Cucuron

Cucuron is a delightful village in the south Luberon, pretty enough to have been used as the set for the 1995 movie 'The Horseman on the Roof' (Le hussard sur le toit).

Cucuron is best known for its beautiful pool of water in the main square (called a bassin), so big it is like a small lake, and home to many contented-looking fish who can't believe their luck that they are not stuck in a small fountain with coins raining down on their heads. (You can't swim in the bassin, by the way).

The bassin and square are shaded by towering, 200-year-old plane trees, which pleases the diners in the restaurant and bar alongside the water. Whether it is psychological or physical, the water seems to cool down the hottest days. Cucuron market, a great little market, takes place around the bassin on Tuesday mornings.

At one corner of the square is a large, grand house with a formal garden, behind imposing locked gates and a high wall. As we were wondering what this was, three children appeared behind the gate, as if from The Secret Garden. "Is this is a hotel or a house?" I asked. "Actually it's a chateau, normalement", said a girl.

Cucuron is a member of the Most Beautiful Villages of France association, and is constructed in the usual style of the Middle Ages, with streets and houses winding their way up to a castle at the highest point (only the castle's dungeon remains).

You can walk around the medieval part of the village inside the old rampart walls in half an hour, taking in the best view over the rooftops from the donjon (dungeon) St Michel, exploring the pretty winding streets and fountains to the church at the other end of the village.

In the summer, Cucuron church will have a whittled-down poplar tree leaning on it. Why? Because of a centuries-old tradition that the people of the village must go out and find a poplar tree at least as tall as the church (24m/80ft) and carry it back by hand with a boy riding it and waving a flag, in thanks to the village's patron saint for saving Cucuron from the plague in 1720. See, there had to be a logical reason. This story is written in greater detail on the tree itself, but only in French.

If you get to the church, go inside because it is beautiful and features a wood mural from the 16th century and the original Romanesque nave, as well as a magnificent restored organ from 1616. Close to the church is the Marc Deydier museum, with photographs of Cucuron life taken between 1890 and 1920.

From the high points of the village you can see Cezanne's beloved Mont St Victoire, the Alpilles, and of course the south flank of the Luberon mountain close by. You will also see the fertile farmland all around - this is good country for Luberon wine, cherries and olives.

There are three or four restaurants in Cucuron, including the well-known La Petite Maison, as recommended by Peter Mayle.

In the summer there are concerts at Cucuron, often in the church, Notre Dame de Beaulieu.