A ship in a sea of vineyards
Menerbes is best approached from the north, when it emerges from the sea of cherry orchards and vineyards, like a ship at anchor, the outline of its deck picked out by blocks of ancient buildings, churches and citadels. This is a classic perched village, elevated to offer better protection from the turmoil below. Menerbes is also officially one of The Most Beautiful Villages of France.
THE CENTRE OF THE VILLAGE
In the centre of the village is a handful of restaurants, including the popular Le 5 with its big outside terrace with a view. There is a cafe with a great view, bakery, small grocery store, and ice cream parlour, and a seasonal market on Thursday mornings - everything you might need when visiting for an hour or a week.
In the 90s, Menerbes was on the world tourist map thanks to Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, which he wrote here. But now Menerbes has returned to what attracted Mayle in the first place - a beautiful, quiet, medieval village, exquisitely poised over the Luberon valley.
THE TOP OF MENERBES
Above the level of the restaurants and shops of Menerbes is the top level of the village. At one end is the Citadelle, a miniature fortress of the 16th century, and at the other end are the cemetery and the chateau du Castellet, where the expressionist painter Nicolas de Stael lived.
In between is a walk along the top of Menerbes, through paths and alleys, the Place de l'Horloge, and the many examples of 16th and 17th century architecture, till you get to the church and cemetery, where all journeys end.
All along the way the views over the steeply pitched sides are memorable, whether to the south and the Luberon mountain, or northward over the plain to the Monts de Vaucluse and the white-tipped Mont Ventoux.
OF TRUFFLES AND WINE
In the Place de l'Horloge at the top of Menerbes, opposite the town hall, is the Maison de la truffe et du vin (House of truffles and wine) in a beautifully restored, grand village house. There you can find out all about the truffles and wines of the region, as well as taking wine appreciation courses in the summer.
Just outside Menerbes, on the road to Cavaillon, is the Musée du Tire-bouchon (Corkscrew museum), with over 1,000 corkscrews to see, if you're into that sort of thing. It is also a hi-tech winery - Domaine de la Citadelle, and has quite a good gift-shop full of wine paraphernalia.
MENERBES IN HISTORY
Walking around Menerbes, you don't get a sense of the carnage of the wars of religion but in the 16th century Menerbes was known nationwide. It withstood a force of 12,000 Catholic troops for 14 months. Much of the action focused on the chateau du Castellet, at the western end of Menerbes. In the end the villagers ran out of water, because they had too many fires to put out, but they emerged with honour intact.
The Castellet is set below the upper part of Menerbes, under the cemetery, which must be one of the best placed cemeteries in the country, with lovely views on three sides. The cemetery is locked but you can ask for the key at the Mairie.
MENERBES ARTISTS & WRITERS
Menerbes has long attracted artists. Nicolas de Stael lived here, and Picasso bought his mistress Dora Maar a house near the top of the village, now known as the Dora Maar house. The American artist Jane Eakin was a well-known resident for many years and her house and studio in Menerbes can be visited from May to October. Peter Mayle moved to a house just outside the village to write a novel, but ended up writing about the restoration of his house and Luberon life, sparking a new form of travel writing with many subsequent imitators. A Year in Provence is a delightful book that has transmitted a deep love of the Luberon to its millions of readers. This was followed by sequels Toujours Provence and Encore Provence.
AMENITIES IN Menerbes
Restaurants | Cafes | Bakery | Grocery Store | Ice cream | Art gallery | Pharmacy | Playground