A group of hilltop villages in Luberon is an oasis of serenity away from the bustling Marseille, France. Each of those tranquil towns is a wonderfully off-the-beaten-path area of Provence. When we spent a two-week summer holiday in Provence, we made a long day trip to the Luberon national park.
The summer in Provence was sizzling hot. During our entire stay, nearly every day was around 35°C. But the hilltop towns in Luberon, blessed with the cool breeze, were the perfect summer destinations in Provence.
The four hilltop villages in Luberon we visited are not far from each other, less than 30 kilometres between Lourmarin and Ménerbes. We left our apartment in La Ciotat in the early morning and went to Lourmarin first, then Bonnieux and Lacoste, and the last Menerbes. The total distance we drove on that day was about 250 kilometers. But if you start from Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, or Avignon, the stretch would be much shorter.
The hilltop villages are quite different from each other. To walk around, it would only take us less than an hour in each place. However, we spent a more prolonged time to take photos and explore plenty of undiscovered corners.
- Lourmarin, one of the most beautiful villages in France
- Bonnieux, one of the finest villages in Luberon
- Lacoste, a place of fine art
- Ménerbes, a favourite place among many artists
Lourmarin, one of the most beautiful villages in France
Lourmarin is one of the most beautiful villages in France. Encircled by the vineyards, olive groves and almond trees, the hilltop village was less known to the outsiders until the British author Peter Mayle, who lived in Lourmarin and wrote A Year in Provence, has made the village most known to the English world. But what brought us to this place are its touristic features of this village.
The historic buildings that are worth seeing are such as a restored Romanesque church, a temple completed in 1816, a magnificent belfry, fountains in different styles, and from different periods.
Compared to the other three villages in Luberon, Lourmarin has more shops, restaurants, and a wide variety of art galleries of different styles.
As a typical scene in many provincial towns, the narrow alleys in Lourmarin wind through the vintage houses with Renaissance facades, cross small squares and fountains and connect historic buildings, shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
Château de Lourmarin
Château de Lourmarin, a converted castle and built in three stages across four centuries, is an example of the evolution of architecture from medieval fortress to Renaissance castle.
Bonnieux, one of the finest villages in Luberon
While Lourmarin is at the lower level of the national park, Bonnieux is high-positioned on a plateau above the valley. The village has a lower church, the Eglise du bas, just next to where we parked our car.
The upper church
After having climbed 86 stone steps, we reached the old church (Vieille Eglise). The upper church tower dominates the surroundings of this magnificent village. And the church has a fantastic view of Monts de Vaucluse and the vast plains cultivated with plants such as grape vines or fruit trees.
Houses with earth-toned colours
The hill-side houses have typical earth-toned colours. Bonnieux has kept all its authenticity, its steep sloping streets, its fountains, and churches. Used to be a wealthy village, Bonnieux is one of the finest hilltop villages in Luberon.
The bakery museum
If you stay in France for only one day, you should have a chance to eat either Croissants or Baguettes, or both. They are an essential part of the daily food for French, just like rice for Chinese. The bakery museum (Boulangerie Museum) offers a collection of bread and information about its history.
Lacoste, a place of fine arts
Compared to other the three villages, Lacoste is relatively small. As a typical Provençal village, it perches on a green hill facing the hilltop village of Bonnieux on the hill opposite. The way up to the top is quite steep.
The village centre
Carefully restored houses in Lacoste are built-in unplastered light limestone. And the paths are laid out with unprocessed cobblestone. I followed the steps up and down through the narrow streets that meander their way through a charming little labyrinth, feeling like passing through centuries back. Many houses have beautiful facades in the renaissance style. On the way up, I took many photos of the elegant belfry from 1793, a wrought bell tower from the church of the XII century. The cute village is delightful and full of atmosphere.
Château de Lacoste
All steps end at the Chateau de Lacoste, now owned by the well-known fashion designer Pierre Cardin. Château de Lacoste dates from the 16th-18th century. It is partially in ruin. The endeavor of the fashion designer has tried to transform Lacoste into a culturally significant place. But it does not meet the expectation of all residents. Nevertheless, Cardin’s commitment promotes tourism, and real estate prices have skyrocketed since then.
The Chateau has an exhibition displaying Pierre Cardin’s private furniture collections. From the Chateau, there is a beautiful view of the plain of Bonnieux, Le Mont Ventoux, and Les Alpes.
Ménerbes, a favourite place among many artists
Ménerbes is a marvelously intact and preserved village over the Luberon valley. Since Peter Mayle had written the Year in Provence chronicling his first year as a British expatriate in the hilltop village, Ménerbes started to attract tourists and overseas migrants. After decades, the hilltop village has regained its peaceful atmosphere and remains a lovely small place.
A relaxing atmosphere
Blessed by the sunshine and the mild climate, cafés onto the pavement, game of boules, the small squares that seem out of time are the basics of a tranquilized life. Thus, Ménerbes has attracted many artists, such as Nicolas de Staël, French painter of Russian origins, Yves Rousset-Rouard, film producer, and other musicians or comedians to live there.
Corkscrew museum (Musée du Tire-Bouchon)
The corkscrew was invented in the 12th century by a Frenchman. Two kilometres from the village, the picturesque Corkscrew Museum has more than 1,000 different varieties of this magic tool that are on display.
Views from Rue du Portail Neuf
The view from Rue du Portail Neuf, the main street at the edge of the Luberon village, is breathtaking. Climbing up the hill, I found narrow paths and alleys lining up the beautifully restored medieval houses.
A small open square
The clock tower, with an unusual wrought iron structure on top in a small open square, is about halfway through the village. I went to the adjacent arch for a more distant view. A townhouse is almost opposite the clock tower, sometimes featuring art exhibitions.
Besides, the House of Truffles and Wine of the Luberon is also worth a visit. Surrounded by striking countryside, Ménerbes is a pretty, quiet medieval village in my eyes.
Travel Tips for the hilltop villages in Luberon
The hilltop villages in Luberon are quite far from the Cote D’Azur coastal towns. Each place has a handful of accommodations for visitors who want to spend days exploring the area. The following selections are all within one kilometre of the village centre.
- Lourmarin: Maison Le Galinier de Lourmarin, La Luberonne
- Bonnieux: Le Clos Du Buis; Le Domaine de Capelongue & Spa
- Lacoste: Les Cabanes de la Fontaine; Villa Douceur
- Ménerbes: Cozy Villa; Holiday Home Le Cèdre
Join an organized tour
Some organized tours offer various ways to explore the Luberon. Visitors who stay in Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, or Avignon can join, for example, the following tours to see several hilltop villages in Luberon:
- Marseille: Provencal Markets & Villages in Luberon
- Aix-en-Provence: Luberon Market & Villages Day Tour
- Avignon: Half-Day Hilltop Villages of Luberon
How to get there
Buses run between the hilltop villages but not so frequently. If you stay in any of these village, it is still possible to take bus. Check the time table before you plan the trip.
However, if you rent a car, it is flexible to plan you trip. Parking places are available outside of the villages. But in the summer seasons, it is difficult to find a parking space. If you only have one day planned for the area, I would suggest to join an organized tour instead.