A Summer Vacation in The Luberon
We planned our first Provence vacation to evenly split across two areas: the Bouches-du-Rhône and the Luberon.
Though Aix-en-Provence felt like a default component of my first visit to Provence, we chose the Luberon mainly because we needed to find an area that still had availability so late in the high season (we may have planned this vacation less than a week before we took it) and that wouldn’t require too long a drive from our first point of stay. We didn’t want to pass an entire midvacation day in the car—especially after spending a large portion of the first day of our trip and the last day of our trip driving to and from Lausanne, Switzerland, to Provence.
Also, it didn’t hurt that I learned we could make a day trip from the Luberon to Avignon, one of my dream cities.
A Base in Ménerbes
We rented an AirBNB in the outlying areas of Ménerbes, from which we could see more stars than I can ever remember seeing and within which, at night, the silence felt profound.
We almost didn’t visit the actual village, yet with a little time left in the afternoon before dinner on our last day, we walked through it. I felt glad that we did—we joined several other groups walking and photographing: The city has just that many gorgeous scenes.
In truth, though our countryside location had plenty of peace and quiet, I think I would have liked staying in the tiny little medieval town better.
Gordes, The Village des Bories, and the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
Walking around Gordes before and after lunch will showcase its gorgeous views of the surrounding valleys—and you’ll find many tourist families doing the same. (However, you won’t find much to do other than eat lunch and walk around a bit, so don’t plan much time for Gordes proper.)
After seeing several small towns in Provence during our visit to the Bouches-du-Rhône and elsewhere in the Luberon, we’d started to become relatively nonchalant about the stunning landscape. However, even our grown-accustomed eyes marveled at the view of Gordes spilling down the hill from a road on the other side of the valley. Driving on the busy street prevented us getting a good picture—though we tried!
Near to Gordes, you’ll find a little area called the Village des Bories. A man purchased the land in the 1970s and restored its limestone peasant farm huts into a time-capsule museum of a different time, place, culture, and reality. Though the Village des Bories doesn’t present much to see, the lives and hardships of a poor agricultural community scraping through life in a very barren landscape will stick in your mind.
In the same region, you’ll find an old monastery where seven Cistercian monks still live today: The Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. We visited after the workers had harvested the surrounding lavender fields (a site for many a Provence photo, I understand), though we arrived early enough in the day to take an augmented-reality tour of portions of the medieval cloisters. (After late morning, the abbey allows visitors only on guided tours.) I especially enjoyed the virtual tour’s insights into the daily lives and duties of medieval Cistercian monks.
Céreste for Scaramouche
Flipping through a chic little exclusive-Provence guidebook for sale at the Château de la Coste, I found a listing for an ice cream shop in a little town called Céreste. With an ice-cream loving husband and some time before dinner, we took a detour over to try the tastes at Scaramouche.
Arnaud had a cone with scoops of chocolate, chestnut, and something called 1001 Nights, a specialty of the house that featured eastern spices and grilled almonds. After eating a nearly nightly ice cream for the past week—making him an expert in Provençal ice cream in my estimation—he said Scaramouche handily took the best-ice-cream-in-Provence prize.
Bonnieux, like so many towns in the area, perches atop a hill and features a medieval church and incredible valley views. L’Arome, a restaurant run by the chef and his wife, had fresh, delicious food that included a tasty cheese plate for dessert (for me, anyway!).
La Table de Pablo in Villars
In truth, the only reason we visited Villars—and the only sight we saw in Villars—was our destination restaurant, La Table de Pablo.
The highly lauded chef, Thomas Gallardo, comes from the region and runs the entire restaurant solo, from the reservations through to the sourcing, cooking, and serving. He manages the complexity by requiring reservations in advance and limiting his guests. For our visit, ours made for one of three total tables, each seating a couple.
Everyone has the option of three, four, or five courses and you can choose whether you want the main course to feature fish or meat. Otherwise, the chef guides the components of each dish (taking into consideration any expressed allergies, of course). Also, he guides a fun, pumping (yet conversational-level) music playlist that included Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry on the night we visited.
If you visit the Luberon, travel to La Table de Pablo—after making reservations in advance, of course. (And for a few more details on our meal, read my post on all the delicious food things in Provence.)
The Luberon: An Outdoor Wonderland for Ambitious Cyclists
The Luberon features incredible views from tiny towns perched at the top of hills and considerable opportunity for outdoor activities including hiking, running, and cycling—and less modern art and culture than the Bouches-du-Rhône area. (However, it has plenty of culture! Read my post on museums in Provence, for a ranking of the must-sees.)
I loved seeing all the little towns and the incredible views, yet I confess that they blended together after a while. Arnaud pointed out that, though all the little villages in the Luberon compete for the “most beautiful village in France” designation (yes, such an award gets handed out each year), all of them have the same general framework: one bakery, one specialty food shop, three cafés, five real-estate agencies, and two arts-and-crafts boutiques.
However, if you love cycling (and have the fitness required for long days of cycling in the mountains and in the heat), the Luberon would make for a dream destination. With an avid-cyclist husband (he’d wither away without his ice-cream habit), I felt a little sorry that he visited with a noncyclist like me and had to spend his time going from place to place in a car.
Oh, and about driving in the Luberon: The roads are narrow, winding, and go up and down through mountains. A twenty-mile trip can easily take you an hour. Plan accordingly!