The Luberon boasts many charming villages, two of which are classified as Plus Beaux Villages. Moreover, there are wooded hills with plenty of good walking, great markets, excellent restaurants and a producer of quality wines. All in this relatively unspoilt corner of Provence.
The Lavender fields in June have to be seen to be believed. Perhaps June, along with September when there are fewer visitors, are the best months to enjoy the Luberon. This is also a good time to explore the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon created in 1977 to protect the area.
The Luberon includes not only the mountain itself and its slopes but also the valley to the north along which the D900 runs following the course of the Via Domitia, the old Roman road linking Italy and Spain. Until the 1980s, this was a sleepy area, between the Durance and the Vaucluse, which many had never heard of. However, the phenomenon of A Year in Provence, the autobiographical novel written by Peter Mayle, came along. Now everyone wanted to visit, or even live, in the Luberon.
Despite being blamed by some for spoiling the Luberon, Mayle has in fact been responsible for a boom in tourism which many of the locals are quite happy about and indeed grateful for. Villages which were dying have been brought to life. Nevertheless, it has to be said that these same villages are deserted off-season as people return to Paris and London.
If you plan to stay overnight you will find plenty of good accommodation in Apt.
From the A7 Autoroute take Sortie/Exit 24 and head east on the D900 direction Apt/Forcalquier for about 22km. Soon you will see the Luberon massif on your right and on your left the Vaucluse Plateau. Keep heading east and at Beaumettes turn right onto the D103 and after about 3km you will arrive at the village perché of Ménerbes. This is the first of our plus beaux villages and was the home of Peter Mayle for a while.
Ménerbes like many villages here has a wrought iron belfry on its church tower. This acts as a defence against the notorious Mistral or Master wind which blows in these parts. You’ll find another 6km to the east on the D109 to Lacoste. This particular perched village was home to the notorious Marquis de Sade whose castle has been restored by fashion designer Pierre Cardin.
Continue along the D109 for 5km till you reach Bonnieux. Perhaps the Luberon’s best known perched village with great views of Lacoste and Mont Ventoux, Provence’s Bald Mountain. Leave Bonnieux on the D36 and after 5km turn right onto the D943. Cross the Luberon Mountain before dropping down into the plus beau village of Lourmarin with its fine Renaissance Château. You can make a short excursion from here by continuing south on the D43 across the Durance to the Abbaye de Silvacane. This is one of the so-called ‘Three Sisters of Provence’ along with Senanque and Thoronet.
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Retrace your steps across the Mountain and turn left on the D36 to Bonnieux, take the D149 out the village heading towards the D900. You will pass the vineyards of the Chateau Canorgue, made famous by the movie ‘A Good Year’ starring Russell Crowe, on your right and eventually arrive at a traffic island. On the other side of the ‘rond-point’ park up, walk a few meters, and gaze in awe at the amazing Pont Julien which only recently closed to vehicular traffic. Back in the day, Pont Julien carried the Via Domitia over the Calavon River.
Return to the rond-point and take D108, cross the the D900 and continue on the D108 for 4km. Soon you will reach the amazing red plus beau village of Roussillon and its strikingly beautiful Chaussée-des-Géants. The seam of ochre which makes everything red round here stretches east and, if you have time, follow the D227 to St-Saturnin-lès-Apt and then the D179 to the nearby grandly titled Le Colorado Provençal de Rustrel.
Return via the pretty village of St-Saturnin-lès-Apt, follow the D2 for 17km and you will come to the striking village perché of Gordes your final plus beau village of the trip. The best view of Gordes is on your right as you climb the hill. There is very limited parking both here and in the village itself.
The final attraction on this itinerary is the second of the three sisters, the Abbaye-de-Sénanque. If you can time your visit for late June you will be rewarded with one the most striking and well known views in the world as the lavender field before you is juxtaposed with the austere stonework of the Abbey.
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