Everyone has either heard or visited Provence, located to
the South East of France, bordering Italy to the east, the
Mediterranean Sea to the South, the Languedoc Roussillon
region to the west & the Rhone Alps to the north. It is a
beautiful & stunning region of France, full of character, a
sweet moderate climate & pure clean air. The incredible contrasts between
its rich & natural environment – the blue skies, the lavender fields, the
subtle nuances of the green forests & the flamboyant colours of the cliffs
of orchre, red or the stark white of the limestone hills all adds to its beauty
Some years ago we had based ourselves in Avignon, and did day trips to
Aix-en-Provence, Arles & Marseilles. This fuelled our appetite to explore
Provence in more detail.
Last June we decided to explore the small villages of Provence in France.
We stayed in a lovely airbnb place called “Mazet Des Lavandes” next to
Pierre Cardin’s Chateau Parottier & spent glorious six nights in the tiny
village of Lioux in the Luberon Valley. A car is very essential & we hired
one at Marseille airport.
Lioux is a small village north of Apt and at the foot of the Monts de
Vaucluse . The village is part of the Luberon Regional Park .The village is
at the foot of the “cliff Madeleine” (locally called Falaise de la Madeleine)
which is an imposing & magnificent cliff of grey limestone, the huge
Rock is 700 meters long & over 100 meters high and towers the village of
Lioux is far from the main highways, a beautiful, serene, & calm village.
Nearby are the villages of Murs 7 km, Roussillon 8 km, Joucas 6 km, Goult
11 km, Villars 14 km, Gordes 12 km, Apt 14 km, Bonnieux 21 km, all just
a short drive away.
Our host Ann Parker & her husband Mike run a superb B&B
(firstname.lastname@example.org) & were fantastic in giving us all the tiny
details about the area. The house was beautiful & one could see the Falaise
de la Madeleine from the terrace of our room which changed colours from
white to golden as the rays of the sun fell on its wall. It was the most
stunning sight to see the cliff with the sun’s rays reflected on its surface
giving it a glorious white hue in the mornings & changed to a golden
colour with setting the sun. Ann informed us about the weekly Village
Markets that moved from one village to another. If you missed it in one
village you could catch it in another. Visiting the village markets was to
experience the local Provencal flavor, full of vivid colours & vitality.
Our first taste of the village market was at the Lourrmarin Market held
every Friday morning in the centre of the village. We jostled alongside
the locals & tourists through the streets, feasting our eyes on a huge array
of fresh local, seasonal fruit and vegetables; meat, fish, bread, olives,
tapenade, honey and conserves, herbs and spices, cheese, goat cheese,
flowers, oils and wines, ready-to-eat rotisserie chickens, Provencal fabrics
and house-wares, clothes, straw hats, jewellery & the famous Provencal
pottery. Walking through the market was a heady experience. Other small
nearby villages we drove through were Bonnieux, Lacoste & Menerbes.
Next morning, was the Saturday Market in Apt which is the biggest
of the Luberon weekly markets & is held at the Place des Martyrs de la
Résistance. This market takes place every Saturday morning year-round,
and dates back to about 900 years. The market spreads through several
winding alleys and squares in the heart of old town. Apt is 10 km from
Lioux & the market is very popular as thus attracts hordes of locals from
the nearby villages as well as tons of tourists which gives the town a very
festive & colorful ambience and parking can be an issue if one arrives
late. It is a very typical Provencal town reputed for its fresh local produce.
There is a real buzz, vitality & vibrancy in the air as you stroll from stall to
stall soaking in the flavours & sights & partaking in the jovial camaraderie
of the shoppers & tradesmen. Lots of local different cheeses, honey soaps
& of course lavender pouches for its fragrance were on display.
Evening we visited the village of Gordes, 10 km from Lioux. The drive
was very picturesque as the road on either side was full of lavender fields
in full bloom which made you feel that you are going through a painting
by Monet. Gordes stands on the edge of the plateau of Vaucluse & is
better known as a hilltop town of the Luberon. Gordes is listed as “One
of the most beautiful villages of France”, The village is set around the
rock & the white & grey stone houses rise up in a spire around this rock.
Due to its priviledged position one can see Gordes from miles around.
The village is dominated by its church & castle perched atop the hill,
an imposing edifice of stone that attracts many tourists. Once on top you
can explore the fortified castle enclosing the city with its narrow streets,
cafes, restaurants, shops & lovely houses. The panoramic view from top is
spectacular of the mountains, the valley & the fields in the distance.
Rousillon: It is a short drive of 9 km from Gordes. Rousillon is a very
pretty village located in the countryside next to the Monts de Vaucluse.
The village is considered one of the most visited apart from Gordes & is
one of the most impressive villages in France. A “must see” in the Luberon
situated in one of the biggest orchre deposits in the world. The village is
also well known for being home to Samuel Beckett during the Second
The most memorable feature of Rousillon are its magnificent red cliffs
& its orchre quarries below the village. The spectacular range of colours
in the curiously shaped white-red-orange rock formations is an unusual
experience especially when the rays of the setting sun falls on the rocks.
The red & brown shades of earth form a striking contrast to the surrounding
greenery & the vivid blue of the Provencal sky. The exceptional quality of
light make this a magical site & many artists have been seduced by this.
The charm of Rousillon is to leisurely stroll around the picturesque
narrow alleys & squares, explore the numerous gift shops, art galleries,
cafes, restaurants, boutiques and admire the beautiful houses & charming
B&B’s & hotels. The colours of the houses here reflect the colours of the
rocks & this creates a unique appeal quite different from the other villages,
thus visiting Rousillon is absolutely delightful. The views from the top are
On Sunday morning we drove to the market in L’Isle Sur-La-Sorgue,
which is more a town than a village, located where the River Sorgue splits
into two streams, the L’Isle of Sorgue sprang up. The town has become
famous since the last 40 years for its the antiques. There are many Antique
shops, art galleries & interior design shops. Every Sunday people from far
& near throng here for the Antique & the Sunday market. More than 300
stalls line the street, the vendors selling antiques, second hand goods, side
by side with fresh produce, vegetables, fruits, preserves, olive oil, honey,
soaps, lavender, pottery, linen, etc. Walking along the canals you see the
waters run between narrow ancient streets with little foot bridges to cross
& the great water wheels full of green moss turning the waters of the river
are testimony to the silk & paper industry that flourished here long ago.
From here we proceeded to Fontaine de Vaucluse.
L’Isle Sur La Sorgue
Fontaine de Vaucluse, just 7 km from L’Isle Sur la Sorgue is also one of the
most visited. The village takes its name from the beautiful & mysterious
spring that feeds the river Sorgue. The village is well known due to the
impressive spring that is situated at the feet of a steep cliff 230 m high.
The spring comes from deep underground & no one knows its depth. This
gigantic source is the most powerful in France & fifth in the world. 630
million cubic metres of water flow out every year making it one of the
largest springs in the world. The walk to the source is lined with souvenir
shops & the river flowing on one side makes this town very beautiful &
different from the other villages in the Luberon. There are lovely boutique
shops, cafes & very nice restaurants. Parking can be a big hassle in the
The Musee de Lavande is in Coustellet, a short drive from Sur la Sorgue.
It is a warm, friendly & a unique place to visit to discover the history of
lavender. It is entirely dedicated to lavender. The museum gives detailed
history, the tradition and the agriculture of true lavender. Their shop “Le
Chateau du Bois” introduces the many properties of the essential oil of
lavender showcasing the products & cosmetics made of 100 % pure essential
oil of true lavender. It was a very informative & interesting visit that told
the story of Lavender. Lavender flower is the emblem of Provence. Due to
its many virtues, medicinal properties, the essential oil of true lavender is
the most widely used in the aromatherapy & the perfume industry.
A magical world of multi media, entrancing images & music was what
awaited us in the historic site of Les Baux de Provence in the heart of the
Alpilles. Located in the former limestone quarries dug out by the hands of
man since the Roman era stands today Le Carrieres de Lumieres which
hosts extraordinary multimedia shows which are unique in the world.
Culturespaces & their media partners have created a fantastic technological
audio visual where images are projected on the entire surface of the rock
including the floor & the ceiling. It is a journey of visual art & music, we
witnessed the show of Chagal which was a mind blowing experience.
Other small villages on the Lavender route are Sault, Mazan, Venasque,
Mures & Joucas. There is a concentration of lavender fields on the high
plateaux of Sault & the foot of the Mont Ventoux. Lavender blooms around
the last week of June & beginning of August it is harvested. The colour
& the aroma of the lavender flowers is a heady combination not to be
The closest international airport to visit the Luberon is either Marseilles
or Nice. One has to hire a car as public transport is negligible. The driving
distance from Marseilles airport is 1hr 30 mnts & from Nice it is 3shrs.
From Paris there is the TGV train 2hrs 56 mnts to Avignon & then drive
from Avignon train station to Lioux is an hour & 5 mnts. The distances from
Lioux to the villages around are not more than an hour & a half.
To experience the lavender fields, the Provencal light, food & wine, best
time to visit is mid June.