Poppies in the Provence (c) Iko, Flickr
The Luberon in France is a beautiful region to discover for anyone as it has much to offer like lovely villages, historical sites, good food, typical Provencal scenery but also stunning mountains and impressive natural sites.
The Luberon region is named after the range of mountains in the Vaucluse department between Manosque and Cavaillon. The mountain range has three parts: Le Petit Luberon, le Grand Luberon and le Luberon Oriental. The Luberon Natural Park is ranked as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Le Petit Luberon and Le Grand Luberon are divided by the Combe of Lourmarin that cuts across the rocks from Bonnieux to Lourmarin. It’s a very scenic road and the nicest way to drive from the South Luberon to the North Luberon.
1. Start the day with a cup of coffee and a croissant in the village of Lourmarin. As I lived in Lourmarin for a year, I might be biased but I do think Lourmarin is worth a detour. There are lots of lively cafés with tables outside. The terrace of the Gaby’s is well placed for people watching in the sun. There is also the Café de la Fontaine, which is cosier if you want to sit inside. They serve good Corsican food made by the Corsican lady owner over the open fire. Across from the tourist office you will find the salon de thé Luce d’Angeuse, where you can get a nice light lunch with quiche and salad. The market day on friday is very busy. Don’t miss a visit of Lourmarin and it’s Renaissance castle after your coffee!
Cafe de la Fontaine (c) Elliott Brown
2. You could do a bike holiday and bike all around the Luberon mountain range. It would be a gorgeous trip as the Luberon is a very good place for bikers with lots of interesting cycling trails, both for the leisurely cycling as for the more serious kind of work. You could easily bike around for a week.
But you can also opt for a daytrip and bike to the Mourre Nègre, the top of the Grand Luberon. Other interesting bike trips are to the Forêt de Cèdres where you have breathtaking views. On a clear day you can see the Mediterranean sea on one side and the Mont Ventoux on the other. You can also visit l’enclos des bories there, where you can see lots of those old stone huts.
While in la Forêt de Cèdres you are very close to the perched village of Bonnieux, one of the most pretty around so be sure to have a rest there. If you’re up to it, you could even drive a bit towards the North to the village of Bedoin where you can start the climb up the Mont Ventoux, the Tour de France giant and highest point of the Provence (1912 m). It’s a real difficult climb and only for the die hard cyclists!
The Bories (c) Passion Leica, Flickr
3. Have a stroll in Saignon. If you’re lucky to find the Romanesque church of Notre-Dame de Pitié open, have a peek inside, I think it’s one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. Saignon is an authentic hilltop village built behind a cliff and offers the most wonderful views of the surrounding area from the cliff. You can have lunch at Le Comptoir de Balthazar, the husband serves, the wife cooks. The menu is limited but it’s fresh and good quality home made cuisine. Between March and Octobre you can also visit le Potager d’un curieux. It’s an ecological garden where the owner has been growing all kind of rare vegetables, fruits and plants for years. You can also buy seeds there.
Window in Saignon (c) Vincent Brassinne
4. Go rock climbing in Buoux. It was a very well known climbing site in the eighties and it still is a very interesting climbing site with more then hundred routes (graded 6a to 6c). Looking for a climbing shop in the area? The closest by will be in Lourmarin.
For the non-climbers amongst us, it still is worth a visit as the steep limestone rock walls and the gorge are absolutely gorgeous and very impressive. You can also visit the fort of Buoux and learn a bit about the history of the Vaudois in the Luberon region.
Climb in Buoux (c) Deb Collins, Flickr
5. Follow le sentier des ocres (the ochre path) in the colored little town of Roussillon. It’s a magnificent walk of about one hour through the former ochre quarries.. Drive on to Rustrel afterwards to visit the Colorado Provencal.
The former quarries of Rustrel offer four freely accessible hiking trails from 1km to 5,5 km. Absolutely worthwhile when visiting the region. The colors and shapes on these sites are so gorgeous, it’s like walking on another planet (but no aliens around just lots of tourists).
You are very close to Apt now so you might as well visit the little town. It’s not one of the prettiest towns of the region but it’s lively and it has a nice large market on saturday mornings and the greatest fruits confits of France.
Colorado Provencal (c) Dimitris Kilymis
6. Back to the cute little hilltop villages. Lacoste is a very picturesque medieval village with typical cobbled streets. You can see the ruins of the castle of the marquis de Sade. It’s propriety of Pierre Cardin now, as are more then 20 other properties in Lacoste, which is enormous bearing in mind the size of the village.
There are art exhibitions on a regular basis in the ruins and the Lacoste Festival in july and august every year (concerts, ballet, opera, etc..).
Other typical Provencal hilltop villages close by and worth the detour are Oppède le Vieux and Ménerbes.
Oppède le Vieux (c) Andrea Schaffer
7. Time for lunch? Head towards the village of Cucuron. The restaurant La Petite Maison with chef Eric Sapet (he also gives cooking lessons!) has a very good reputation and a Michelin star but there are many other nice places to have lunch around the etang (16th century), where one scene of the movie A good year was filmed. The movie Le Hussard sur le toit has also been partly filmed in Cucuron.
The medieval village of Cucuron is a very pretty one. It has a peaceful and serene atmosphere eventhough it lives all year round. There is a market on thuesday and they even have a small movie theatre, le Cigalon.
Place de l’Etang, Cucuron (c) Dimitrios Dalagiorgios
8. Ansouis is another pretty village in the Luberon with a castle and a cute weekly market but you’re not here for the village, the castle or the market. You’re here for the artisanal ice cream! The best ice cream of the South of France to be precise. L’Art Glacier offers more then seventy flavors, from chocolate and vanilla to all kind of fruits to honey from the Provence, lavender and poppy. It’s a bit hard to find the place but it absolutely is worthwhile!
While in Ansouis also stop at the Musée Extraordinaire.This small museum with a weird collection has been created by Georges Mazoyer who was a painter and a deep sea diver. You will find a collection of all kind of things, from sculptures to fish fossils, furniture and paintings to geological artifacts
Left: Musée Extraordinaire in Ansouis (c) Srsck. Right: Etang de la Bonde (c) Srsck
9. Have a swim! While in the Luberon you’ll have to drive about one hour to be able to swim in the sea but you have other options closer by. Amidst the vineyards in a natural greenery you’ll find one of the nicest swimming options in the Luberon: the etang de la Bonde. Or you could just rent a holiday house with a pool and enjoy your holiday….
10. Explore the local markets. There are markets nearly every day in the various villages, some only during summer months, others the whole year round: for ex. Monday local market in Lauris, thuesday local market in Cucuron, wednesday farmer’s market in Pertuis, thursday farmers market in la Tour d’Aigues, friday local market of Lourmarin, saturday big market in Apt, sunday local market in Maubec.
Market of Isle sur Sorgues (c) ib.aarmo, Flickr
The markets are always lively and nice to discover. Most of them are in the mornings until about 13h but do check the times at the tourist information. There are also seasonal markets like the truffle markets between novembre and march. You can also have a look at a Vides greniers if there is one when you’re around. A vide grenier is kind of garage sale, a local second hand sales.
Look out for the posters to find out where and when one will take place. You can find all kind of stuff for very cheap. I bought a children’s bike for 1 euro the last time I was at a vide grenier, yeah!