12 Top Tourist Attractions of Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon, Provence
An idyllic piece of rural landscape, the Luberon Natural Regional Park (Parc Naturel Régional du Lubéron) is an off-the-beaten-path area of the Haut-Vaucluse in Provence. This UNESCO-listed nature reserve is based around the rugged mountainous area of the Montagne du Lubéron. The 120,000-hectare reserve encompasses limestone mountains, rolling hills, serene valleys, orchards, and farms. Medieval hilltop villages and historic towns dot the landscapes of the Luberon, and scattered throughout are ancient "bories" huts (centuries-old herdsmen's buildings).
The picturesque villages of the Luberon are some of Provence's most charming, unspoiled tourist destinations. Exploring this area requires a driving itinerary, but it's worth it. Wander the charming towns and stroll cobblestone lanes while soaking up the Provençal ambience. Admire stunning views of the landscape and savor the authentic regional cuisine. The melons of Cavaillon are famous for their delicate flavor. Ménerbes is home to prized truffle dishes and the Bread and Goat Cheese Market, and Cadenet offers artisan products and specialties such as grilled quail with tapenade, chestnut soup, and cherry clafouti.
1 Gordes: A Picture-Perfect Hilltop Village
This picture-perfect hilltop village is justifiably listed as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France). The lovely setting of the village (40 kilometers from Avignon) has attracted famous artists including Victor Vasarély and Marc Chagall. As a typical village perché (perched village), Gordes stands dramatically on a steep promontory overlooking the landscape. Its perched location protected against invasions during the Middle Ages. The 16th-century Château de Gordes dominates the village with its immense fortifications and medieval towers. The château is open to the public and houses the Pol Mara Museum. Near the castle at the Place du Château, tourists will enjoy the lively ambience of the cafés, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
A must-see attraction five kilometers outside of Gordes is the Sénanque Abbey. This 12th-century Cistercian abbey enjoys a peaceful setting of lavender fields and rolling hills. The abbey is still a working monastery, but tourists are welcome to attend the religious services in the chapel and explore the grounds. Visitors can also see the abbey on a guided tour.
2 Ménerbes From A Year in Provence
Listed as one of France's "Plus Beaux Villages" (Most Beautiful Villages), Ménerbes is a characteristic Provençal hilltop village about 40 kilometers from Avignon. Because of its beautiful natural setting and charming small-town atmosphere, the village began to attract writers and artists in the 20th century. But it was the famous author Peter Mayle who really put this village on the map with his novel A Year in Provence (published in 1989), which was set in Ménerbes.
The village's atmospheric streets are lined with old houses and historic monuments. Be sure to see the 14th-century Parish Church; the 18th-century Chapelle Saint-Blaise; and Le Castelet, the village château that was built on the ruins of a medieval fortress. Ménerbes is a vibrant community with many local artisan shops and lively events and festivals throughout the year. In July and August, there is an outdoor cinema festival. On November 8th and 9th, the Santon Fair prepares visitors for Christmas with a market of traditional manger figurines. Ménerbes is also renowned for its gastronomy. The Bread and Goat Cheese Market takes place on May 11th and a Truffle Market is held on December 28th.
3 Lourmarin: Provençal Festivals and Art de Vivre
Lourmarin, another of the Luberon's Most Beautiful Villages, offers a taste of the Provençal art de vivre (art of living). In a protected valley at the foot of the Luberon Mountains, Lourmarin is sheltered from the Mistral winds and enjoys pleasant, sunny days. The village is filled with outdoor cafés, bustling bistros, excellent restaurants, and inviting hotels as well as artisan boutiques and art galleries. Get lost wandering the old streets, relax in peaceful fountain-adorned squares and discover the historic monuments. Be sure to see the Eglise Saint-André et Saint-Trophime, founded in the 11th century and renovated in the 16th century in Romanesque and Gothic style. The village also has an interesting Protestant temple, an austere house of worship built in the early 19th century. On Fridays, enjoy the authentic village ambience at the traditional Provençal market.
A highlight of Lourmarin is its Renaissance Château de Lourmarin. Standing majestically on a hilltop, the château overlooks the Lourmarin Valley, the Durance Plain, and the Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Views from the château's tower are exceptional. During summer, the château hosts two music festivals. The Festival des Musiques d'Ete in July, August, and September offers an extensive program of classical music concerts at the château. The Festival Yeah! takes place at the château and different venues throughout the village. This trendsetting musical festival features hip-hop, pop, rock, punk, and electronic music performances. The Robert Laurent-Vibert Foundation supports an Artist in Residence program, bringing talented painters, sculptors, and musicians to the château during the summer months.
Near the village, a scenic viewpoint on the crest of the Grand Lubéron Mountain offers a magnificent panorama and fantastic photo-ops. Another worthwhile excursion, about ten kilometers away from Lourmarin, is the village of Cucuron, at the foot of the Luberon Mountain. Cucuron is the starting point of a hike up to the Mourre Nègre viewpoint. Other attractions here are the Romanesque and Gothic parish church and the Musée de Cucuron (also known as the Musée Marc Deydier) housed in the Hôtel des Bouliers, a gorgeous 17th-century mansion.
4 Roussillon: A Village Perched on an Ochre Cliff
A stunning village perché (perched village) listed as one of France's Most Beautiful Villages, Roussillon stands on top of an ochre cliff above the verdant countryside. This distinct landscape between the Plateau de Vaucluse and the Montagne du Lubéron reveals the intense color of ochre rocks (used to make pigments), which vary from violet to light yellowish brown. To enter the old town, visitors must walk through the charming Clock Tower. Continue uphill along the narrow steps of the Rue de l'Arcade and the Place de la Mairie and past the church to the Castrum, an observation platform with an orientation panel. The panoramic outlook opens up to the surrounding woodlands, the Plateau de Vaucluse, and Mont Ventoux. Another great viewpoint is from the Rue des Bourgades.
Roussillon lies 17 kilometers from Ménerbes and ten kilometers away from Gordes. Just outside of Roussillon are impressive ochre rock formations, the Chaussée des Géants (Street of the Giants). Another striking formation is the Val des Fées (Valley of the Fairies). Those with a special interest in ochre rocks should visit the Colorado of Rustrel.
5 Cavaillon: A Melon Festival and Rich Jewish Heritage
In the sun-soaked countryside at the edge of the Luberon Regional Nature Park, the little provincial town of Cavaillon is the center of melon-growing in Provence. The village also has an interesting cultural heritage. The Cathédrale Saint-Véran founded around the 12th century exemplifies Romanesque Provençal architecture. Its exterior is austere, but the interior is beautifully decorated with capitals in the apse and an exquisite cloister. Cavaillon also has a splendid synagogue on the Rue Hébraïque. The present 18th-century building features an arcaded exterior and opulent Rococo sanctuary. The building is no longer used as a synagogue, but the former bakery of the synagogue now houses a Jewish Museum, which illustrates the history of the local Jewish population. The site also has traditional Jewish ritual baths from the 12th to 13th centuries. In the 18th-century Hôtel-Dieu (Hospital) is an interesting Archeological Museum (Place Castil Blaze) with artifacts from the Gallo-Roman period, Roman Times, and the Middle Ages.
To celebrate the melon season, Cavaillon has a Melon Festival in mid-July. The town also has two daily markets: Le Petit Marché, which offers gourmet products, and La Fruiterie (23 Cours Bournissac), which sells fresh fruit. Cavaillon's traditional Provençal market, the Marché à Cadenet, is held weekly on Mondays.
6 The Bustling Market Town of Bonnieux
A hub of activity in the Luberon, the hilltop village of Bonnieux has many restaurants, cafés, and hotels. The village is found on the northern slope of the Lubéron Mountain, about 11 kilometers away from Roussillon. The town's Vieille Eglise (Old Church) is a Romanesque church built between the 12th and 15th centuries and dedicated to Saint Gervais. Surrounded by mighty cedar trees, the church stands high above the town with sensational views of the landscape. The panorama extends from the Bassin d'Apt to Gordes and Roussillon and across the Plateau de Vaucluse to Mont Ventoux. The Old Church is reached by a flight of steps from the Place de la Liberté. Bonnieux also has an interesting museum, the Musée de la Boulangerie, which explores the history of bread and its role in civilization from antiquity to the present day. On Friday mornings, Bonnieux bustles with a lively market at Place Gambetta with colorful stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables, jams, local cheese, quiches, specialties such as tapenade, and Provençal fabrics.
7 Archaeology and Artisan Crafts in Apt
This charming village is perched on a hilltop in the heart of the Luberon. The ancient town is on the old Roman road (Via Domitia) and the town's Musée d'Histoire et d'Archéologie has an excellent collection of Gallo-Roman antiquities. Apt was also a flourishing commercial town during the Middle Ages and benefited from its proximity to Avignon (53 kilometers away). Be sure to visit the Cathédrale Sainte-Anne, originally Romanesque but altered in the 14th and 17th centuries. In the cathedral's Baroque Chapelle Sainte-Anne is a reliquary of Saint Anne. The Treasury possesses reliquaries from Limoges and illuminated manuscripts.
Apt draws crowds to its traditional open-air Provençal market on Saturdays. The town is also renowned for its artisan crafts such as hat-making and ceramics as well as its handcrafted fruit preserves.
8 Picturesque Gargas and Prehistoric Caves
Less than five kilometers away from Apt is the tiny village of Gargas, found in a beautiful setting of rolling hills. The village's parish church, the Eglise Saint-Denis is adorned with 17th-century tapestries and paintings. The town's lovely Château des Condés is now the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). Gargas also boasts one of the region's best confectionary shops, the Confiserie Saint-Denis (in the Quartier des Janselmes), which makes candied fruits in the old-fashioned way.
Gargas also draws many tourists to its Prehistoric Caves that were used by Stone Age hunters around 27,000 years ago. The site allows visitors to see the caves as well as the prehistoric works of art, including drawings and paintings of animals. Due to preservation concerns, the number of visitors to this site is limited.
9 Cadenet: Culture, Cuisine, and Festivals
This medieval hilltop village sits on the banks of the Durance River about five kilometers from Lourmarin. Steeped in history, Cadenet has the quaint ambience of a Provençal village perché with its idyllic views and quiet old streets. The village is spread out in concentric circles around the hillsides and is dominated by the ruins of an 11th-century château. Cadenet's 17th-century parish church is outside the historic center. The church features a room filled with sacred relics and unique baptism fonts that were made from fragments of a marble Roman sarcophagus.
Cadenet is a great place to soak up the local culture and savor the cuisine. Throughout the year there are many cultural events and festivals. On Mondays, the town's traditional market attracts locals who come to shop for fresh ingredients and artisanal products. Gourmands will want to stop for a meal at the Auberge la Fenière (Route de Lourmarin), a luxury hotel with a Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant. During spring and summer, the restaurant's patio area is delightful.
10 The Abbey of Silvacane
Discover a famous 12th-century abbey seven kilometers from Cadenet. The Abbaye de Silvacane is a former Cistercian Abbey in La Roque-Anthéron at the foot of the Montagne du Lubéron. The name of the abbey comes from the Latin words "silva cannorum" (meaning "forest of reeds") and indicates that the area was formerly marshland. The monastery was founded in 1144 and completed in 1230. Previously, there had been a monastic community here, which had cared for the spiritual well-being of travelers crossing the Durance River. The abbey's architecture reflects the Early Gothic style of the 13th century. The cloister and monastery buildings were built later from 1250 to 1300 and the refectory dates to the 15th century.
11 Aristocratic Joucas
The lovely hilltop village of Joucas lies six kilometers from Roussillon. Joucas belonged to a group of noble families who gave their property to the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem (they later became the Knights of Malta) in the early 13th century. The village is distinguished by its winding cobblestone streets, ancient staircases, and elegant old houses adorned with potted flowers. The houses feature typical Provençal architecture of stone buildings with pastel shutters and red-tile roofs. Spend time wandering around to discover the charming hidden corners and quiet squares with refreshing fountains. The village enjoys a pleasant setting on a shaded hillside overlooking the patchwork of farmlands in the plains.
12 Lacoste: A Dainty Village Renovated by Pierre Cardin
About eight kilometers from Ménerbes and 13 kilometers from Joucas, Lacoste owes much of its present beauty to renovations funded by the famous designer Pierre Cardin. In a magnificent setting of the Luberon, this small, charming village delights visitors. Lacoste is a medieval village perché with an inspiring hilltop setting, tightly packed winding lanes, and old stone buildings. The village is crowned by its ancient château, where the infamous Marquis de Sade lived in the 18th century. The castle was also restored by Pierre Cardin. Despite being a tiny village, Lacoste has an excellent program of cultural events such as classical music concerts throughout the year. The village also boasts many art galleries and several pleasant outdoor cafés with scenic terraces. From Lacoste, there is a gentle walking path through the Forêt des Cèdres (Cedar Forest).