The Luberon, located in the southern part of Provence, France, is filled with small villages that define the charm and beauty of the beloved region. Most are medieval in origin with ancient stone edifices and monuments still intact—and some are traced as far back to Roman times in the 3rd and 4th century. Town squares where food and flea markets prevail; plane, olive and fig trees lining the streets; clusters of ivy climbing the walls of the sun-kissed buildings; and outdoor cafes where espresso and pastis are savored are just some of the characteristics that make these villages so irresistible.
We visited a number of villages during a week’s stay in the Luberon last summer and here are four of our favorites.
Château de Lourmarin, originally a 14th-century fortress, is the entrance point of Lourmarin. The handsome chateau was last owned by historian and cosmetics tycoon Robert Laurent-Vibert, who bought it 1920, luckily saving it from demolition. He went on to extensively restore the chateau, filling it with a treasure trove of 16th- to 19th-century furniture, paintings, engravings, objets d’art and musical instruments. Today, it’s a museum that exhibits many items from the owner’s collection. In addition to temporary art and photography exhibitions, the chateau sponsors a young musicians' classical music festival in the summer, which is held on the grounds outdoors.
The renowned food and flea market on Friday draws people from around the region and the vast market covers a major part of the village. Local vendors sell the freshest produce and regional artisanal foods, such as local olives and olive tapenade, jams and jellies, and herbs de Provence in burlap sacks; in summer, bunches and sachets of the legendary Provence lavender, honey, wine, bread and pastries, and dried sausage. If you want to bring home some authentic Provence-made souvenirs, choose among the stalls that offer plant- and flower-scented soaps, colorful, handwoven baskets and tote bags, tablecloths, placemats and cloth napkins in classic Provencal patterns, pottery and ceramics. The Lourmarin market is open every Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Restaurants and Hotels
La Rouche a Beurre is a rustic restaurant that specializes in roasting meats on a hearth.
For the best pizza in the village, Pizza Nonni bakes their pizzas in authentic. wood-burning ovens for maximum flavor.
Hotel Bastide de Lourmarin is a four-star hotel in a converted Provencal house with 17 rooms and two suites. Room amenities include air conditioning, an in-room coffee maker, private terraces and, in selected rooms, a whirlpool. There’s also a heated, outdoor swimming pool, and spa services by appointment.
Tall cliffs in a rich ocher color, contrasted with emerald green forests is the standout attraction of Roussillon. The village has a well-marked and easy-to-walk trail that has a former ocher quarry inside a forest. The local shops sell jars of the brightly hued pigments to paint with.
Take a stroll through the town to discover the 17th- and 18th-century buildings painted in ocher, and also visit the art galleries and crafts shops that feature works from artists and artisans who live in the area.
Roussillon has a small but well stocked food and flea market with 30 stalls and is open every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In a side bit of historical trivia, playwright and author Samuel Beckett took refuge in Roussillon during World War II when he was in the Resistance. He also referenced Roussillon in his famous play, "Waiting for Godot."
Restaurants and Hotels
La Grappe de Raisin serves excellent Provencal-style cuisine and has an outdoor terrace with killer views of the ocher cliffs.
For more casual fare with French pastries and dishes like quiches, goat cheese salads and croque monsieur, Café la Poste is on the main street.
Le Mas de Roussillon is an old farmhand building reestablished as a four-room bed and breakfast with comfortably appointed rooms and contemporary bathrooms. There’s a lovely garden with chaises and chairs and an outdoor swimming pool.
Set atop a formidable mountain, Lauris commands sweeping views of the Luberon mountain range and Durance Valley. Walking through the hilly village, you will discover charming houses with painted shutters in red, purple and periwinkle and festooned with ivy and vines and seasonal plants and flowers.
A formal garden from a former chateau with rows of uniformly planted plane trees and a pond is a serene place to relax and also to take in the view.
Just outside of Lauris is Silvacane Abbey, a 12th-century Cistercian monastery open to the public with striking Gothic and Romanesque style architecture. The abbey also serves as a cultural center that sponsors art exhibits and concerts.
Restaurants and Hotels
La Table de Margot is a clever combination of a home accessories boutique and stylish restaurant. The restaurant serves traditional French and international cuisine with seasonal ingredients, such as confit de canard, osso bucco, Moroccan lamb tagine with almonds and apricots, and tarte Tatin.
Le Domaine de Fontenille is a private compound on a wine estate incorporating a five-star hotel, a spa and wellness center, two restaurants, a winery, and a vegetable and herb garden that supplies the restaurants. A former 18th-century noble mansion, with only 19 rooms and two suites, Le Domaine de Fontenille pampers its guests in true French luxury. Le Champ des Lune is the haute cuisine, Michelin-star restaurant, and the more informal La Cuisine has an outdoor terrace shaded by rows of plane trees. The hotel also has an outdoor swimming pool and sauna.
A sprawling, spring-fed basin lined with 200-year-old towering plane trees form the town square, Place de l’Etang, is the highlight in Cucuron. Every Tuesday, the food market on the square brings together the townspeople and on the last weekend of July, there’s an antique flea market. The square also has many of the town’s best restaurants, cafes, and food shops, including the top ice cream in the region, La Glaciere.
Across from the square, is an ancient, stone arch, which was originally the entrance point of the village. If you continue walking past the gate, you will encounter a myriad of medieval houses and structures, including the Eglise Notre-Dame de Beaulieu, the original city hall and the 13th-century church. If you keep climbing the hills to the very top, you will discover a great aerial view of the village and environs.
Restaurants and Hotels
The quaint Hôtel de l'Etang, painted on the outside in daffodil yellow with mint green shutters on the town square, has six rooms, some with terraces overlooking the basin and the square.
The hotel also owns La Petite Maison, a Michelin star restaurant with noted chef Eric Sapet. The restaurant was popularized by Peter Mayle in his best-selling book, "A Year in Provence," which was also featured in the film version, starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard.
The closest main train stations to the above villages are either Avignon or Aix en Provence, which are both about a 50- to 60-minute drive. Avignon is three-hours by TGV train from Paris and Aix en Provence is three hours and twenty minutes. Both stations have major car rental services on site.