France's answer to the Hamptons. A magnet for the café society and political and art-world scenesters who like to throw their money and celebrity around. But it is also the Provence of shrill cicadas, pulsing heat, friendly countryfolks and the Garrigue crunching underfoot. A paradise for hikers, bikers and nature lovers. The land of the perched villages nestled on the hills of the Luberon and the Plateau du Vaucluse. Yes, many villages suffer a bit from the closed shutter syndrome during the off-season. The owners of the carefully restored village houses live elsewhere. And it is expensive, mostly, albeit some reasonable deals in terms of lodging and restaurants can still be found.
We happen to like the Luberon, it grows on you each time you visit it. The clear blue skies, aromatic air and the wonderful Mediterranean flora and fauna. Avoid the popular spots at weekends during the high season and you will be fine. You will have a wonderful vacation if you stay in one of the many small hotels, B&Bs or if you rent a vacation home. We find the April - June and September - October shoulder seasons the best time to visit the Luberon. July and August can be very hot; a swimming pool to cool off is a must then.
Here is an overview of the towns and villages we recommend in the area (in alphabetical order):
Ansouis is a historic village 22km north of Aix en Provence in the Eastern Luberon, lots of Provençal character here. Great location on a hilltop, narrow cobblestone alleys, village houses, the church and above it all the 12th century castle of the Sabran clan - they occupied the chateau from 1178 until 2007. Family differences and unpaid death duties led to the Sabran estate being auctioned off, including the câteau and properties in Aix and Paris. The castle can be visited (guided tours only - nice collection of 17th and 18th century furniture and tapestries). Fortifications and the buildings are well preserved, exterior gardens and terraces delightful. In the village below are some nice boutiques, a couple of artists' workshops and a small but highly regarded restaurant (La Closerie).
An interesting historic town, the commercial center of the Luberon region. Some ungainly public housing on the outskirts, yet it is wonderfully lively - a great weekly market on Saturday mornings. Apt was founded in Roman times as Apta Julia.
Cathédrale Ste.Anne, built in the 11th-12th century, supposedly houses the remains of Ste.Anne, the mother of Mary. According to local belief her remains were brought to Apt by St. Lazarus. They were hidden in a secret crypt deep under the cathedral by the first bishop of Apt, St. Auspicius (d. 398). When the area was safe again from Arab invaders, Ste.Anne's crypt was made accessible again and consecrated in the presence of Charlemagne. It is worthwhile to descend to the crypts, one on top of the other. The lower crypt probably dates back to Paleo-Christian times. Visit also the cathedral's trésore with it many relics (open buy appointment only or join a guided tour during the summer). For more detailed information on Cathédrale Ste.Anne click here. Close to the cathedral is the small Musée Archéologique and on Place Jean Jaures the Maison du Parc Régional du Luberon, both worth a visit on a rainy day.
If you like candied fruit visit Aptunion located right outside Apt on Rt.N 100 (direction to Cavaillon). Reportedly it is the largest candied fruit maker in the world, belonging to the Kerry Group from Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland. Quality and prices are unbeatable for standard type candied fruits. You can buy at their company store right next to the modern factory.
This historic village is perched on a steep ridge on the Northern slopes of the Petit Luberon. A settlement, known as Bitrona, was established in Roman times in the valley, 5km from Bonnieux, where the Via Domitia crossed the Coulon; visit the well preserved Roman Bridge (Pont Julien - 300 B.C.). The settlement was later moved higher up on the ridge to its present location and fortified in order to offer protection against marauding bands of Franks, Arabs and Berbers.
In the 12th century it became a stronghold of the Knights Templars until their demise on October 13 (the unlucky Friday the 13th), 1307, when all the Knights Templars in France were simultaneously arrested by agents of Philip the Fair, later to be tortured into admitting heresy. Click here to learn more about their history. Subsequently Bonnieux became an outpost of the Comtat Venaissin, a part of the Papal States. Bonnieux was a tiny outpost entirely surrounded by the Provence, which in 1486 became part of France. The Comtat Venaissin was annexed by France in 1791, which was recognized by the Holy See in 1814. During the Papal times the village was ruled by a number of powerful families, the most important was the d'Agoult family.
Walk the 86 stairs past the 12th century Hôtel de Rouville (today's town hall) to the 12th century Église Haute (Upper Church), part Romanesque, part Gothic. There is an ancient cemetery and many giant cedar trees, which were introduced to the Provence by a French botanist in the 16th century from Northern Africa. You have wonderful panoramic views over the Coulon Valley and to the Plateau du Vaucluse. Locals said that "the dead bury the live ones", the result of carrying the coffins up those steep 86 stairs to the cemetary. In the end the Église Neuve was built in 1870. It has four 16th century altar paintings from a German master painter, representing scenes of Christ Passion.
Between Apt and Lourmarin lies the small village of Buoux, in the narrow Aigue-Brun valley right in the middle of the Luberon range. This is a paradise for hiking and rock climbing. Some French trade unions have vacation camps there. The Buoux Fort was a refuge during the religious wars. It was destroyed in 1660 by King Louis XIV. The 17th century stone houses of the village have been beautifully restored.
A favorite of ours; quiet, pretty village between Gordes and Coustellet with tastefully restored, rustic dry stone houses. There is a privately owned 13th century château and the remnants of the Mur de la Peste (Pest Wall). This dry-stone wall was built in 1720 from Cabrières to Monnieux - 20km long - to protect the area from the great plague epidemic, alas to no avail. Visit also the very interesting Lavender Museum (Musée de la Lavande) in nearby Coustellet; the adjacent shop sells everything around lavender. Wonderful.
A charming hill-top village in the Eastern Luberon with 12th century ramparts, a Knights Templar gate and a noble's residence built on the ruins of an old château. You find many carefully restored village houses, cobbled streets and wisteria covered terraces.
Gentrification has arrived but not destroyed its rustic Provençal charm. They have cultural and musical festivals during the summer. A good selection of local arts and crafts (santons, paintings, pottery). A quiet place, very pretty.
The filmmaker Yves Robert shot a couple of scenes of his 1990 film "La Gloire de mon Père" here. For those of you who are interested in Provençal literature, "La Gloire de mon Père" is a book by Marcel Pagnol (1895 - 1974), one of the icons of Provençal literature.
This ancient village with a 2000 year history is perched on a ridge of the Southern slopes of the Plateau du Vaucluse. It is a well known summer residence for artists, businessmen and politicians. During the season be here early, the large parking space (exit Gordes in the direction to Joucas) fills up quickly. You will notice the typical Gordes stone walls. Walk the wonderful old village alleys past ancient stone houses. In between you have great panoramic views to the Coulon Valley and the Luberon mountains.
Visit the 16th century château, built on the foundations of an earlier 12th century fortification. The château was restored by the painter Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) in order to house his Didactic Museum. He spent the summer months in Gordes. The Didactic Museum was closed in 1996 and its 500 works were sold off by the Vasarely Foundation, headed by some of Vasarely's heirs and a former President of the University of Aix en Provence. A long and intriguing story. As far as we know legal and tax proceedings were finally settled in 2005. Today the château houses the town hall and the Pol Mara Museum. The Flemish painter Pol Mara (1920-1998) and the cubist painter André Lhote (1885 - 1962) were residents of Gordes. President Mitterand had a summer residence in Gordes for Anne Pingeot, his mistress, their daughter Mazarine, the cats and he spent many a summer here.
The Bories Village is located on Rt D15; shortly after exiting Gordes turn right and follow the signs. Interesting collection of bories; you can read more about these ancient structures on our other Luberon web page. On your way to the Bories Village you see a number of superb specimens and they are free of charge!
Drive Rt.D 177 North for 4 km to the Abbaye de Sénanque, located in the small Senancole valley with lots of lavender fields around it. Take your time and tour this important Cistercian abbey founded in 1148. It was expropriated during the French revolution, but repurchased in 1854 for a new community of Cistercian monks. They were expelled in 1926 but a small community was able to return in 1984. The monks grow lavender and tend honey bees for their livelihood.
Ancient and beautifully restored village with an interesting terraced layout and plane shaded streets. The privately owned 14th century château was once the seat of the d'Agoult family, which evolved into one of the most important feudal families in the Provence. Visit the beautiful windmill and the 14th century fortified gate. The massive village church has a 12th century Romanesque apse; they have chamber music concerts here in the summer. We like Goult; the restoration was well done and less uniform than in Gordes. Definitely a village where you want to stay, some good restaurants here.
Historic village perched on the Northern slopes of the Petit Luberon with a tumultuous history. The infamous Baron de Oppède, Jean Maynier, slaughtered the entire village population in 1545, Waldensians and Catholics, despite his word of honor to Count Simiane, the owner of Lacoste, to spare all lives if the village surrenders. In 1716 Isabelle de Simiane sold Lacoste to her cousin, Gaspard François de Sade, the grandfather of the Marquis de Sade. If you delve into the history of the Luberon you come inevitably across the same important families, the Simiane, the d'Agoult and the Sade. Donatien Alphonse François de Sade (1740-1814), who called himself Marquis (the real title of the Sade's was Count), lived in Lacoste for a short while, threw glamorous parties and lead his notorious life. Large parts of the chatéau were pillaged during the French Revolution. In 1952 the château was bought by André Bouer, an English professor and researcher of Sade. He started to restore parts of the château. Nowadays the château is owned by the couturier Pierre Cardin and undergoes a slow renovation; it is closed to the public. He hosts the well known Festival de Lacoste each summer, featuring art exhibitions, recitals and operettas. The village has been nicely restored; many artists live here. The town hall (Mairie) has a wonderful old sundial. By the way, the village did not lend its name to the Lacoste (crocodile) label, which was named after the famous French tennis player René Lacoste (1904-1996), one of the founders of the firm.
The Luberon Mountains, southeast of Avignon, reach an altitude of 1,256m. They actually consist of two mountain ranges: the Grand Luberon to the east and the Petit Luberon further west. The dividing line between the two is the wild Aigue Brun valley between ..... read more about it here.
A very pretty village on the Southern Luberon slopes where the Grand Luberon and Petit Luberon meet. Lovely countryside with olive groves, vineyards and forests. Narrow winding cobblestone alleys lead you to the St.Trophime-St André church. Outside the village is the 15th century Château de Lourmarin, which overlooks neatly trimmed greens; you think you are in England. Originally owned by the d'Agoult family, it is sometimes called the "Villa Medici in the Provence"; Renaissance châteaux are rare in the Provence. It was saved from ruins by Robert Laurent-Vibert, an industrialist (Pétrole Hahn) from Lyon, who bequeathed it to the University of Aix en Provence in 1925. It is now administered for the university by an art foundation. It provides scholarships and sabbatical residences for young artists and writers from around the world. There are chamber music concerts every week during the summer. You can visit parts of the château; there is a nice collection of furniture and art objects. The French writers Henri Bosco (1888-1976) and Albert Camus (1913-1960) both lived in Lourmarin and are buried in the local cemetery.
An ancient perched village on the Northern slopes of the Petit Luberon, one of the last holdouts of the Huguenots, who surrendered in 1578 after a 15 month siege. A number of artists, amongst them Picasso, used to live here. Ménerbes looks quite charming from afar, but we are less impressed once inside. The main street meandering down the slope through the entire village can be quite busy during the season. Walk through the village with its steep alleys and stairways and see the wonderful belfry and former hospice. Notable amongst the various residences are the Castellet (the painter Nicolas de Stael (1914-55) lived here for a while), the Hôtel de Tingry (former residence of the Count of Rantzau), the Carmejane (residence of the Empire General Baron de Carmejane), and the Citadel (former residence of the Empire General Robert, later Picasso lived here with Dora Maar for a while). The Musée du Tire-Bouchon (Corkscrew Museum) is worth a visit, with over 1000 corkscrews on display, the oldest from the 17th century. (Domaine de la Citadelle, 84560 Ménerbes, Tel. 04 90 72 41 58).
If you look for accommodation in Ménerbes make sure it is quiet; during summer traffic can be heavy on the main street winding down the hill. A safer bet is to look for B&Bs or rental homes in the surrounding countryside, with its beautiful olive groves, vineyards and lavender fields.
A small village on the Northern Slopes of the Petit Luberon, which was abandoned in the 19th century and fell into disrepair. Instead the new village, Oppède les Poulivets, was established in the Coulon Valley. Otherwise the village is remembered for the Baron de Oppède,Jean Maynier, who lead the merciless campaign against the Waldensians and the French-Salvadorian artist Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry (1901 - 1979), the widow of the famous writer (Le Petit Prince) and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944). Theirs was a stormy marriage. During World War II she took refuge in the village with a group of art school students, while her husband left for New York. This group, lead by the future great architect Bernard Zehrfuss, organized a resistance network. The old village is gradually being restored.
Right in the middle of the Coulon Valley is a ridge of red ochre stone, which was used since ancient times to extract ochre color. On top is one of the most picturesque villages of France, Roussillon. The houses with their red ochre facades give the village a rich and inviting appearance. Walk the winding alleys and small village squares through the gate of the belfry up to the remnants of the château at the top, where you will be rewarded with great panoramic views across the Coulon valley to the Grand Luberon and the Plateau du Vaucluse, with the white slopes of Mt. Ventoux peaking behind it. In the early 13th century the château was owned by a certain Raymond d'Avignonis and his young, beautiful wife Sirmonde. Legend has it that Sirmonde, neglected by her husband, an avid hunter, started an affair with a troubadour, Guillaume de Cabestan. After discovering the affair Cabestan was murdered by the jealous husband and his heart was served for dinner to the unsuspecting Sirmonde. When he told her the truth after dinner, she jumped in despair from one the cliffs, hence the red ochre color. Around 1780 Jean Etienne Astier rediscovered the ochre quarries and started to exploit them and extract ochre color. Village records show that in 1810 the village council reprimanded Messieur Astier because of all the dust, noise and discarded crushed stones. Roussillon is very, very popular with tourists and we recommend you arrive quite early to get a parking space - like Gordes one of the places they charge you.
One of our favorite villages in the Luberon, brimming with history, pretty, peaceful yet close to Apt. It is perched on the Northern Slopes of the Grand Luberon behind a large rock formation. Thanks to this strategic location Saignon was an important defensive outpost for the town of Apt. There are many historic stone houses, the town hall and the 12th century Romanesque Ste.Marie de Saignon (aka Notre-Dame) church. From the top of the rock you have one of the best panoramic views in the Luberon. Take your time walking through the village and you will discover beautiful old stone houses, adorned with sculptured porches and intricately decorated doors and window frames.
If you are looking for a quiet, charming area in the Luberon to stay at a B&B or rent a vacation home, this is where you should go. Saint Saturnin les Apt and the numerous hamlets to the east and west are Luberon pure. Old mas (farm houses), pretty stone village houses and Neo-Provençal homes tucked away in a peaceful countryside. In the village proper you find remnants of a castle, two old wind mills, small boutiques, a couple of bistros and restaurants, boulanger, grocery and other stores useful for daily life. One of our favorite places in the Luberon, close to all the sights and walks in the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon.