Villages to visit in Provence
Provence borders Italy on the east with the famous Côte d’Azur/French Riviera to the south and to Avignon to the west and the start of the Rhone Valley up to just south of Grenoble. It is a huge region and such an amazing place to explore. In August, I was based in Cabrières-d’Avignon, I felt lucky that most of these beautiful villages and places were a 30-45 minute drive. There are so many medieval villages to visit, markets to visit and historic sites to see.
- Gordes: lovely cobblestone streets, set high up on a hillside. There are a number of events in summer; concerts and exhibitions. Beautiful views of the Luberon Valley from here.
- Lacoste: beautiful medieval village set high up on the hill overlooking the valley below. Careful footing in places is needs as some roads within the village are very steep. Pierre Cardin bought the famous château here over 10 years ago and has since bought many buildings and set up a school. Pierre Cardin bought and renovated most of the old village and the Savannah School of Art and Design was set up here. Somewhat a ghost town out of season, it is however worth a visit to ramble through the cobbled streets and climb up to the old chateau, where there is a wonderful panoramic view of the Luberon valley.Bonnieux: another picturesque village. Wonderful café and bakery here; it was a welcome stop on my biking journey around the Luberon!
- Cabrières-d’Avignon: unlike some of the other villages, this is not perched high on a hillside overlooking the valley but I find it charming with a few restaurants, a butcher, a boulangerie and a community feel. It is a beautifully preserved medieval stone village with the Foret de Cedres offering a perfect spot for picnics in the summer months. It is also the location of La Bastidon, a local wine producer which makes excellent red, rose and white wines. The village is just a kilometre away from the mur de la peste, a stone wall that was built around the city of Avignon in the middle ages, to prevent the spread of plague from the papal seat.
- Abbaye Notre Dame de Sénanque: this is an historic abbey founded in the 12th century and there are guided tours in French. With a 2 year old in tow, I couldn’t quite keep up with the guide but I hope to learn more about the Abbey online!
- Isle Sur la Sorgue: there is a huge market on Sundays here but in the summer make sure you get up early and are prepared to be ‘carried along’ with the crowd. It is twinned with Venice, as the old town is an island. The centre is for antique shops and crafts.
- Avignon: I recommend spending a day here to give you enough time to explore the town, and have the opportunity to go into Palais des Papes, enjoy the sights and the view of the famous bridge
- Kayaking: From the town of Fontaine de Vaucluse to Isle sur la Sorgue, you can kayak down the river which takes about 2 hours (and is 8km). The water is pretty cold but it’s only every knee deep or waist high. You can hire kayaks for 2 or 3 people. The water is crystal clear and it’s fun; almost effortless as the current helps take you downstream. The water in the river is a constant 13C and great for kayaking through either one of the operators. Make sure to walk up through the village to see the source of the Sorgues which erupts from the depths of underground tributaries and transforms into a calmer and slower moving river as it reaches the village.
- Wineries: There are a number of wineries here and my local is Domaine de la Bastidonne which is family owned and run since 1850 with 30 hectares. They produce white, red and rosé wines. I love their Ventoux rosé at just over €6 a bottle.
- Oppède-le-Vieux: Prepare yourself for a climb up to the top. It can get quite rocky here so get your thighs ready! Cobbled streets, cafes and restaurants. Climb up to the old chateau through the cobbled streets and admire the view from the stone balustrade in front of the church. Two cafes and a restaurant are in the main square below along with a chambre d’hotel.
- Ménerbes: Every year in summer they hold a soap box race where people build their own cars and race down the hill helped by the addition of soap suds. It’s quite a sight to see! And they have a very yummy ice cream store here.
- Venasque: A bit further from the other villages, in the Monts de Vaucluse, but worth seeing is the restaurant Les Remparts located in village overlooking the valley below. Fantastic food and great value, if I remember correctly, prices ranges from €9 for an entree to €20 for a menu. Excellent views of the gorge de Venasque from the terrace outside.
- Roussillon: the village of Roussillon famous for the ochre which is found in the clay around the village. These range in different colours to yellow, orange and red which cover the buildings in different shades making it colourful and vibrant looking village. Stunning village. Ochre is a mixture formed from kaolin and oxides,(not clay). The multiple shades of ochre pigments were used for paint and dyes and these can be seen clearly in the ochre cliffs. The walk through the disused quarry ‘Sentier des Ochres’ provides a wonderful view of the vivid colours and wind sculptured formations that have developed over the years.
- Goult: another wonderful picturesque village. I was fortunate to go on a walking tour that passed through the surroundings. At the bottom if the village is the Cave de Lumières which sells local wines from Côtes du Ventoux and Côtes du Luberon and they offer tastings
- Bonnieux: There is a market on Fridays. Beautiful perched village with cobblestone streets and interesting arts and craft shops.
If possible, give yourself at least one week to explore the villages and local area. If you want to go kayaking while you’re here, go at the end of August or beginning of September so the weather is still warm! For less crowds, aim for the return to school which will be the second week in September.