One of the most beautiful villages in France
Bonnieux is a lovely Luberon village (in the Golden Triangle of the Luberon), with plenty of good restaurants and cafes, including the fabulous Hotel Restaurant Domaine de Capalongue. There is a pretty market at the bottom of the village, every Friday, selling local crafts and produce and rather uniquely a Bread Museum – the Musee de la Boulangerie.
The views from Bonnieux are wonderful, out across the valley floor with its patchwork of orchards and vineyards, towards the equally picturesque perched village of Lacoste across the Vaucluse plateau.
At the top of the village is a church, the 12th century, Roman/Gothic 'Vieille Eglise' (old church), and near the bottom is the much newer (1870) New Church ('Eglise Neuve') - no great beauty but home to some intensely painted scenes of the Passion of Christ.
The old church, surrounded by cedars, is now out of use. But it is well worth climbing up through Bonnieux to the top for the views of the Mont de Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux, and also Lacoste, Gordes and Roussillon. In July the church is an atmospheric setting for classical music concerts.
There are some fine houses in Bonnieux dating back to the 16th century, and the village's relative opulence dates back to this period when several bishops chose to live in Bonnieux when this area belonged to the Popes.
FONTAINE DE VAUCLUSE
The source of the beautiful Sorgue river
The village of Fontaine de Vaucluse is squeezed into the sharp end of a narrow valley and takes its name from the beautiful and mysterious spring feeding the river Sorgue. This spring comes from deep underground - nobody knows how deep.
In the 50s, Jacques Yves Cousteau came with a submersible to explore the depths but did not find the bottom. Since then a probe has made it to a sandy bed at a depth of 308 metres (1010 ft) but the spring itself comes from somewhere even deeper.
It is said that all the rainwater from the Luberon and other surrounding mountains comes out of this one source.
For most of the year all you can see is a deep blue pool of water at the bottom of towering cliffs. But during spring or after very heavy rainfall it lives up to its name, with water gushing out, this is one of the largest springs in the world.
This extraordinary phenomenon forms the crystal-clear Sorgue river, which soon turns a startling emerald, and it's this vivid hue that dominates the town of Fontaine de Vaucluse. There is a little, ruined 14th century castle balanced on a sharp hill above the village. It is where the Bishops of Cavaillon used to come to put their feet up. You can get there up a steep path, following in the footsteps of the poet Petrarch who used to come and chat to the bishop.
The spring and the beautiful Sorgue river have made the Fontaine de Vaucluse a tourist trap, and souvenir stalls line the walk up to the source (although it must be said that if you are after souvenirs, they are quite good). There are also some good restaurants, cafés and a museum.
Spectacular views from within, high over Luberon
If the Luberon were a country, Gordes would be its capital. This is the Parthenon of Provence, an imposing edifice born of stone that has always attracted its share of attention because it is just so picturesque. Gordes is officially one of The Most Beautiful Villages in France and is located in the Golden Triangle of the Luberon.
It's not just the stunning view of Gordes as you approach it - Gordes is also a pleasure to explore from within, along its tight alleyways and arcades. Home to some fabulous 5 star hotels, there are also many restaurants and cafes, from simple to refined, bakeries and food stores; and a thriving arts scene. The views from Gordes are equally spectacular high over the Luberon plain.
The village is dominated by its church and castle, ancient symbols of the fight against invading armies. The castle hosts art and other exhibitions on its top 3 floors.
Market day is Tuesday mornings, in the village square, where you can stock up on the best local produce, crafts and fabrics.
Just outside Gordes is the incredibly picturesque Senanque Abbey with its famed lavender field, and the mysterious Village des Bories.
One of the least known or visited villages
Goult is perhaps the least known and visited of the beautiful villages in the Golden Triangle of the Luberon. It's a little jewel of a residential village, with a very pleasant atmosphere, a few good cafés and restaurants on the main square, and a 'hidden' and beautifully preserved old neighborhood. On Thursdays in the summer months there is a village market.
If you walk up the narrow road to see old Goult, which is all in golden stone, and in some places carved out of the rock of the hill. Above this old village is a plateau with a picturesque windmill and some beautiful panoramic views of the Luberon.
Goult is grouped around a 17th century castle and a 12-13th century Romanesque/Gothic church with its arches and buttresses, an interesting meld of two churches and other buildings.
There is a good walk around the restored terraces just outside the village. The terraces marry superbly to the landscape, not just the stone walls but the ancient olive trees, oaks and fruit trees that grow there. It’s like being in the movie Jean de Florrette and you will see some picturesque stone walls, cisterns, huts and arches.
The stunning 'Provencal Venice'
More town than village, with tall plane trees and green streams, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is 'The Island on the Sorgue' a few kilometres from the river's source at Fontaine de Vaucluse. Where the Sorgue splits into two streams, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue sprang up. Over the last 40 years L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has become famous as the antiques capital of Provence, indeed of France, if you don't count Paris. There are many permanent antique shops, art galleries and interior décor shops here, grouped in several 'villages'.
On Sunday morning the place becomes a mecca of antiques and bric-a-brac stalls, about 300 in all and the streets are thronging with colour and life.
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue actually has the nickname 'The Provencal Venice' - this is overstating the abundance of waterways, but the various parts of the Sorgue are never far away. The water wheels you see around town are testimony to the textile and paper-making industries that thrived in the past and the grand mansions dotted around town were the homes of the rich merchants that benefited from the power of the river.
It is a great town to walk around with the various bars, cafes and restaurants all retaining their authenticity. Little footbridges taking you over the water and narrow, winding streets tunnelling into the old centre of town with the courtyards lined with antique shops.
Right in the middle of the old town is a rather overly gilded church, Notre-Dame-des-Anges - but it's a good venue for classical concerts on summer evenings.
Original home of Marquis de Sade in the 16th Century
Overlooking the village of Bonnieux is Lacoste another picturesque, beautiful village in the Golden Triangle of the Luberon. The vernacular architecture and narrow cobblestone streets give the impression of a village where time has stood still but it is steeped in history.
The 11th Century Chateau Lacoste (Lacoste Castle) used to be owned by the Simiane family until purchased by the Marquis de Sade in the 16th Century. Then in 2011 it was purchased by Pierre Cardin who has partially restored it and organizes a festival of music and theatre in the old stone-pit of the Castle in July and August (Festival Lacoste).
Lacoste has a couple of restaurants and bars, a bakery and a grocery store and beautiful views of the plain of Bonnieux, Mont Ventoux and the Alpes.
Home to the magnificent cliff Falaise de la Madeleinee
Lioux is a tiny village surrounded by beautiful countryside and situated in the Luberon Park. A huge line of rock over 700 metres long and more than 100m high towers above Lioux. This imposing and magnificent cliff (falaise de la Madeleine) of grey limestone is a completely separate formation from the red ochre cliffs of Roussillon or Rustrel, a few kilometres from Lioux.
You can visit the St Romain Roman church which is covered in greenery.
Far from the main highways, Lioux is a calm and restful spot where nothing seems to disturb the peaceful atmosphere.
Filled with beautifully restored houses
Lourmarin is a beautiful Provencal village nestled in the middle of vineyards, olive groves and almond trees with some lovely hotels and an abundance of good restaurants, cafes and bars. All spilling out onto the tiny cobbled streets, which meander round past fountains, well shaded public squares and lovely old restored houses. It is no surprise it is listed as “one of the most beautiful villages in France”.
There is a large 15th and 16th century castle that overlooks the village and the Renaissance part is open to the public.
Lourmarin has been an important staging post on the Marseille-Apt route since the XIth century. It is in the cleft that runs right through the Luberon mountain range, separating the Grand Luberon from the Petit Luberon, and marked by the course of the Aiguebrun river. The drive to Lourmarin is quite thrilling, winding through cliffs and forests with a few hairpin bends thrown in.
Lourmarin's most famous resident was Albert Camus, the Nobel prize-winning author. Camus hated driving and said he couldn't imagine a death more meaningless than dying in a car crash. For a writer so preoccupied with the meaninglessness of existence, it was tragically fitting that he died in a car accident, on the way from Lourmarin to Paris, in 1960. He was 46. Albert Camus is buried in Lourmarin cemetery.
It is a very animated village in the summer with lots going on and attracting many tourists. In addition there is a local fresh produce and craft market every Friday morning.
Beautiful, quiet medieval village with stunning views
Menerbes in the Golden Triangle of the Luberon is a beautiful, quiet medieval village, exquisitely poised over the Luberon valley with stunning views over the countryside.
At one end of Menerbes is the Citadelle, a miniature fortress of the 16th century, and at the other are the cemetery and the Chateau du Castellet, where the painter Nicolas de Stael lived.
In between is a walk along the top of Menerbes, through paths and alleys, the Place de la Mairie, and the many examples of 16th and 17th century architecture.
All along the way the views over the steeply pitched sides are memorable, whether to the south and the Luberon mountain, or northward over the plain to the Mont de Vaucluse and the Mont Ventoux.
This is the upper level of Menerbes. halfway up are the shops, cafes and restaurants. Menerbes market is held on Thursday mornings.
Menerbes has historically been popular with artists such as Nicolas de Stael and Picasso brought his mistress Dora Maar a house near the top of the village and there are many unknown writers and artists toiling away amid the same stones, views, and light that inspired these greats.
OPPEDE LE VIEUX
Built high on a rocky outcrop with striking backdrop
Oppede le Vieux is a magnificent little hill top village in the Golden Triangle of the Luberon. Built high on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by lush vegetation the thick forests and rocks form a striking backdrop.
Steeped in history this village grew in this elevated position because of the turmoil that raged for centuries, when this region was regularly won and lost in wars and embroiled in persecutions.
One of the worst offenders, the bloodthirsty Jean Maynier, Baron of Oppede, took Oppede-le-vieux's castle as his seat in the 16th century and waged a crusade against the Vaudois population, carelessly destroying 11 villages in the process.
When peace finally came, the villagers found it a little impractical to live up here and farm their lands down below, and so a new, breakaway Oppede started to form in the plain. Eventually, gravity and convenience brought the whole village down and the name of Oppede came with it, while the old village became Oppede-le-vieux (the old Oppede) and turned into a ghost town.
Oppede-le-vieux came back to life during WW2, when a commune of artists, sculptors and writers started colonising the empty houses and renovating them (including the wife of the writer Saint-Exupery).
Now the old village walls, cobbled paths, restored homes hewn into the mountain rock, and the spectacular castle and church of Notre-Dame-d'Alydon make this a spectacular village and it has some lovely restaurants and cafes as well.
Heart of the largest ochre formations in the world
Rousillon is considered one of the most impressive villages in the Golden Triangle of the Luberon, at the foot of the Mont de Vaucluse and surrounded by beautiful countryside.
Situated in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world, Roussillon is famous for its magnificent red cliffs and ochre quarries. The red, yellow and brown shades of the earth form a striking contrast with the lush green pine trees and the vivid blue of the Provencal skies. It is like an artist’s pallet with the infinite combinations of colours varying from yellow to purple and all the shades of pink in-between.
The village is located on a ridge of a steep red cliff, as if everything around but the village has been clawed away over the years but still enjoying the wonderful, panoramic views across the valley to the Grand Luberon, the slopes of Mont Ventoux, and the plateau of the Vaucluse.
Roussillon has many great bars, cafes and restaurants in all price ranges.
The rugged landscape is softened by beautiful lavender
Viens is one of those gorgeous villages in the dramatic, wild landscape east of Apt that happily the guidebooks don’t bother with.
Perched on a rocky crag for the last 1000 years, Viens gives three distinct impressions depending on which route you approach it on: a fortress from the north, a citadel from the west and a typical perched Provence village from the south.
You enter Viens through the Portail de l’Horloge (clock gate), the high square tower in the ramparts, where the portcullis is still in place. Then you follow your nose through narrow streets, past grand houses. In some places it opens out to an extraordinary view, others you come across curiosities like the communal oven, the honey shop, or the Saracen gate.
Viens is small but does have a cafe-restaurant and pizzeria.
From the village you can hike in any direction and won’t be disappointed. The landscape is rugged and beautiful, softened by lavender fields.
Famous for its market in the Place de Martyrs
Apt is situated in the heart of the Luberon Natural Park between the mountains of Vaucluse and Luberon. This pleasant town is typical of Provence and is well reputed for its local products as well have having many shops, dealerships and businesses to support all the beautiful local villages in the region.
Apt is famous for its Saturday market in the Place des Martyrs de la Resistance with over 300 stalls selling local produce and crafts. The town has charming little streets passing by ancient fountains, tiny tree filled squares and private mansions all surrounded by many shops, bars, cafes and local restaurants.