Hiking in the Luberon
The Luberon is a great destination for a walking vacation. There is an extensive and accessible network of walking paths and trails, linking villages that are often just a few miles apart.
You don't have to be a "serious" walker to enjoy hiking in the Luberon. There are trails for people of all abilities, including many hikes which are very suitable for families with younger children.
Why We Love Hiking in the Luberon
- The countryside is absolutely beautiful with incredible, often unexpected variety. Walking paths take you through farms, vineyards, orchards and woods, past beautifully-restored homes and simple farm dwellings, up on the mountains, through the gorges, alongside massive cliffs. The area surrounding the Luberon mountains is a designated natural park.
- The countryside is rich with bits of history and evidence of life from other times, and on foot you'll discover special places that aren't in the tourist guidebooks. We've come upon prehistoric caves, ancient bories, a Roman oppidium, old mills, 700-year old chapels, and abandoned villages.
- The views are breathtaking, often extending 25 miles or more. From various viewpoints, when the conditions are right, you can see Mont Ventoux, Avignon, the edge of the French Alps, Mont St. Victoire, even the Mediterranean Sea. And in between, there is a panorama of Provence spread at your feet.
- The trails are extensive, well-maintained and reasonably well-marked. Maps are easily available, and you can get good information on circular walks.
- We love the physical experience of hiking, doing something active that's good for your body. There's something about that fresh air and the physical exercise. I hike, and then I can eat a wonderful meal without guilt!
- It is absolutely free, no admission fee! All you really need are the right pair of shoes, a good map, an adequate supply of water, and of course, a good hiking companion.
When to Hike
Winter, spring and fall are the ideal times to hike in Provence. If you hike in the summer, try to hike in the early morning or late afternoon, focus on shaded routes, and be sure to take plenty of water. Summer is typically a very dry time of year, and some areas may be closed for hiking due to risk of fires.
Hunting is a major sport in Provence, and the hiking season runs from mid-October into February, depending on the type of game. You can safely hike at this time of year, but you must be very alert for hunters and be sure to stay on the main trails. The hunters we encountered were polite and seemed safety-conscious. We'd suggest nodding, smiling, and saying "Bonjour". Most of the hunting dogs wear big bells, so you will likely hear hunters before you see them.
Types of Trails and Trail Markings
There are over 1900 miles of marked walking trails in the department of the Vaucluse.
Walking trails are marked by small slashes painted on trees, rocks, utility poles, fence posts, even buildings. In many areas of the Vaucluse - including the Luberon - there is also a system of signposts with bright gold signs at key trail intersections. You may also encounter informal signage that someone has erected to help point people in the right direction. The trail or route is usually very clear, but you must still always watch the markings very carefully.
Sometimes the markings (called flèches in French) will simply indicate you are headed in the right direction, but in other places they are painted with an angle and indicate that you need to turn. When you see the markings painted in a big "X," , that means the trail doesn't go that way.
It's risky to go on a hike relying just on the markings. Trails change, vegetation covers the marks, paint fades away. There may be long stretches of trail with no marking whatsoever, or your route may even head off the primary trail. Where several trails coincide, you'll often encounter more than one set of coloured markings in the same place. So you need a good map and ideally some written directions as well.
There are several different kinds of trails in France.
- The national trails or "sentiers de grande randonnée" (GR trails) are long distance trails, kind of the interstate system of French hiking trails. These trails are marked with a red and white blaze. A few "Grande Randonnée" trails (GR 6, 9, 92 and 97) pass through the Luberon.
- Another type of major trail is the "sentier de grande randonnée de pays" (regional long distance path or GRP). These trails are blazed in yellow and red and often intersect with the GR trails.
- Local trails are called "Les sentiers de petite randonnée et de promenade" or PR, indicating shorter trails or day walks. These trails are usually indicated by a yellow mark, but sometimes you will see other colors if there are multiple PR trails in an area.
- Look for the signposts with gold signage that mark many of the major routes in the Luberon. These signposts are placed at major trail intersections (sometimes in villages or on roadways). The signpost gives a name to the location (often the name of the closest nearby farm or other landmark) and the elevation. Directional signs then point the way to the next signpost(s) with the distance in kilometres.
- One word of caution - the trails are not consistently marked between the gold signposts, so don't assume that if you head off in a particular direction that you will easily find your way to the next signpost.
One resource for simple hiking routes and maps is the local tourist office. Some areas have a big map posted ain a parking lot showing various trails leading out from that location. We’ve seen these at the Colorado Rustrel and St. Saturnin.
If your hike has any kind of complexity, you must have a trail map. The Institut Geographique National (IGN) publishes 350 different hiking maps of France. The Luberon is mapped with the following three maps with a blue cover:
- 3242 OT - Apt / PNR Luberon. This map is anchored with Bonnieux in the southwest corner and includes Apt, St. Saturnin-les-Apt, Saignon, and the northern slopes of the Grand Luberon.
- 3142 OT - Cavaillon / Fontaine de Vaucluse / PNR du Luberon. This map is anchored with the southern Luberon village of Lauris in the southeast corner and includes most of both slopes of the Petit Luberon extending up to Pernes-les-Fontaines in the northwest.
- 3243 OT - Pertuis / Lourmarin / PNR du Luberon. This map is anchored with Bonnieux in the northwest corner and covers the southern slopes of the Grand Luberon, including some areas south of the Durance River.
These maps are widely available in tabacs/presses, bookstores and tourist shops. These maps are to a scale of 1:25,000 and show the towns, villages and hamlets; major roads, gravel roads, and tracks; GR and PR trails; and many large farms by name. The locations of the yellow signposts are included on recent versions of these maps.
The official French hiking association is called FFRandonnee and they publish an excellent series of TopoGuides hiking guides (in French only). The Luberon one is called Le Parc naturel régional du Luberon...à pied and includes 27 circular walks with maps and descriptions as well as pages on history and wildlife.
We also use two good books of hikes in the Luberon, which are major resources for our hikes. Both of these books are in French and unfortunately are not available in English. My French is good enough that I can work with these books pretty easily, though I always translate and write out the directions in English before the hike.
Our two guidebooks are:
- Randonnées en Provence - Luberon, by Laurent Meyer in a "Randoguides Sequoia" series. The book describes 25 really good circular hikes on both sides of the Luberon mountains with historical information, detailed directions, photos, and a simple map. You will also need the IGN map when you go on these walks.
- Balades en Luberon by Christiane Birot, published by Les Créations du Pélican. This is a beautiful hardback book with gorgeous color photographs and will send you running out to hike in the Luberon. This book describes 40 circular hikes on both Luberon mountains and on the Vaucluse Plateau (which they call "Balcons du Luberon"), most about 3-4 hours. There is a simple map and detailed instructions for each walk, along with the beautiful photos.
Choosing a Hike
There are many options if you want to hike in the Luberon. You can go out for an hour or two or for most of a day. Unless you are skilled at using an ordnance map to design your own hikes, it's really best to go on a hike that has been documented and described in detail using a guidebook or some other resource.
The best hikes are circular hikes that begin and end in the same place and don't involve doubling back on the same route. Hikes that begin in one place and end up several miles away are much more complicated and involve coordinating with a friend or a taxi service. (There is very limited public transportation in the Luberon).
In this area, the more challenging hikes involve a combination of distance and elevation gain (climbing). We went on a couple of hikes that were very challenging (even potentially dangerous) that included minor rock climbing, sometimes even requiring the use of ropes, chains and small metal footholds. These were great fun, but we don't recommend this level of hiking unless you are experienced.
If you're looking for an easier hike, don't try to climb "up" one of the mountains, even though they're not really all that high. Choose a route like the Foret de Cedres near Bonnieux where you gain elevation in your car (and walk once you're at the top) or do one of the many beautiful hikes down in the valley.
What to Wear and Take with You
You do need to be in reasonable physical condition to hike in the Luberon. Although we have seen elderly people with canes, families with toddlers, and well-dressed women in spiky heeled shoes in the strangest places, these seemed to be local people who somehow know what they are doing. You don't want to have an accident out on a hiking path in a foreign country and don't want to run the risk of ruining a special vacation. We recommend good socks and sturdy walking shoes for any walking (even in the villages). You should wear hiking boots whenever you hike on rocky or mountainous trails.
Regardless of the time of year, be sure to take plenty of water, cellphone, a first-aid kit, and an extra layer in the event of a change in temperature. And don't forget your map and guidebook information!
A Few of our Favorite Hikes
We've chosen four of our favorite hikes that are described in detail when you click the link. These are hikes we recommend for people who are visiting Provence for a week or two and want to dedicate a couple of hours to hiking. All four hikes are relatively easy and provide a unique experience and usually a fabulous view. You don't need to be a highly experienced hiker, but you do need to be in reasonable shape and able to use a map. We've provided some basic directions, but you will also need the designated map.
- A Circular Walk from Bonnieux to Lacoste (3 hours). This is a beautiful and easy walk between the neighboring hilltop villages of Bonnieux and Lacoste. From Bonnieux you'll walk through woods, vineyards and farms to reach the small village of Lacoste. You'll walk back to Bonnieux a different way. Read more.
- The Falaise at Lioux (2-1/2 hours). We absolutely love this hike because it is so unexpected. The walk begins at the small village of Lioux (a few miles north of Roussillon) and climbs easily up to the top of an amazing rock cliff that seems to rise up out of nowhere. The views looking south toward Bonnieux are fantastic. Read more.
- Saint-Veran (2-1/2 hours). This easy hike begins at a small hamlet between Lacoste and Lumieres and is a sampler of what makes the Luberon special: vineyards, bories, an ancient church, an old lavoir, and amazing views. Read more.
- Gorges de Regalon (3-1/2 hours). This is a more challenging and spectacular hike on the south side of the Luberon that takes you through the narrow gorge and then out along the base of the Petit Luberon. In places the walls of the gorge rise almost 100 feet above the path. Read more.
Other Great Hikes in the Luberon
Here are some other hikes we really enjoyed. They are all described in either "Randonnées en Provence - Luberon" or "Balades en Luberon".
- Les Gorges de Veroncle - a challenging, fun, and historical hike between Gordes and Joucas. This hike involves some difficult rock descents and a 25-foot ascent up an old mill shaft using a rope.
- Les Combes de Vaumale - another challenging hike on the Plateau de Vaucluse west of Lioux. This trail involves using ropes, chains and metal footholds to get up or down the steep rocks.
- Les Rochers de la Croix de Fer (near Merindol) - a hike up the south side of the Petit Luberon to spectacular views.
- Buoux to Sivergues - a great walk that provides the opportunity to explore the old ruins at Fort Buoux, hike to the tiny village of Sivergues (the highest village in the Luberon), and then walk along the incredible rock climbing wall on the other side of the gorge.
- Les Aiguiers of St. Saturnin-les-Apt - one of several walks from the village of St. Saturnin-les-Apt on the Vaucluse Plateau. This route passes through the abandoned village of Travignon to several "aiguiers," or ancient water-collection systems.
- Le Petit Luberon (ascent from near Lacoste) - from a parking area off the D3, this path rises steeply up the Petit Luberon to the road at the Foret de Cedres, then heads down a steep canyon to emerge below the 13th century L'Abbaye St. Hilaire.
- Le Colorado Provencal (near Rustrel) - this unique and extensive area of ochre cliffs was once a major site of mineral mining. There are several different paths through the colourful rock formations.
- Le Mur de la Peste - In the early 18th century a great plague devastated Marseille and threatened the rest of Provence. An extensive wall was built in the north Luberon to try to restrict the spread of the disease. Several sections of the wall still remain and have been restored in some areas. There are hiking trails that follow the wall in several places; we walked along a section north of Gordes, returning through a large rock canyon near Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
Other Luberon-Related Hiking Books You May be Able to Find
- Holiday Walks in Provence
- Walking in Provence (Cicerone Guide) - features 24 walks in all parts of Provence, including the Luberon. Available here.
- Balades nature dans le Parc naturel régional du Luberon - 15 nature walks and guide to flora and fauna of the Luberon. Available here.
Kathy Wood and her husband Charley are passionate about the Luberon. After living in the Luberon in 2004 and 2005, they launched The Luberon Experience, a week-long “slow tour” based in Bonnieux, and from 2019 their Luberon Walking Week.