After 4 months of home-time, we finally have options. So I thought it was time we had some travel content around here. I’ve really missed travelling to new places and making adventures but I haven’t wanted to post about travel when none of us can really go anywhere. So here’s my long overdue Travel Guide to the Luberon Valley in the South of France.
So were is the Luberon?
If your geography is a bit lacking. Think Provence. Fly to Marseille, drive about an hour north and you’re right in the heart of the Luberon Valley. Well 2 Valleys actually – Grand Luberon and Petit Luberon. How very French.
We first discovered the Luberon 10 years ago. We flew to Nice and had a few days in Grasse, the perfume capital of France, on our way to our usual holiday in North East Spain.
Provence without the crush
If you love the idea of Provence in mid summer but don’t fancy the cramped overheated Cote d’Azur, then heading inland and uphill to the Luberon will suit you perfectly. You’ll get all the sunshine, all the lavender and plenty of space. This will be particularly true if you’re looking for a “covid safe” break.
Last summer we booked an Airbnb in the heart of the Luberon Valley, on our way home from our regular fortnight in Spain. It’s characterised by rolling vineyards, dramatic rock formations that surround the valleys and some delightful “plus belle villages”.
So the prospect of a few days in rural France was just about the perfect finish to our summer break.
It’s amazing what you can fit into a 3 day mini trip with a little bit of planning and a hire car.
When the Airbnb is called Etoile du Luberon, the star of Luberon, you already know it’s going to be a good one. Geraldine and Lionel’s 2 storey village house in a tiny hamlet near St Martin le Brasque is just about the most tranquil place you will hope to find. Beautifully restored and decorated, their home has a lounge/kitchen downstairs and open plan bedroom/bathroom upstairs. The 2 levels are joined by a quirky spiral staircase, not for the faint hearted, or for those carrying 2 glasses of wine.
The elegant freestanding bath is the star of the show with just a couple of steps to a pile of fluffy towels and the super comfortable bed. We enjoyed the cute balcony off the bedroom with bistro set for breakfast or morning coffee.
There is nothing more refreshing that being able to step out of your front door after dinner and take a stroll around the village, along the vineyards and catch the setting sun.
MY 7 MUST DO THINGS IN LUBERON
If you’ve gone to the trouble of travelling to this stunning part of France, you’ll want to embrace the full Provencal experience. That would include 7 “must do” things. So let me help you make a plan.
1 THE FRENCH MARKET
Let’s agree on one thing shall we? There is nothing more wonderful that a proper French market. It’s so much more than just a bunch of stalls. It’s a community gathering, a social hilight and the perfect place to get a real taste for french culture and gastronomic delights.
We spent our first morning at the weekly market of St Martin le Brasque which, by the way, is the tiniest village. We expected to spend 10 minutes looking round a few stalls. How wrong were we? The car park was almost full. People were dashing from every direction with their shopping baskets. It couldn’t have been more busy. Every type of fruit and veg, as well as handmade crafts, soaps and many lavender products.
Our final morning was spent at Cucuron market delightfully set around a large walled pond surrounded by tall plane trees. We sat and drank coffee with the locals, and a fair few Brits abroad, admired the multitude of melons and the array of pumpkins, and had a narrow escape from a gorgeous cashmere scarf. Hmm, should I have bought it?
2 THE PLAT DU JOUR
Being dairy free, I was surprised and pleased to see so much goat’s cheese, goat’s milk, goat’s yoghurt – even goat’s milk creme fraiche, which I’ve never seen before and was delicious with a big slice of tarte au pommes.
Fresh olives, giant tomatoes, and a well dressed salad are all things the French do particularly well. And then there’s the charcuterie. I know we’re supposed to avoid processed meat but it really is a tasty treat once in a while, especially served with some oozy french cheese and crusty baguette.
Also as a footnote. French supermarkets even in rural France seem to have their act together with the single use plastic issue. A quick scan of the fruit and veg counter and you had to look quite hard to see any plastic packaging at all. There were bags available for the loose veg but all biodegradeable. Good job.
3 THE LUBERON GRAPE HARVEST
What a treat to be in rural France for the grape harvest. Despite mechanisation, it was lovely to catch a glimpse of the traditional ways. Vines dripping with the sweet red grapes, parasols moving along the aisles to shade the workers, tractors pulling overflowing crates through the country lanes. When you see a little of the hard work, resilience and passion that goes into wine growing, it gives you a new appreciation for that Friday bottle you pick up on the way home. I wonder what tiny percentage of that £8 bottle goes to the farmer who tends those vines all year round?
4 LUBERON VILLAGES AND TOWNS
On our first day we travelled west towards Lourmarin (antiques market), Bonnieux (tasty lunch with a fine view), Gordes (what a stunner), Le Fountains de Vaucluse (large ice creams), and L’abbaye de Senacot (a good excuse to hide from the 30 degree sun in a lovely cool building).
The towns of Valensole, and Riez, to the east, are at the centre of the lavender industry and have a very different vibe. Working towns taking a breath after the crazy summer season of harvesting and the tourism that goes with it. I would love to go back in late June, when the high plateaus of Valensole are at their purple best, but not sure I would enjoy the crowds that inevitably follow.
No visit to the lavender plains is complete without a little detour down to the Gorges du Verdon with it’s majestic rock structure and azure blue lake. The Gorge is surrounded by high sided valleys covered with woodland, hidden villages and plenty of water sports for the adventurous.
Did you know that there are 2 kinds of lavender. Fine lavender also known as True Lavender, most of which goes to the perfume houses, and 80% of which is produced in this little region. There’s also a hybrid version
Lavendin (Lavendula hybrida) has a powerful lavender scent as is used for soaps, cosmetics and the lavender bags sold on every corner.
Determined to find some lavender, even though the harvest is long gone, we headed up to Valensole. After much searching, we found just one farm with a field of baby plants. They’d obviously just been planted but were too young to cut the flowers. But not too young to be photographed from every angle. By me. And just to be clear, I didn’t arrive with an entourage, 5 outfits and a changing tent. Apparently this is pretty normal for mid summer. Let’s have some respect for the farmers hey?
Since we’ve had a bathroom renovation, I’ve become pretty obsessed with soap. Beautiful soap, Chemical free soap, Cruelty free soap. Green soap, mainly. Is it bad that I bought 11 bars? They were all so pretty. It was hard to resist.
Savon de Marseille is an internationally recognised brand and it all started by a couple of families, a few generations back in Salon de Provence. We visited, of course.
The problem is – all my soaps are so pretty, I may never be able to actually use them.
7 THE LUBERON SUNSET
I’m not a lark so rarely see the sun rise. But I’m there for all the sunsets. I plan ahead. Check the weather app for timings. Run if necessary. It’s worth it. I promise.
Sunsets, in my experience, can be enjoyed one of two ways – but not both together. Either in the perfect spot with camera and tripod, or secondly, in another perfect spot with cocktail in hand. Both are great. I’ll let you choose.
We won’t be travelling abroad this year but watch out 2021. If travelling is easier and safer we’ll be heading back to the Luberon sunshine for sure.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little review and it’s made you curious to explore a new area of France that you might not have considered. And if you do, I’d love to hear all about it.
That’s all for now.
NOTE – I wrote this review about our pre covid trip in September 2019.