Itineraries Day trip ideas to inspire

If you visit Provence, chances are you are going to go on day trips in the car to take in some of the wonderful scenery, villages and towns, markets and culture, with a good restaurant or picnic stop on the way. But where to go? Here are some themed itineraries to guide you.

Friday markets and south Luberon itinerary

This itinerary takes advantage of the two Friday morning markets in two of the Luberon’s best villages – Bonnieux and Lourmarin. Both are distinctive and very picturesque, and as they are on at the same time you know you are not going to see the same stalls at each.

Start at Bonnieux, where the market starts up around 8am. Around the church at the bottom of the village are mostly apparel and materials. The market continues over the roundabout with the colourful bag stand, and up to the square where it is predominantly mouthwatering produce.

Lourmarin is on the south side of the Luberon mountain, but that is only 15 minutes from Bonnieux and a lovely winding drive through the break in the mountain. It’s better to go to Lourmarin second because it has more lunch options (not that Bonnieux suffers from a lack of restaurants). The market could not be more attractive, with the village on one side and the renaissance castle on the other. Lourmarin itself is full of life and elegance, it is a little more spread out than the perched villages, consequently more forgiving of tourists and easier to walk around.

In the centre of Lourmarin you will find a choice of restaurants and cafes spilling onto the street.

After lunch, a half-day excursion may be enough, but that would be to miss out on the other gems of the south Luberon, all close by. Cucuron for instance, with its surprising water basin dominating the heart of the village, was stunning enough to be the location for movies The Horseman on the Roof and more recently that (made-up) outdoor cinema scene in A Good Year. Around this water basin are more restaurants, including La Petite Maison, with its Michelin star. To get a gorgeous aerial view of Cucuron go to the top of the tower at the other end from the church. You’ll see the rooftops of Cucuron and the surrounding countryside.

Ansouis is a little peach of a village rising out of the vineyards, also with a very good restaurant, La Closerie. At the top of Ansouis, and dominating the whole village, is the perfectly preserved Renaissance castle. The castle is privately owned but there are afternoon tours in season. Ansouis survived the middle ages relatively unscathed and its architecture rewards a wander through the streets.

If you want to continue along the ‘small is beautiful’ route, the nearby village of Vaugines is just that. On arrival you are met by a striking Renaissance church in a verdant setting. The village is all handsome facades, and then a little square – the centre of Vaugines – a cafe-restaurant and a mossy fountain. And that’s it. Oh so quiet… streets untrampled by other visitors, a place to sip a refreshing drink and watch the fountain because here the world does not go by.

Most Beautiful Villages itinerary

In France there is an official association called The Most Beautiful Villages of France. It has an exclusive membership of just 157 out of more than 35,000 villages in France. Five of them are them are clustered in a small area in the Luberon.

The busiest of these is Roussillon so start here and aim to arrive early in the day. When you do you will see why it is so popular, with its extraordinary palette of reds, yellows and oranges from the neighbouring ochre quarry. Roussillon is very photogenic, as is the disused ochre quarry, where the colours are even more exaggerated. Don’t go to the quarry with your best shoes because the ochre will discolour them. You can follow the ochre trail (sentier des ocres), a circular walk of about 30 or 45 minutes through the spectacular landscape.

Fifteen minutes from Roussillon, Gordes is perhaps the best known of the Luberon villages, its iconic facade piled high on a hill has been pictured in a thousand magazines and coffee table books. When you arrive on the approach road and first see it, the urge to take its picture is irresistible. Inside the village the fine houses are gathered around the protection of the castle and church. There are a good number of restaurants and cafes, as well as boutiques and on Tuesday morning a good market in the streets. In summer Gordes hosts cultural events and night-time concerts in its al fresco theatre.

In another 15 minutes you are in Menerbes, a village that had its moment in the limelight when Peter Mayle lived here and wrote A Year in Provence and its sequels. Today Menerbes is much less busy than Gordes and Roussillon, and in a way more rewarding. Unlike the typical perched village that is built on a hill in the form of a pyramid with the church and castle at the top and the houses cascading down, Menerbes floats lengthways like a ship over a sea of vineyards. On one level are the restaurants, bar and a few shops, and along the upper level are the centuries-old grand houses, citadel and church. In the main village square the Maison du vin et de la truffe, celebrates (and sells) local wine and truffles.

Now it is time to head south, passing through the cut in the Luberon mountain that takes you to Lourmarin. The village of Lourmarin has everything to make it a star of the Luberon – a wide choice of restaurants, street cafes, art galleries and boutiques, year-round life, and a great market (on Friday mornings). Lourmarin is not a perched village so you can explore its streets on the flat. When Peter Mayle returned to the Luberon he moved here, and you will understand why.

The smallest and quietest of the Most Beautiful Villages of France in the Luberon is Ansouis. Because it was on the stronger side in the wars of religion in the 1600s, Ansouis is beautifully preserved, and dominated by a 12th century castle that is intact. Ansouis castle is privately owned but there are guided tours in the afternoons from April to October when you can see the 17th century furnishings and tapestries. Other attractions in Ansouis are a quirky little sea-themed museum set up by an artist/diver, which is called the Musee Extraordinaire (extraordinary museum), a street cafe and a Michelin-starred restaurant, La Closerie.

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Maison Saint Antoine: 43.941989, 5.068946
Avalon: 43.903628, 5.210137
Villa Roussillon: 43.890362, 5.299208
Les Vignes: 43.840439, 5.213013
La Rourette: 43.943627, 5.247753
The Lourmarin Cottage: 43.763342, 5.364171
Maison de Gordes: 43.915482, 5.208474
Les Coudelieres: 43.933545, 4.974167
The Ansouis House: 43.737360, 5.464647
Maison de Bonnieux: 43.822572, 5.309476
St Hilaire: 43.829442, 5.256647
Villa Lioux: 43.944654, 5.286570
Les Petitons: 43.832236, 5.165591
Les Madeleines: 43.898511, 5.076885
Moustier de Menerbes 1: 43.829105, 5.209177
Moustier de Menerbes 2: 43.828788, 5.209821
Les Ocres: 43.900737, 5.286419
Bastide des Oliviers: 43.858513, 5.103021
Mas des Oliviers: 43.859364, 5.102184
Domaine de Gordes: 43.915022, 5.209435
La Roubine: 43.915022, 5.209435
Mas de Joucas: 43.910775, 5.255365
Les Heyrauds: 43.845751, 5.220469
Villa Lavande: 43.861221, 5.315881
Villa Ansouis: 43.752575, 5.448521
Provence Pines: 43.869575, 5.414806
La Beaume: 44.115329, 5.054162
Mas de Menerbes: 43.851458, 5.190225
Grambois Manor: 43.762230, 5.588865
Menerbes Vista: 43.833362, 5.205084
Grand Fontvert: 43.864195, 5.516108
Fontvert: 43.864149, 5.515775
Domaine de l\'Oratoire: 43.857430, 5.291762
Capucine: 43.857276, 5.291290
Marquis: 43.857430, 5.291977
Libertine: 43.856997, 5.290947
Calavon: 43.856626, 5.290689
Senanque: 43.856842, 5.290132
Villa Lacoste: 43.827933, 5.247452
Mas d\'Oppede: 43.828569, 5.173143
Les Vignes: 43.826748, 5.251497
Le Paradesque: 43.845384, 5.167018
Mas du Thor: 43.956835, 4.974704
La Fontaine Basse: 43.892450, 5.569725
Mas Les Tours Ouest: 43.858849, 5.250644
Maison Oppede: 43.839449, 5.166171
Mas de Murs: 43.958362, 5.217971
La Grand Bastide Menerbes: 43.839559, 5.204869
Villa Menerbes: 43.830619, 5.210597
Mas d\'Apt: 43.868679, 5.388484
Maison Oppede: 43.828977, 5.161384
Villa Dumaines, Cabrieres: 43.892444, 5.152480
Villa les Oliviers, Oppede : 43.834379, 5.176289
Villa Castelas, Bonnieux: 43.823622, 5.311986
Villa Détente : 43.846982, 5.167645
Mas de Ruby, Maubec: 43.851597, 5.135625
Maison Lacoste: 43.833044, 5.273545
Mas du Chateau, Lagnes: 43.894793, 5.115951
Maison Briand: 43.823430, 5.306400
Maison Saint Andre: 43.762078, 5.369018
Villa de la Petit Etang: 43.928318, 5.381581
Mas Les Sauvestres, Gordes: 43.907180, 5.226460
Maison Lagnes: 43.894091, 5.113870
Maison Les Emiyeux: 43.913120, 5.413900
Mazet du Hameau, Gordes: 43.873568, 5.183056
Maison Saint Saturnin: 43.928468, 5.382581
Maison du Vallon: 43.842899, 5.192467
Les Blayons, Bonnieux: 43.823976, 5.312148
Mas de Royere: 43.856193, 5.161600
Villa Parisot, Cabrieres: 43.888486, 5.143130
Domaine des Pradelles: 43.926375, 5.375794
Bastide d\'Oppede: 43.842159, 5.177173
Mas de la Lone: 43.903436, 5.085105
Villa du Petite Bois: 43.846621, 5.167432
Villa Belle Roche, Menerbes: 43.830659, 5.207299
Le Clos des Hauts d’Oppede : 43.834397, 5.164938
Villa Puyvert: 43.758508, 5.340124
Mas des Vergiers: 43.845916, 5.012564
Villa Perreal, Saint Saturnin: 43.926255, 5.372998
Maison Pervenches, Viens: 43.891736, 5.563072
Clos de Colette: 43.846380, 5.112680
Maison Vaucluse: 43.845192, 5.171327