Belvoir - a Luberon villa:
Menerbes is in the heart of Provence, and it is also halfway between the Alps and the Pyrennees, Italy and Spain, the Cote d'Azur and the Languedoc. It's the perfect location for exploring the best of the Mediterranean region.
Gordes (15 minutes from Menerbes).
Shopping in Gordes.
Medieval streets in Gordes.
Food shopping in Cavaillon.
Cafes in Gordes.
Painted door in Roussillon.
Shopping in Roussillon.
The Sorgue river at Fontaine de Vaucluse.
Cafe in Oppede-le-Vieux.
Marquis de Sade's castle, Lacoste.
Garden at the Maison de la Truffe et
The Mediterranean at Cassis.
Marquis de Sade's castle in Lacoste, scene of unspeakable acts, orgies, and other fun things.
Roussillon is known for its surreal ochre quarries.
Isle-sur-Sorgue is a village full of antique and bric-a-brac shops where you can pick up a real souvenir of Provence. It is known as the antiques capital of France. On Sunday mornings the streets are lined with stalls selling mainly bric-a-brac.
Fontaine de Vaucluse is where a deep spring feeds the Sorgue river. 'Fontaine' means 'fountain' and Vaucluse is the name of the department (state) you are in. It's said that all the rainfall that comes off the mountains feeds into this mysterious spring, which is over 1000 feet deep (but the bottom has never been reached). Fontaine de Vaucluse is the name of the village as well. It's best to visit during the week - at weekends the world and his dog are drawn there. There are places on the Sorgue where you can hire a canoe or kayak and drift down the river - someone will pick you up and take you back to your car.
Ventoux. This is the mountain that looks snow-capped year-round,
but is in fact topped with a white shale. In the winter it does have snow
and some people go skiing and toboganning there, though runs are short.
You can drive to the top and enjoy stunning views to the Mediterranean
and over to the Alps. It can be cold at the top even in summer. Extremely
fit people cycle to the top - it is one of the most notorious stages of
the Tour de France cycle race - and this is an all-day endeavour.
Aix (Aix-en-Provence), is a lovely city of art and artists, fountains and thoroughfares, universities and youngsters, as well as having ancient roots going back to the second century BC. Nearby Sainte Victoire is the mountain Cezanne spent much of his time painting.
Arles was a major Roman city and the surviving sites, such as the Arena and the Theatre, are unique in that they are integrated into the houses and buildings of the town, rather than sitting apart as they do in places such as Orange. Arles is also where van Gogh had one of his most productive periods.
Les Baux de Provence is a spectacular old fortress village on a hill.
The calanques are deep narrow inlets, like mini-fjords, that cut into the cliffs between Cassis and Marseille. The colour of the water is stunning and some calanques have tiny harbors or beaches at the ends, and rock climbers scaling the walls along the sides. You can't drive to the calanques - you either hike or take a boat trip from Cassis or Marseille harbour.
The Camargue is quite unlike anywhere else here - a nature reserve of birds, bulls and white horses, as well as rice paddies and salt plains. Best seen in the saddle - horse or bicycle.
Glanum, just outside St Remy, is a fascinating Roman site with well-preserved buildings giving a real feel of life in Roman times.
The Gorges du Verdon is a spectacular canyon up to 700 m deep and 21 km long - compact, wild and beautiful. From Castellane to the village of Rougons, the Verdon river flows clear and swift, and the road follows along the banks. Perfect for hiking, climbing and watersports.
Marseille, 1 hour away, is France's second city, a very lively place with wonderful seafood.
Just off the coast, near Toulon, Porquerolles is a mostly uninhabited island of Mediterranean forests, rocky calanque coastline, nature reserves, beaches, boating and one little village. This is probably what the Cote d'Azur was like 100 years ago. A ferry ride is 15 minutes and there are no cars allowed, only bicycles. It is very lovely and the 'high street' has almost a Caribbean feel to it. If you are into scuba diving you can explore the underwater world too.
Port-Cros is smaller than its neighbour Porquerolles, but more mountainous and thickly forested. There is a pretty little port guarded by ancient forts. The whole island is a nature reserve, excellent for walks and hiking.
Remy is a picturesque, busy town with a good choice of restaurants
and hotels. The road between St. Rémy and Cavaillon is arrow-straight
and lined by plane trees - like French roads are portrayed in films. This
is where Nostradamus and van Gogh lived, and where Princess Caroline of
Monaco lives now.
There are two vineyards worth visiting just outside Menerbes, on the D3 to Robion/Cavaillon.
Domaine la Garelle is run by a Dutchman who has always dreamed of growing wine in the south of France. He speaks English. The other is a hi-tech vineyard - Domaine de la Citadelle - attached to the corkscrew museum (Musee du Tire-Bouchon) which you can take a tour of. This operation is owned by the mayor of Menerbes who has also renovated a building in the village square that is now dedicated to local wine and truffles.
Luberon wines are improving fast. Not long ago they were just table wine but now they are catching up with the Rhone wines. For great wines you need to head to the Rhone valley, starting just north of Avignon. Gigondas and Vacqueyras are not well-known but can be very good. With Chateauneuf-du-Pape you tend to pay for the famous name. Drive another hour up the Rhone towards Lyon and you come across the great names of Rhone wine - Cornas, St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, Condrieu and the marvellous Cote Rotie.
All vineyards are set up to give you a taste of their wine with no obligation to buy. You can buy any quantity from one bottle up, and most will ship abroad.At the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin, in the Place de la Mairie, Menerbes, there are 2-hour wine appreciation courses in July and August. Click on the link for more information.
Explore the daily markets for food and arts and crafts.
Avignon (40 minutes away)
Coustellet (10 minutes)
Cavaillon (15 minutes) - Monday morning
Gordes (15 minutes) & Lacoste (5 minutes) - Tuesday morning
Robion (10 minutes) - Thursday morning
Bonnieux (10 minutes) - Friday morning
Oppede-le-Vieux (5 minutes) - Saturday morning
Apt (20 minutes)
There are more than 4000 km of marked paths over hill and mountain in the Vaucluse region. The "petite randonnée (PR)" are the shorter hiking paths, and "grande randonnée (GR)" are bigger hiking paths which criss-cross Vaucluse, through the wine country, across the lacy Dentelles de Montmirail, and even an entire loop around Vaucluse.
Or you can just walk heading for the Luberon mountain opposite - there are many paths that go up to the top or along its flanks. If you are planning a long hike, take some precautions: always take water, and a cellphone if you have one, or else tell someone where you're heading.
Cycling is a lovely way to see everything - bicycles can be hired in Bonnieux and Cavaillon. There are over 100 km of marked bike paths through the best parts of the Luberon.
A good alternative to cycling around the Luberon, trips are organised by several equestrian centres nearby.
Le Luberon en Ballon, Roussillon, Tel. 04.90.05.61.46
Golf de Pont Royal
Golf de Châteaublanc
Provence Country Club
Golf Grand Avignon
Two very good restaurants for about $/€50 a head, both with excellent outside settings in the summer:
Mas de Tourteron (04 90 72 00 16, closed Sun-Mon) in Les Imberts (5 minutes away) has a very good reputation throughout the region, well-earned.
La Bastide de Marie (04 90 72 30 20) 2 km away on the road to Bonnieux has very limited capacity and must be booked well ahead. Shouldn't be missed though, because you feel like you have stepped into a Provencal postcard, and a very classy one. The food is outstanding (and the wine is free).
In Menerbes there is Clementine, which is cheap and cheerful if you don't want to drive anywhere, and has a great view. La Rabasse has been favourably reviewed by a previous guest. The other restaurant in Menerbes, Le Galoubet, is best avoided in my experience.
All the good restaurants of the region will be in the guidebooks in the house.
Lacoste - 5 minutes
Provence on the Web
Guides to the Luberon:
the Van Gogh trail in Arles
Provence in pictures (and quotes),
gives you a good impression of the region:
Provence books and DVDs
See my recommended books and films about the Luberon and Provence by clicking here.
Any questions? Ask me here!
Photography: Copyright John Medhurst, Paolo De Paolis 2004