Aaah the ‘Art de Vivre’, the art of living, the French know what it’s all about. Although the term originally implied luxury and elegance, it’s really more about enjoying life’s simple indulgences – wandering timeless cobbled streets, savouring a pungent piece of local goat’s cheese or taking time to converse with neighbours in the market. After all, why hurry? Indeed nowhere is this way of life embraced more enthusiastically than in the beautiful Luberon region, a protected area lying in the French south between Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. Long a well-kept secret, Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” put a stop to that, as visitors arrived to enjoy the long hot summers, stunning purple lavender fields, medieval churches and simple village life of the Luberon and Vaucluse ranges.
To really experience the region’s idyllic lifestyle head this way in low season. Winters can be harsh and the locals baton down their hatches. Instead try spring when days are warmer and wild flowers bloom, or autumn when golden colours light up the countryside cliff faces. Explore these, the most beautiful of Provençale villages, unchanged for a thousand years – Gordes, Roussillon, Lourmarin, Bonnieux, Lacoste, and more wait for you to discover them. During these low season periods, prices are lower, producers and restaurant owners have more time to relax and chat and you’ll find the peace you came for.
Love to shop? Well there is a Luberon market for every day of the week, selling local bread, olives, honey, cheese, pottery, and handicrafts. These are a fun place to mingle and do some outstanding people watching. They vary from tiny affairs with a handful of stalls, up to 300 sellers in the case of the Saturday market in Apt. Most start early and are packing up by lunch, although some, like the one at Velleron, are evening events. Many function year round and you’ll find better prices in the low season, especially in the markets of Lourmarin and l’Isle sur la Sorgue.
Hiking & Biking
A network of beautiful routes is accessible for walkers of all abilities. Whether you opt for a week long serious trek or gentle strolls, you’ll come across hidden caves, Roman ruins, old mills, abandoned villages and stunning views. Make use of the well signed paths between villages. Take morning coffee in Bonnieux, then wader the 45 minute trail to enjoy lunch in Lacoste. Cycling is also popular, with a number of circuits taking in all the best sites. To avoid hills try the Calavon River route which follows an old rail line.
Castles in the Air
Each village was built around its own castle, so there are many to explore. In low season, you may even find you have the place to yourself. Some Luberon castles date back as far as the 10th century and are in various states of repair. The well-preserved example at Gordes lies in the very centre of the village, while Lourmarin Castle is surrounded by olive trees and is used for exhibitions and concerts. The Marquis de Sade fled to the castle at Lacoste to escape his riotous Parisian reputation, and it’s now owned by fashion designer Pierre Cardin. Others, such as Oppede and Merindol, are in ruins but are worth visiting for their great views.