The Village of Bonnieux
The Luberon Experience is based in the village of Bonnieux, perched on a rocky outcropping near the pass between the Petit Luberon and Grand Luberon mountains. This is an outstanding and very central location in the valley north of the Luberon mountain.
Topped by its old 12th century church, Bonnieux cascades down the hillside and offers a spectacular panoramic view across the fields, orchards, and vineyards of the Calavon River valley. Another mountain range, the Monts de Vaucluse, enclose the northern side of the valley; beyond that, the scree-topped peak of Mont Ventoux rises some 25 miles in the distance. At 1912 meters (6273 feet), Mont Ventoux is a distinctive landmark in this part of Provence and a frequent stage on the famous Tour de France cycle race.
A little history
Bonnieux’s more recent history dates 2000 years to Roman times. The Romans built the Pont Julien bridge, which crosses the Calavon a few miles below the village. The bridge was in use until 2005! The main road through the valley (the D900) basically follows the route of a major Roman road, the via Dometia, that linked Italy and Spain. The early Bonnieux (then called Bitrona) developed in the area near the bridge during this time. Rock was quarried from the hillside where the village of Bonnieux now stands.
Around the 10th century the village shifted up to that hillside so residents could protect themselves from barbarian invaders. They initially lived in primitive caves and the old rock quarries. The old village walls (remparts) were constructed in the 13th century; several segments of these old walls, including two of the old village portals, still remain. A castle once stood at the highest point, but it was destroyed and the stones used elsewhere in the village. The oldest street in the village, tiny Rue Droite, is near the top of the village below the church and old castle site.
Bonnieux’s steep upper streets are lined with 800-year old buildings, most of which are built on top of even older structures and the ancient caves. Knights Templars set off for the crusades from a post in Bonnieux and constructed a small chapel, which was later expanded into the large church at the top. In the 14th century the village belonged to the Roman Catholic popes (then based in Avignon), as evidenced by several magnificent residences that were built for church dignitaries. During this time Bonnieux had a population of around 3500 people.
Bonnieux’s profile is unique in the area because of its two large churches. The distinctive “old” church tops the village. A “new” church was built in the lower part of the village in 1870 and was easier for residents to access. Today Sunday services are held in the lower church every few weeks, on a rotating schedule with other villages. There are several restoration projects underway in the old church, including the restoration of its historic organ. The old church is open occasionally for tourist visits, classical music concerts, marriages and funerals, and special services like the Christmas Eve mass. During the Christmas season an extensive creche is constructed inside the church.
With a population of 1400 people in the village and the surrounding countryside, today Bonnieux is an interesting blend of simplicity and sophistication. Many residents still make their living on small family farms, growing cherries, grapes, and vegetables. There are a few large wineries, but many farmers sell their grapes to Bonnieux’s “cave cooperative,” which markets and sells good, inexpensive wine. Many old farms and village houses have been sold to new residents or as second homes, and there are some spectacular restorations. Tourism is a very important industry in the Luberon, and visitors now come to Bonnieux from all over the world. There are a number of B&Bs, small hotels, and rental houses and apartments in the village and the surrounding area.
Although Bonnieux is much more active in the warmer months, it isn’t just a tourist village. There’s a core of year-round residents, and the village offers services like a post office, an ATM, a small grocery store, a butcher, two bakeries, a newsstand, a pharmacy, an elementary school, a community center and library, and a boules court. It also has a variety of restaurants, cafes, shops, and artist galleries. There is even a boulangerie museum dedicated to the history of breadmaking! The tourist office and community center organize a variety of year-round activities for residents and visitors.
On Friday mornings there is a wonderful outdoor market, held on the small square (the Place Gambetta) in the center of the village. The market is an important weekly event for local residents, who come to shop for the weekend and meet up with friends.
Bonnieux is a very special place for us, a place that’s become a spiritual home for our family. We loved living here in 2004/2005 and now return several times a year, as a family and with our Luberon Experience groups. Some of our closest friends are in Bonnieux.
Enjoy a look this special village… it is even better when you’re there! Click on the little arrow (below the photo, right) or on the thumbnails to move through the slide show.
Useful Bonnieux websites
Mairie de Bonnieux: Municipal (town hall) website, in French.
Bonnieux Office de Tourisme: Bonnieux tourist office website, in French.
A Bonnieux: Historic website, in French. Includes lots of great old photos.
Vaucluse Visite Virtuelle (Bonnieux): Wonderful 360 photography of Bonnieux.