Provence is one of those places where the reality lives up to its reputation. The dramatic hilllside villages. The dreamy lavender fields. Vineyards stretching across rolling hills. Drinking rosé under the stars. Shopping for the freshest local produce at village markets. Mouth watering cuisine and the romantic lifestyle made famous in books and films.
On a recent trip to Provence we focussed our efforts on the Luberon area and found so much more than we expected. Before you plan your next trip to Provence, read on for planning tips plus five villages to visit in the Luberon.
Planning your trip to Provence
The Provence region is huge. Planning a trip to encompass it all can be overwhelming. Rather than try to see it all in one trip, we chose to focus on a particular part of Provence that we could explore at our leisure. After all, we will always return to Provence and bite off a new part of the region. And the Luberon area of Provence is the ideal place to whet your appetite for more of this spectacular part of the world.
The Luberon was made famous by Peter Mayle’s Year in Provence novels, and more recently by Ridley Scott’s A Good Year. Home to and neighbouring some of the best vineyards in the world (more on Provence-Luberon wineries here), it is full of spectacular hillside villages, local markets and real-estate-envy-inducing properties. The Luberon held more for us than our five-day trip would allow for.
From London, you can fly to Marseilles or Nice. Some smaller airports such as Nimes, Toulon or Avignon might offer seasonal flights. However, we chose to take the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Avignon. Six hours, a couple of bottles of champagne (and none of the faff of flying) later and we were rolling through the vineyards of the Luberon in our hire car. Train is also a good option if you plan to return with a suitcase full of local wines (which I highly recommend you do).
While there is no shortage of hotels in the Luberon to suit most budgets, by far the best way to stay in the Luberon is in a rented villa. First, if you are travelling in a group, the cost of a spacious villa with a pool and views across vineyards is not prohibitive. Second, is there anything more enjoyable than cooking up a meal with friends using produce purchased at a local market that morning, and lazing by the pool, rosé in hand, staring up at the stars, with jazz music floating on the breeze? We booked a villa on Air BnB and found it to be positively dreamy.
Five villages to visit in and around the Luberon
Gordes is one of the most famous of Luberon’s hillside villages, and for good reason. It is so visually dramatic, yet once inside its winding lanes it holds an intimacy that you can only fall in love with. To get a sense of the village, stop at a layover on the side of the road as you approach Gordes to take in its many layers (the grounds of the Bastide de Gordes Hotel are particularly stunning).
Once in Gordes it’s easy to explore on foot, each corner more charming than the one before. It’s thirsty work, all that exploring and I suggest an aperitif on the terrace of La Trinquette before you leave.
Apt is the Luberon’s principle town, and best visited on a Saturday morning for its Saturday market. The Saturday morning market is the perfect place to go and stock up on fresh seasonal produce from local farms for that rambling dinner party you have planned at the villa that night.
While you’re there, be sure to get a Scaramouche ice cream. It’s Provençal artisanal ice cream in the most divine flavours. I can recommend the salted caramel, Kenyan coffee and Dominican Republic chocolate. Delicieux. We found it at a little cafe called Gïn Gïn.
Cucuron is a tiny village. For me it has three main draw cards. The first, and most compelling, is that it is home to Michelin starred restaurant, La Petite Maison. The food is everything you would want from the finest of French cuisine. The interior is old school Provence. But best of all is the charismatic chef, Eric Sapet, who welcomes his guests, making them feel like long lost friends. Chef Sapet also offers cooking lessons every Saturday morning (bookings and lesson info on the La Petite Maison website)
The second attraction of Cucuron is l’etang, a quadrangular basin of water surrounded by trees and cafes. It featured in the film A Good Year and is a very romantic spot to have an aperitif as the sun sets. It also hosts a market every Tuesday morning for local farmers and crafts people.
Finally the charming tiny streets and facades of the town are a delight to explore.
Lourmarin is a quietly charming village, with unique fashion and interior boutiques, sunny terrace cafes and restaurants. It would be hard not to love this little corner of the Luberon for being so delightful without shouting about it. We headed in here after a rather successful visit to nearby vineyard Chateau Fontvert.
Known for its ochre deposits in the clay in the surrounding countryside, the buildings of this hillside village are all earthy hues of yellows, oranges and reds. The shutters on the windows are all contrasting shades of blues, teals and greens. It is a very touristic village, but well worth a visit all the same for its stylish colour coordination, enchanting lanes and spectacular views across the countryside. Leave when the tour buses arrive however.