Hill top towns of the Luberon
Hill top towns of the Luberon
Apt, Bonnieux, Buoux, Cavaillon, Fountain de Vaucluse, La Coste, Les Gordes, L'isle sur La Sorgue, Ménerbes, Oppède le Vieux, Roussillon
In Provence, the Luberon is a valley lined with rugged hills just east of Avignon. Much of this area is actually a National Park. The rugged hills are lined with medieval villages that cling to the cliffs. On the south side of the valley are the Mountains of the Luberon, and to the north lies the Vaucluse Plateau. Stone buildings made from the vivid rock in the region are brightly colored. The towns were built in dizzying locations to protect themselves from attack, although not always successfully since the region saw many battles throughout its history. Lavender fields, vineyards and olive groves line the valley.
A great day (week or even a year) in Provence usually involves driving through the Luberon and stopping whenever the mood strikes in any of the lovely small towns. Most offer no specific site except for their French hilltop beauty. The area has become quite popular since it was the setting for the book "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle.
The strong wind that blows in from the Mediterranean is known as the "mistral". You'll notice that it effects the landscape and architecture, from leaning trees and vines, to windowless south facing walls, even hollow church steeples made from wrought iron. Here is a list of the best towns with a brief description of each one.
Apt- Known for its sweets, especially the beautiful glacéed fruits, this town makes a great base for discovering the Parc Natural Régional du Luberon.
Buoux- Most popular for the nearby Fort de Buoux, an abandoned medieval village that includes original walls, a keep, houses and a 13th century church. The fort is accessible by foot from a parking area.
Bonnieux- This town is located on a steep hill with terraced streets and wonderful views over the valley. Of interest is the Musée de la Boulangerie, an ancient bakery turned into a museum about the history and techniques of baking. This town is featured in Peter Mayle's book.
Cavaillon- Surrounded by fruit and vegetable fields, this town is known for the Cavaillon melon - smaller than a cantaloupe, with brilliant orange flesh, smooth pale yellow-green skin and greenish ribs. Once an ancient roman settlement there is a Roman Ach in place François-Tourel.
Fountain de Vaucluse- Located just below cliffs leading up to the Vaucluse Plateau, this town is known as the Fountain of Vaucluse because it is the source of the Sorgue River. The river rises from a hole at the base of the cliffs and then flows through the heart of town past the main shops and cafés. This natural spring is one of the most powerful in the world, pumping 60,000 gallons of water per second in the winter and early spring. By late summer the flow slows considerably but it is still a sight to see.
La Coste- Small town with a hill top castle and great views of Bonnieux, featured in Peter Mayle's book.
Les Gordes- This village is by far the most popular with tourists from the everyday to the rich and famous. The town clings to the cliffs near the Vaucluse Plateau. By far the most chic of the hill top towns, it is an amazing sight as you approach. The steep cobbled streets are lined with boutiques, gift shops, exclusive hotels and restaurants. In the center of town is the Château de Gordes. A castle dating back to the 11th century which was rebuilt with a Renaissance interior in the 16th century. The castles houses the Musée Pol Mara, featuring art from the Belgian artist Pol Mara.
L'isle sur La Sorgue- This canal town's name means island in the Sorgue. The river flows through town and is crossed by pedestrian bridges and lined with waterwheels that date back to the time when the town was famous for its fabrics. Today the town is known for its antiques (Brocante), and its Sunday Market is one of the most popular in France. Arrive before 9:00 AM or you may not find parking!
Ménerbes- A sleepy simple town featured in Peter Mayle's book.
Oppède le Vieux- This town is less touristy and recent renovations to the buildings have started an arts and cultural movement.
Roussillon- The ochre colored rock found in the hills nearby was used to build this most picturesque hill top town. As you approach you will notice the bright red, yellow and orange tinted houses that line narrow winding streets around a hill. There are great views over the valley to the surrounding mountains. Note that this is one of the most touristy towns in the region.
We think the best day to visit any of these is on the town's market day. Please follow the link to learn more about Markets in Provence. Also note that this region of France honors the Mediterranean tradition of an afternoon siesta. Many shops and restaurants close for a couple of hours in the 1:00 - 4:00 time frame. Some towns will seem almost deserted during this period.
Private Guides: See Provence and learn about its history with a private guide. www.PrivateGuidesInEurope.com
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