Posted in France, 22 October, 2016
22 October, 2016
As I mentioned in my blog An Introduction to the Luberon, the Luberon’s best villages are located in The Golden Triangle. The Triangle is made up of seven startling pretty towns: Bonnieux, Gordes, Goult, Lacoste, Menerbes, Oppede and Roussillon.
Mr T and I spent a week exploring all of these towns bar Oppedes, as well as a few others during our time in this beautiful region of Provence, and so here you’ll find a run down of each of these towns’ highlights so you can plan your own magical trip to the Luberon…
As mentioned in my post, An Introduction to the Luberon, Mr T and I stayed just outside of the gorgeous town of Gordes during our week in the Luberon.
Gordes would probably be one of the most famous towns in the region, known for its perfectly tiered external walls and location at the top of the GoldenTriangle, facing the gorgeous green valley of the Luberon below.
Unlike some of the other villages in the Luberon, Gordes is also home to five star hotel La Bastide de Gordes, which has a fine dining terrace restaurant, giving blessed diners 180 degree views of the valley and the Luberon Mountains.
If you would prefer the service that comes with a hotel rather than a villa stay, La Bastide de Gordes is a fairly safe bet and although we didn’t stay there, dining in the restaurant and walking through the hotel gave us a pretty good indication of the calibre of the accommodation. It is super posh, beautiful and I’m sure it would be worth every penny of the 350 euros per night minimum cost! You can see images of the hotel here.
Gordes is one of the more difficult towns to access, and if you choose to walk there from your nearby abode, as we did, be prepared with a hat and comfortable shoes because it’s a fairly steep incline up hundreds of stepts into the town, typical of many of the villages in the Luberon.
The town of Gordes is very quaint and on the smaller side. There is a main square featuring a few touristy shops, an ice cream shop, some restaurants and a few cafes.
Gordes also has a handful of beautiful hole in the wall art galleries that I recommend you stumble across as you navigate the skinny, steep footpaths.
Goult is a teeny tiny residential village perched on a hill in the middle of the valley of the Luberon. The main appeal of this town is its view over the valley, and some of the most Instagram-worthy “street” corners that you’ll ever see.
It is absolutely fascinating to see the tiny but picturesque houses the locals live in in this village that feels so very far away from the suburban sprawl of Australia!
Here’s the proof:
Menerbes is one of my absolute favourite villages in the Luberon. I just adored this place, and have since discovered it was where author Peter Mayle lived during his year writing his famous 1989 book, A Year in Provence.
Menerbes has the gorgeous Luberon views over the valley you’ll come to expect (but no less appreciate) as you explore the region and a few pretty photo opportunities as a result of the big church high up on the hillside.
Menerbes feels even smaller than Gordes, with just a scattering of retail shops, and some local artisans shops such as a boulangerie (bakery), patisserie (pastry shop) and a few cafes and restaurants.
The town also doesn’t seem to get overrun like some of the others we visited, and manages to hold onto a distinct local and authentic ambience.
It tends to feel like the domain of the people of Menerbes, rather than a town that caters to tourists, and really this is what every traveller hopes to find when they explore!
Nearby the church there is an absolutely gorgeous five star hotel, La Bastide de Marie, which is basically what dreams are made of.
A quick peek inside on our travels revealed a startling pretty outdoor terrace restaurant and a vineyard. Unfortunately I had no idea the hotel even existed before stumbling across it and so didn’t have the luxury of sampling the five star beauty. But with its elegant interior and cellar door, I’d say it’s a luxe hotel in the Luberon you wouldn’t want to miss. I’m already making plans to go back and stay here…
Bonnieux is another personal favourite of mine of all the towns in the Luberon. Nestled on the border between the Little and Big Luberon Mountain ranges (there are three all up), it is picturesque and interesting, and a trip to the Luberon wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this spot.
Again, sitting high up on the hill with views over the valley below, Bonnieux is on the bigger side of the towns in the Luberon and also has more to offer in the way of retail and general things to see and do.
Its Saturday market is absolutely gorgeous and goes for street upon street, starting at the base of the town and spiralling up the heights of the village. In saying that, it is nothing like Apt, where its famous Sunday market takes up practically the entire town and becomes utterly overwhelming. Apt also lacks the historical, provincial charm that many of the Luberon towns such as Bonnieux, have.
At the market you’ll be spoilt for a choice of locally made cheeses and cured meats, fresh produce and plenty of arts, crafts and leather goods (handbags!). There is also a handful of elegant retail stores the further up the hill you go, as well as a nice selection of cafes and restaurants. You’ll even find a few surprising examples of street art.
On the Saturday morning that Mr T and I went, we enjoyed a café crème in a quintessentially French café with yellow table clothes and a suitably happy proprietor who clearly appreciates how good she’s got it! This is the way to spend your days in the Luberon.
We even spotted a Hollywood celebrity walking the streets of Bonnieux, and we’re not surprised, given none of the locals seemed to even notice him! No paparazzi in these parts…
The cobblestoned village of Lacoste is another beautiful and yet distinctly unique place to visit in the Golden Triangle. Again set high up on a mountain with view to the Big and Little Liuberon Mountains, it overlooks the village of Bonnieux, giving you more of those spectacular vistas.
You can actually walk from Bonnieux to Lacoste via a path through the valley, which will take around 45 minutes, although you probably wouldn’t want to do this in high summer!
Lacoste is known for its theatre-driven history and its castle ruins, which, in a bit of trivia, were actually bought by fashion designer Pierre Cardin in the 90s. Today, musical and theatrical works are still performed there, and in July each year thousands flock to the tiny town for world-class opera, theatre, and music performances.
This time of the year conincides with the Festival d’Avignon, another the renowned summer performance festival in the city hub of nearby Avignon.
As far as the town goes, it is a pretty and petite town characterised by its skinny laneways and steep stairs that lead to the centre of town. The town is beautiful in isolation, but add those green valley views and its almost perfect.
For Australians like me, villages of this sort are the stuff of fairy tales – the sort of places that exist in picture books and the movies, but not in real life. And Lacoste is so quintessential provincial it would be easy to mistake it for a film set.
If driving to Lacoste, the steep road up to the centre of the town means you’ll need to find a car park somewhere along the length of that road, and walk the remainder of the way up.
If the distance to your car ends up being too long, the good news is there is a simple brasserie just before the climb up to the town’s centre where you can stop and revive with a café crème, un verre d’eau (a glass of water) or, if you’re easing into holiday mode, une bouteille du vin (a bottle of wine)!
Walking up the limestone steps of Lacoste, you’ll find unique, artisan stores and retailers to keep you plenty entertained as you stroll the narrow streets. A word of warning though, Lacoste is very small so in the peak of summer these footpaths will be fairly overflowing with travellers like yourself.
But don’t let that put you off! A good tactic for avoiding the crowds is to get to the town nice and early on one of the days the village holds its artisan market.
Mr T and I deliberately planned our trip to Lacoste on a market day and it made for an ideal way to start the day. You’ll find a few retailers, some fresh produce and some gourmet sweets.
We can highly recommend the calissons, hand made and sold by a local Frenchman at the beginning of the market. We had no idea what they were, and in my broken French I expressed that although I was keen to sample the sweet delights, Mr T was gluten intolerant.
But to his joy I was able to detect in the artisanier’s response two words: “pas farine” ( not flour). Hooray! The cakes are made with almond flour and are rich and delicious with a firm, moist texture. YUM.
Roussillon is vastly different from the other towns in the Luberon, due to its characteristic natural red earth and rock surrounds, and its colour-matched buildings.
It’s worth a drive to this town just for the visual effect this has – it really is totally at odds with the look of the other towns in Luberon, and you can get some great photos of the red earth as well as the views over the valley.
The town felt to me a little more on the touristy side compared to the other villages, but not in an oppressive way. There are a few shops and a handful of cafes here, but certainly not enough to keep you there for longer than an hour or so.
There’s also a historic cemetery in Roussillon, if you’re into that sort of thing! Some people find graveyards creepy but I love old, character-filled cemeteries like this one.
Oh, and a word of warning: Beware of the woman who works at the local ice cream shop! Unfortunately people like her are the reason the “grumpy, arrogant, rude” French stereotype exists! Her attitude certainly made for good entertainment, though…
As I mentioned above, Apt’s Saturday and Sunday market is well renowned and absolutely GARGANTUAN. Be prepared to shuffle behind throngs of people down the narrow streets as you throw your head from side to side, trying to take in every colourful and vibrant stall that passes by.
As far as markets go, you won’t find a better or more extensive offering anywhere else in the region. It almost reminds me of the overwhelming markets of Spain, such as the famous Sunday El Rastro flea market in Madrid, where you can spend a full day scouring for treasure – as long as you’ve got the energy and the funds!
Apt is the biggest town in the Luberon region and is a hub for much of the population. You’ll find all your usual supermarket chains and a much larger variety of restaurants, shops, and accommodation than the other towns in the area.
However, with the size and convenience you lose the beauty that you will find in the other towns mentioned above.