As a lifelong francophile, I devoured British author Peter Mayle's books written when he and his wife lived in the south of France. I lived vicariously in the Luberon when reading A Year in Provence, and I've dreamt of exploring the region ever since. My dream came true during one beautiful April when my cousin Kelly and I spent four days in Provence, using Aix-en-Provence as our base. We rented a car for two of those days, one of which was spent exploring the Luberon villages, l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Gordes and Ménerbes.
This was roughly our route.
Our first stop was L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, about an hour northwest of Aix and 40 minutes south of Avignon. The River Sorgue surrounds this charming town giving it its nicknames of the Island City or the Venice of Provence.
In addition to its canals, it's known for its antique dealers, flea markets and art galleries. We were there a few days before Easter while the town was preparing for the 500 antique and second-hand dealers to set up shop to sell their wares as they do twice a year, at Easter and in August.
We wanted to bring this pig home.
Once a fishing village, it now relies on a healthy tourist trade. Walking over the quaint bridges above the canals, we were able to get a good feel for the town.
Highlighted in the Russel Crowe movie A Good Year, this hilltop town lives up to its designation by the French government as one of the "most beautiful villages of France". Inhabited since the prehistoric era, Gordes has suffered plagues, earthquakes and bombings. About a year before the end of WWII, Gordes was attacked by the Germans resulting in 13 deaths and five deportations. During the reconstruction after the war, it's not surprising that Gordes began to attract artists such as Marc Chagall and Jean Deyrolle.
Its winding, cobblestone lanes spiral around the hill leading to the 11th century castle at the top.
The views from atop the hill are lovely.
A few more photos of Gordes.
Peter Mayle and his wife fell in love with the Luberon and decided to move from Britain, buying a "mas" or farmhouse on the road between Ménerbes and Bonnieux from which he wrote several books. After visiting these villages, I could see why they chose this area of France.
These are called plane trees and they greeted us as we approached the village.
Like many of the other towns in the Luberon, Ménerbes is an ancient walled village and is also designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
We loved wandering through the narrow lanes, enjoying the beautiful homes.
Notice the carving in the stone, "a sound mind in a sound body". I thought that was interesting and wondered about its origin. Regardless, the door itself is a gem!
These are the views we were treated to from Ménerbes.
And it didn't hurt that this was how we ended our magical day!
➜ Top Tips
Starting from Aix which is about an hour away, visiting three towns in a day was doable. Of course, it would have been better to linger longer in each one, but we felt we got a taste of each of them as well as the beautiful countryside.
Be aware of parking options. Some lots/areas were free, but others required payment. Watch for the big "P" or "payant".
Wear comfortable shoes as there will be a lot of walking, and some hills.
Take a good camera!