Your Week in Provence
A week with The Luberon Experience has an ideal balance of structure and flexibility, activities with the group and time on your own. Because our groups are small and we use two vehicles, we sometimes split into two groups or take a few group members on a spontaneous late afternoon excursion. We may also adjust our plans based on weather, the interests of the group members, and unexpected opportunities. If there’s a special festival in a nearby village during your week, we’ll likely rearrange things to be there.
We’ll describe a “typical” week in Provence, but you should know that no two Luberon Experience weeks are ever quite the same! Your week might be organized differently, and experiences may be added or not included. And of course there are a few surprises that we’ll wait to share with you when we’re together in Provence…
Day One (Saturday)
We’ll meet you on Saturday afternoon at the Avignon TGV station, about 45 minutes from our home base for the week. (We encourage you to spend a day or two somewhere else in Europe before beginning your week with us; many travelers enjoy time in Paris, Avignon or Aix-en-Provence.) We’ll soon arrive in the Luberon countryside and then the village of Bonnieux and the charming B&B that will be our home for the week.
You’ll have time at the B&B to unpack and refresh yourself, and then you’ll join the group for an orientation walk around the lower part of the village. Many group members like to conclude the walk with a drink at our favorite cafe. That evening we’ll enjoy a welcome “aperitif” at our B&B and a traditional Provençal meal prepared by our host Pierre. Over dinner we’ll get to know each other and discuss our plans for the week. A good night’s sleep is especially important tonight!
Day Two (Sunday)
Today we’ll really begin to experience the culture, history and beauty of the Luberon. This area is known for its lively and colorful outdoor markets, and today we’ll be at one of the most famous: the Sunday morning market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The town is idyllically set on several branches of the River Sorgue and known as the “Venice” of Provence. The Sunday market has hundreds of vendors selling fruit and vegetables, cheeses, sausages, olive oil, wine, flowers, fabrics, soaps, pottery, olive wood cutting boards-and so much more! This market is recognized throughout the world for its large emphasis on brocante (antiques and bric-a-brac). There are also over 30 permanent antique and second-hand shops in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. We’ll have an early breakfast at the B&B so we have a full morning to enjoy the market.
While you’re shopping, we’ll be busy too, buying a variety of delicious foods for a bountiful picnic lunch back in the garden at the B&B. Many people say this is their favorite meal of the week.
Later in the afternoon we’ll explore the ancient history of Bonnieux. Charley will lead a walking tour around Bonnieux, the summer home of the Popes when they left Rome for Avignon in the 14th century. The church at the top of the village dates back to the 12th century. You’ll see the old remparts (village walls) and many impressive buildings several hundred years old. We’ll also visit the unique home of our friends Jean-Camille and Michele to explore the ancient caves underneath their home, where early residents of Bonnieux lived more than 1500 years ago. It’s believed that the Knights Templar based here in the Middle Ages.
Dinner tonight is at a special restaurant in Bonnieux, known for its fine cuisine.
Day Three (Monday)
This morning we’ll travel across the isolated Claparèdes Plateau (a major location for lavender growing) to the foothills of the Grand Luberon and the village of Saignon. Saignon, perched high on a rock overlooking the busy town of Apt, is one of the oldest villages in France and a very special place for us. Our explorations of the village include a visit to the ruins of the old castle and the unusual rock formation that provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside.
Our friend Marianne’s goat farm is in the countryside beyond Saignon. Goat cheese or “chevre” is an important part of the cuisine of Provence. We’ll spend an hour with Marianne and her goats, learning how the cheese is made and about her life as a cheesemaker. We’ll also have the opportunity to taste a variety of her wonderful cheeses.
We’ll return to Bonnieux for lunch at our favorite cafe, usually out on the pleasant terrace overlooking the Luberon valley. This is a good day for a salad or an omelette… and perhaps some of the delicious ice cream made by the owner Nicolas and his mother Georgette.
In the afternoon, we usually offer two choices of activities. One group visits the Fôret de Cèdres on the crest of the Petit Luberon mountain above Bonnieux. You’ll have a spectacular view of the entire Luberon valley. If the skies are particularly clear, you might see the Mediterranean or the Alps. This group usually takes an easy walk to a southern viewpoint.
Travelers who are up for a more physical adventure will visit Fort de Buoux, an ancient settlement perched high in the Grand Luberon. This is a memorable hike of about four miles, involving some steep and rocky sections. We normally make a detour up to the Petit Luberon on our way back to Bonnieux.
We have a simple dinner tonight at a little restaurant/pizzeria a few minutes’ walk from our B&B. We love their pizzas, made in a wood-fired oven.
Day Four (Tuesday)
The village of Gordes enjoys a spectacular setting on the opposite side of the Calavon Valley and is designated one of the most beautiful villages in France. Tuesday is market day in Gordes; although smaller than L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, this is still a substantial market, with some good permanent shopping too. Most of the women in our group have a great time visiting our friend Kim’s scarf stand; she has an excellent selection and is fun to shop with. If you’re less of a shopper, you’ll enjoy exploring Gordes’ small streets and then meeting up with Charley for a coffee at his favorite cafe.
After our visit to Gordes, we’ll travel a short distance to the Abbaye de Sènanque, a 12th century monastery in a deep, rocky valley that is still active today. This is one of the most photographed spots in France. We’ll then travel over the rocky and remote Vaucluse Plateau, sharing some spectacular scenery that most tourists never discover. We have a favorite picnic spot near the tiny village of Lioux, and we’ll enjoy a leisurely and simple lunch in the countryside… at a place with another spectacular view.
After our picnic we’ll head to one of the leading wineries in the Luberon, located just outside Bonnieux. The winery is not normally open for group visits, but we’re hosted by a good friend who is one of the winemakers. You’ll enjoy a walk around the groups and a very special look at a winemaker’s life. Many of our travelers say it’s the best winery visit they’ve ever experienced. Of course our visit includes a tasting of several of their excellent wines.
Dinner tonight is on your own, an opportunity to enjoy one of Bonnieux’s many delightful cafes and restaurants. Many travelers also enjoy buying provisions in the village and having a picnic at our B&B.
Day Five (Wednesday)
Today we travel “Beyond the Luberon” on a longer day-trip to another area of Provence beyond the Luberon, normally within about an hour’s drive.
One of our favorite day-trips is to the Alpilles, another mountainous region to the west of the Luberon. The scenery is incredible! We’ll see some impressive Roman monuments just outside the village of St. Remy-de-Provence; spend a quiet hour at Saint Paul de Mausole, the monastery and sanitarium, where Van Gogh painted some of his most famous works; and discover the ruins of a Roman aqueduct hidden in the fields at Barbegal. We’ll also see an extraordinary multimedia show inside the remains of old limestone caves near the village of Les Baux. This is an experience you won’t forget.
We usually make a lunch stop in the lovely village of Maussane. We’ll have a quick lunch at one of the restaurants and cafes that share the large square around the fountain. At the end of the afternoon we take a scenic route back to the Luberon on little roads that twist through the Alpilles. This is a truly special day, and there’s definitely a sense of coming “home” when we return to Bonnieux.
We’ve also used this day to take advantage of some special event, opportunity or interest in another part of Provence. For example, in late May 2009 we combined a morning in the Alpilles with an afternoon in the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence, where our group enjoyed a special exhibition of Picasso and Cezanne.
Some travelers choose to spend this day more leisurely at the guesthouse or in the village of Bonnieux. This can be a day to sleep in, read a book, go for a walk, enjoy the swimming pool, shop, and have lunch in the village. Other travelers take a day off from the group to rent bikes or go hiking in the area.
Dinner tonight is also on your own. We’ll be back in Bonnieux by 5:00 pm. You may want to return to a place you’ve already enjoyed or try a new restaurant. A picnic meal at our B&B garden or on the sunporch is another option. There’s a fully-equpped kitchen for the use of guests, one of the many special features of this lovely place.
Day Six (Thursday)
Today we’ll focus on getting to know two of Bonnieux’s neighboring villages, Lacoste and Roussillon. Lacoste is perched on a hilltop facing Bonnieux across a rich agricultural valley.
Some of the group will choose to leave early to walk with Kathy through forests, vineyards and orchards to the bottom of Lacoste. The walk takes about 90 minutes and offers a more intimate look at the Luberon countryside. Other travelers join Charley for a visit to the exquisite, privately owned Abbaye St. Hilaire, dating to the 13th century. Both groups will meet up at the top of Lacoste next to the ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s castle (now owned by designer Pierre Cardin) and then walk down through the medieval streets to the church. There’s usually time for a coffee at a pleasant cafe.
We have just a short drive to Roussillon, known for its multi-colored ochre cliffs and distinctive and colorful buildings. Many artists base in this village, and there are several galleries and artisan pottery shops. (We always enjoy visiting our friend Françoise Valenti at her colorful gallery.) Lunch today is on your own in Roussillon; there are a variety of eating possibilities and we’ll help with suggestions.
On our way back to Bonnieux, we’ll stop at the Pont Julien (the Julien bridge), built by the Romans in 3 BC.
Dinner this evening is at the home of our friend Janice, who has a beautiful place on the plateau above Bonnieux. Janice is a delightful hostess, and it’s a great opportunity to enjoy a leisurely meal in a local home.
Day Seven (Friday)
Too soon it’s our last full day. Friday is market day in Bonnieux, and we begin our day with a couple of hours in the village. You can enjoy the lively market, relax over a coffee at your favorite cafe, chat with new friends, and finish your shopping.
Later we’ll travel back roads along the slope of the Petit Luberon to a small estate set among the vineyards and managed by our friends Marie and Djune. After tasting several of the domaine’s wines, we’ll gather in the enchanting courtyard for a delicious lunch prepared by Marie. This will be one of the most memorable experiences of your week.
On our way back to Bonnieux we’ll stop at the ruined village of Oppède-le-Vieux, where we’ll stroll the quiet pathways to the 13th century church, savor the views, and perhaps even climb among the castle ruins.
After our aperitif in the garden, we’ll enjoy our delicious farewell dinner at our guesthouse, cooked by our host and good friend Pierre.
Day Eight (Saturday)
We’ll have a final breakfast together and then say our “au revoirs.” We provide transportation back to the Avignon TGV station, where some will head home and others will make their way to more European adventures. But everyone will be savoring memories of a very special week in Provence.
We promise you this will be a wonderful week!