Where to visit in the Luberon: a short guide to our six favourite Provençal villages
Is there any modern writer so synonymous with Provence than the late Peter Mayle?
The snippets of conversation Hayle overheard in this little pocket of France are often humorous, but when it comes to the Luberon, the husband of the above quotation has a point. Each village in the Luberon has the ability to knock your socks off, and as a result, it can be difficult to know where to base yourselves for a couple of nights, or more.
We spent three nights in the Luberon, and to help you decide where to visit, we've put together this handy guide of our six favourite towns.
This village-perché has some fantastic ateliers (check out gallery 'Sous les toil de provence', which displays work by couple Carole and Laurent) and a lovely view of Mont Ventoux from the church at the top of the town. There's a peaceful cedar forest and a Roman bridge some 2000 years old nearby, and winery Chateau La Canorgue on the outskirts. The film 'The Good Year' was shot here, but the vineyard does not appreciate visitors stopping to take photographs as if it were an amusement park (as detailed on their website) so please visit for their beautiful wine!
We visited the local market on a Friday, where baskets of wild garlic, fat spears of asparagus and fleshy strawberries adorned checkered tablecloths. Stalls selling wooden kitchenware, stinky cheeses and more kept us occupied for a good half an hour, and then we found a cute café selling double chocolate brownies and cookies...
Check out where to stay in Bonnieux
In a nutshell: An arty town with film-set alleyways
Market day: Friday
Closest other towns: Lacoste, Goult and Ménerbes
Most advertisements for the Luberon feature this impossibly gorgeous village, so there's a chance you'll have seen Gordes before. As the town comes into view from the winding road, it is hard not to gasp at the beauty of it. It's attractiveness is not a secret; you may be sharing the narrow stairways with day-trippers by the coach load, but it's worth it.
Accommodation is on the pricier side (there's a branch of Sotheby's just off the town square) and there are some knock-out restaurants in the vicinity, too. Nearby is the heavily photographed Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque and the quirky Village des Bories, a collection of stone houses from before the industrial revolution, which were restored by archaeologists in the 1970s.
Check out where to stay in Gordes
In a nutshell: Incredibly pretty, popular, and at times, pricey
Market day: Tuesday
Closest other towns: Goult and Roussillon
Before we left our B&B in Avignon, we asked our host Valerie about her favourite spots in the Luberon. She cooed over Lourmarin, so of course we had to visit.
The first thing we saw on our drive in was the imposing Château de Lourmarin, which dates back to the 12th-century and overlooks the village. Resting cyclists lay on the lush grass outside the stone walls, elderly couples sat eating gelato on wooden benches in comfortable silence, and others made their away from the centre ville to the fields of olive groves beyond. It was here that we saw some of the most beautiful little gardens outside cosy cottages and sat outside a cafê whose tables and chairs spilled out onto the street.
Winston Churchill chose Lourmarin as a place to focus on his oil painting after the war. And if it's good enough for Winston...
Check out where to stay in Lourmarin
In a nutshell: Cosy cottages and sunlit streets in this chic, chateau-lorded village
Market day: Tuesday (farmers) and Friday (traditional)
Closest other towns: Bonnieux and Buoux
With its mossy waterwheels, crystal-clear canals and one of the biggest antique markets outside Paris, Venise Comtadin sounded like my kind of town, and it was. It has a workaday feel and is less arresting than other towns in the Luberon but the addition of locals about their daily business added to its charm for us. It would be easy to spend a day or two exploring the town and its antiques stores, crossing its sturdy pedestrian bridges lined with flower boxes and visiting a couple of its inviting riverside cafés.
You can take a trip to nearby Fontaine-de-Vaucluse to view the source of the Sorgue River, or to Velleron (a smaller version of L'Isle) or Lagnes (with its ruined château).
Check out where to stay in L'Isle Sur-La-Sorgue
In a nutshell: Antiques, waterwheels and riverside dining
Market day: Sunday
Closest other town: Gordes and Ménerbes
Our base for three nights, Ménerbes is a delightful hilltop village which offers superb views of the surrounding countryside. It is where Peter Mayle lived during his year in Provence, and it is also home to a beautiful 18th-century house which was bought by Pablo Picasso for his lover and muse, Dora Maar, which now hosts a number of artists. The Maison de la Truffe et du Vin du Luberon is offers the chance to sample local truffle, and it has an impressive wine cellar to boot.
We enjoyed the last of the day's sun at Bistrot Le 5, a bar and restaurant which has a prime position on the north-side of the village. Over two nights we tried two different rosés, from vineyards belonging to the current and former mayor, respectively. We also enjoyed a delicious dinner at Les Saveurs Gourmandes, run by a lovely husband and wife team.
Check out where to stay in Ménerbes
In a nutshell: Unpretentious, stone-walled, hilltop bliss
Market day: Thursday
Closest other towns: Oppede, Goult and Lacoste
If you're looking to stay, or visit, somewhere a little different, head to Roussillon. Replacing the familiar sand-coloured buildings with an array of reds, browns and oranges, the town has a history of mining ochre until the early 20th-century.
We enjoyed a short hike to view Le Sentier des Ocres, and if we had more time we would have liked to visit a former mine to learn more about the old wash tanks and ochre mills. Yep, that's our kinda thing. Rustrel, a nearby village, offers walks through the forest and has a similarly brick-red landscape.
Check out where to stay in Roussillon
In a nutshell: Rusty-red remarkable town with an interesting mining history
Market day: Thursday
Closest other towns: Bonnieux and Gordes
Other Places to consider
If you're looking for somewhere a little quieter, take a look at Goult, Oppede-le-Vieux or Lacoste. The latter is home to the Château de Lacoste, which was previously home to the notorious Marquis de Sade, and the village has a real Game of Thrones vibe. Alternatively, Apt is one of the larger towns in the Luberon, and it has a gigantic market held on Saturdays along with a flourishing café scene.
There are lots of holiday rentals and other accommodation (notably luxury domaines) which are not based in a particular town, but are nestled in the countryside, within driving or cycling distance of one.
There are a couple of fancy places we gawped at online, before checking our bank balance and realising we needed to calm down and save it for another year... take a look at Domaine du Fontenille, La Bastide de Gordes and Domaine les Roullets. Each village has at least a handful of guesthouses and rental apartments. The most reasonably priced get snapped up in the summer season.
If you'd like to stay in an Airbnb, you can use this link to get £15 off your first stay.
We hope you enjoy exploring the Luberon as much as we did. As fans of Rough Guides, we always have a copy in our backpacks for reference. Want to pick up a travel guide? Click here.