands as a memorial to Bédoin’s darkest hour.

St Peter’s Church, Bédoin
which dominates the village

The façade of
St Peter’s Church, Bédoin

The Revolution

During the Revolution Bédoin chose the wrong side. Reactionary in outlook, it was dubbed the ‘Vendée du Midi’ (The Vendée in the North West being the centre of anti-revolutionary dissent). On 12th October 1794, with the Terror in full swing, the Republican City Council arrived and arrested the entire village(!). A Revolutionary court was established with the purpose of extracting confessions of disloyalty to the People but, as none were forthcoming, 63 citizens were arrested and in a shameful day of butchery all were either guillotined or shot. The village was then razed to the ground and, for the purposes of the Revolution, Bédoin ceased to exist.

Within a year, with the Terror over and Robspierre in his grave, the village rose again and began a century and a half or so of uneventful bucolic bliss Excepting two world wars of course, which deprived Bédoin of so many of its youth. Nevertheless, so many hundreds of kilometers from the carnage of the Western Front and Verdun in particular, Bédoin was largely untouched by World War I and equally by the German occupation of World War II. However, it was indirectly the result of the second war which brought about the first of two major changes of the Twentieth Century.

Memorial to the victims of the Revolution
Rue de l’Abbé Durand

La Chapelle Becaras, Bédoin
Built on the site of the mass grave

Rise of the Vines

You would be forgiven for thinking that, ever since the Romans yomped into the region and declared it to be a ‘bona provincia‘ [Tr: ‘Nice Province’, hence the name Provence (seriously)], every inch of cultivatable land would be under vines. Far from it. For centuries the staples of the slopes of Mt Ventoux, down to the Vaucluse plain, were melons, wheat, asparagus and, if you had a properly trained pig, truffles. However, after booting out the Germans in 1945 the Americans set up camp and some intrepid farmer noticed that they brought with them one or two sturdy bulldozers which might be pressed into service to clear the land for an altogether more profitable crop (and, let’s face it, fun), namely grapes. So in went the vines, along with an early season cash crop, cherry trees. The melon business went a few kilometers down the road to Cavaillon and the wine began to flow. Read more about local wines here.

… if you had a properly trained pig,

From melons and wheat …
to Wine!

Rise of the Gentry

In 2001 brought an event which has gradually, but decisively changed Bédoin and its surrounding area; the TGV (Train Grand Vitesses) arrived in Avignon. Suddenly the journey from the north – and especially Paris – fell from around seven hours, usually involving a change in Lyon, to 2 3/4 hours. In flowed the tourists who quite rightly fell in love with the area and wanted a house here. Fortunately there was plenty of room for them and a quarter of a century on the villages of the Vaucluse have largely benefited from the influx of both people and money.

Bédoin itself has around twenty restaurants (depending on how you count them!) and a number of other thriving shops and businesses which benefit from the tourist trade. However, whilst sometimes it can be a bit of a struggle to park in the centre of the village in August (there are plenty of car parks on the edge), Bédoin has retained its charm and absorbed the summer population very effectively.

Bédoin’s Provencal Market

Just as you might be forgiven for thinking that the vines have always been here, so you might think had the weekly market as well. In fact it only started in the early eighties. Since then it has grown to be one of the best in the region, taking place every Monday throughout the year (early until 2.00pm) and offering everything you would expect from the legendary French markets. Always worth a detour.