The Best Villages of the Luberon
People often ask 'which Luberon villages should I visit?' The answer is: it depends. What do you like? Every Luberon village will reward a visit, so here are the best Luberon villages depending on what you are looking for.
Best-Kept Secret: Goult
Although not exactly a secret - the glowing reviews afor its restaurants are testament to that - Goult is not on the tourist trail in the way that other Luberon villages are. Yet it has probably the best outdoor cafés in the north Luberon, the aforementioned restaurants, and the narrow streets and squares you want in a village, culminating in a windmill and a walk along the old terraced hillside that used to feed the village. Goult is in short a gem of a village.
Most Beloved by the Cinema: Cucuron
Cucuron has two standout cinematic backdrops. One is its unique water basin in the centre of Cucuron, 61m/200ft long with towering plane trees along the sides, shading the restaurants and village market. You will have seen this in the Russell Crowe adaptation of Peter Mayle's 'A Good Year' (2006) in a particularly lovely night-time evocation. The other aspect of the village that made it to international cinema is Cucuron's rooftops, especially photogenic seen from the dungeon tower at the western end of the village - as seen in the French movie 'The Horseman on the Roof' (Le Hussard Sur Le Toit), a period drama from 1995.
Best Luberon Village for Eating Out: Bonnieux
Bonnieux is one of the biggest Luberon villages and in our view has the best selection of restaurants and cafés, going from the simple village bar to the gastro blowout of Bastide de Capelongue. L'Arome and Le Fournil are Bonnieux staples that deliver reliably excellent food. La Bergerie is the more affordable restaurant at Capelongue and is a delight. Bonnieux's village centre has several other eateries with outside summer seating or cosy winter interiors, and if you want that iconic Luberon view to Lacoste head for Les Terrasses, César (indoor only) or the La Terrazza pizzeria.
Most Picturesque Luberon Village: Gordes
All perched hill-top villages of the Luberon are very photogenic, but Gordes is the best arranged of the lot. Its distinctive honey-coloured stones tumbling down the rock from the castle at the peak make the first sighting of Gordes a must-photograph moment. Now there is actually somewhere to stop and park so you can do this. The village itself is not too bad either, and best seen on market day, which is Tuesday morning.
Best for Outdoor Cafes (and people-watching): Lourmarin
Bonnieux may be recommended here as the best place to eat, but many will argue that this should be awarded to Lourmarin. So let's say Lourmarin has plenty of good restaurants, but more uniquely it is the best village in the Luberon for sitting outside a café watching the world go by. There are several cafés to choose from in the centre, to sip a pastis and watch the fancy Parisians on holiday. And if you really want to see the beau monde at play go to Lourmarin for the Yeah! Festival, a vibrant electronic music weekend based at the beautiful Lourmarin castle (tickets sell out in minutes).
Most Insta-Friendly Luberon Village: Roussillon
There is nowhere else like Roussillon, with its 17 shades of ochre from the adjacent quarry. You can find spectacular images here, especially where the greens and blues of shutters and doors contrast with the technicolour reds and oranges. Needless to say the rest of the world comes here for that reason so in summer you should come early or late.
Most Frozen in Time: Lacoste
If you dropped the Marquis de Sade back in the centre of Lacoste, the village he dominated in the 1700s, he would not notice anything out of place or different. Until he got to his castle at the top of Lacoste, where he would remark on Pierre Cardin's renovation work. Lacoste is remarkably preserved, its streets still cobbled, you still enter through the medieval gateway, centuries have passed without anyone noticing.
The Village with the Highest Views: Saignon
Saignon, like an eagle's nest on high, was born as a lookout post for the town of Apt, with its peerless vantage point down the length of the Luberon valley to the west, as far as the Rhone valley, and the hill ranges of the Cevennes and Alpilles. The fortress-like rock of Saignon is its most striking feature, and once was topped by a castle - now that would have been a sight to behold.
Most Unexpected Luberon Village: Ansouis
Although tiny, Ansouis is home to both a Michelin-starred restaurant and the one-off Museum of the Unexpected. Ansouis is also officially one of The Most Beautiful Villages of France, and has that rarity among villages - a perfectly preserved castle - so it is well worth a visit.
Best for Doorways: St-Saturnin
St-Saturnin-les-Apt is one of those 'real' villages with a year-round population, but that is not to say it is not worth a visit. For example St Sat has three doorways in the central Rue de la Republique that are so notable as to be listed historic monuments. See if you can find them all. The most obvious one is pictured here, the Porte aux Atalantes. St Saturnin also has remarkable fountains, and most unexpectedly a water reservoir creating a seeming lake hanging over the village. Not to mention the fantastic Luberon view from the castle ruins on high.
Most Unaffected by Tourism: Viens
The truth is that many Luberon villages are quite unaffected by tourism, especially east of Apt and in the south Luberon. But let's say Viens, as it is definitely on the road less travelled, east of Apt, where vineyards give way to wild hillsides of lavender and maquis, home to as many goats as people. You can see that Viens was something of a medieval stronghold, with its high, dominant position, and you still go through the gateway in the ramparts to enter the village. Once inside, the narrow roads wind towards the castle and distinctive castellated tower, there is a small bar/snackery and you can buy some excellent local honey. Otherwise there is nothing for you but a stroll round a real village with real people, and scarcely a holiday home among them.
Most Harmonious Luberon Village: Vaugines
Tiny Vaugines is a delight, the notion of sleepy does not do justice to this place. In the centre are a bar, grocery/bakery with excellent tarte tropézienne, a couple of eateries including the highly-rated Le P'tit Resto, and these are clustered round the little square with mossy fountain. Explore a little further and you will discover a picture-perfect 1000-year-old church under towering plane trees that have each seen well over 100 summers. It's all so traditional and harmonious that Vaugines was used as a location for both Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (and if you haven't seen those movies you really should!)
Most Haunting Luberon Village: Oppede-le-vieux
It's incredibly hard to do any sort of restoration work in the old part of Oppede-le-vieux, if you want to do any rebuilding of fallen down houses you have to use original stones, and those are not available at the local building supply stores. Consequently Oppede-le-vieux, once you step through the main gateway into the oldest part, is frozen in time. Some houses are habitable, others have walls or roofs missing. Take the walk up to the castle and church at twilight and you will imagine all sorts of whispers from down the ages. The view from the top is amazing, looking north over the Luberon to the Mont Ventoux. In the village square are a couple of restaurants to recover from your exertions.
Most Arty Luberon Village: Menerbes
You may know of Menerbes as the place where Peter Mayle came to write A Year in Provence and his other best-selling books about life in the Luberon. You may not know that Menerbes has been a haven for several notable artists, from the expressionist Nicolas de Stael, to Picasso's mistress Dora Maar, more recently the Americans Jane Eakin and Joe Downing, and the contemporary Philip Hughes. The Maison Jane Eakin is her house and studio turned into a little museum. Menerbes today is still rich in artists in residence, and at the Galerie Pascal Lainé you can see the current output.
Most Authentic Luberon Village: Cadenet
Cadenet is a very picturesque Luberon village on the south side of the mountain that pays no heed to tourism. It has all the ingredients of a medieval Luberon village - castle ruins, church, winding streets and sunny squares - with no particular attraction to visit. A perfect place to walk around and take in Provencal village life.
Most Understated Luberon Village: Maubec
Maubec is not an obvious choice for the best villages of the Luberon, and it would not feature at all in guidebooks. It is tiny, even by Luberon standards, and when you drive through on the way to somewhere else you don't even notice there is anything there but newish housing. But turn in towards the Luberon mountain, past the football field, and you come to the real Maubec, the one that has topped its modest ridge for at least 800 years. Again, your breath will not be taken away, unless it is from walking up the short, sharp climb to the top layer. But something about the cobbled street, the bell-tower and the way that Maubec dissipates into the surrounding vineyards and hiking paths on all sides, may fill you with the spirit of the Luberon.
And finally...the Tiniest Luberon Village: Gignac
Gignac is literally a 'blink and you miss it' place. It answers the question: when is a village a village and not a hamlet? It's when it has a mairie (town hall). Gignac has that, to look after its population of 69 people. It also has a modestly-sized but perfectly preserved (and private) 18th century chateau, which is what will catch your eye as you drive out east from Rustrel. The curious will have a quick look around. You cannot buy anything in Gignac, you can only gaze, maybe that is reason enough to drop in.