Your Week in Provence
A week with The Luberon Experience has an ideal balance of structure and flexibility, activities with the group and time on your own. Because our groups are small and we use two vehicles, we sometimes split into two groups or take a few group members on a spontaneous late afternoon excursion. We may also adjust our plans based on weather, the interests of the group members, and unexpected opportunities. If there’s a special festival in a nearby village during your week, we’ll likely rearrange things to be there.
We’ll describe a “typical” week in Provence, but no two Luberon Experience weeks are ever quite the same! Your week might be organized differently, and experiences may be added or not included. And of course there are a few surprises that we’ll wait to share with you when we’re together in Provence…
Day One (Saturday)
We’ll meet you on Saturday afternoon at the Avignon TGV station. (We encourage you to spend a day or two somewhere else in Europe before beginning your week with us; many of our travelers enjoy some time in Paris, Avignon or Aix-en-Provence.)
We’ll soon arrive in the Luberon countryside and then the village of Bonnieux and the charming small hotel that will be our home for the week. Our group usually has the whole hotel.
You’ll have time at our hotel to unpack and refresh yourself, and then you’ll join the group for an orientation walk around the lower part of the village. That evening we’ll enjoy a welcome “aperitif” at our hotel and a traditional Provençal meal prepared by our host Pierre. Over dinner we’ll get to know each other and discuss our plans for the week. A good night’s sleep is especially important tonight!
Day Two (Sunday)
Today we’ll really begin to experience the culture, history and beauty of the Luberon. This area is known for its lively and colorful outdoor markets, and today we’ll be at one of the most famous: the Sunday morning market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The town is idyllically set on several branches of the River Sorgue and known as the “Venice” of Provence. The Sunday market has hundreds of vendors selling fruit and vegetables, cheeses, sausages, olive oil, wine, flowers, fabrics, soaps, pottery, olive wood cutting boards, clothes, jewelry and so much more! This market is recognized throughout the world for its large emphasis on brocante (antiques and bric-a-brac). There are also over 30 permanent antique and second-hand shops in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. We’ll have the full morning to enjoy the market.
While you’re shopping, we’ll be busy too, buying a variety of delicious foods for a bountiful picnic lunch back in the garden of our hotel. Many people say this is their favorite meal of the week.
Later in the afternoon we’ll explore the ancient history of Bonnieux. Kathy will lead a walking tour around Bonnieux, the summer home of the Popes when they left Rome for Avignon in the 14th century. The church at the top of the village dates back to the 12th century. You’ll see the old ramparts (village walls) and many impressive buildings several hundred years old. We’ll also visit the unique home of our friend Michele to see the ancient caves underneath her home, where early residents of Bonnieux lived more than 1500 years ago. It’s believed that the Knights Templar based here in the Middle Ages.
Dinner tonight is at a special restaurant in Bonnieux, known for its fine cuisine.
Day Three (Monday)
This morning we’ll travel across the isolated Claparèdes Plateau (a major location for lavender growing) to the foothills of the Grand Luberon and the village of Saignon. Saignon, perched high on a rock overlooking the busy town of Apt, is one of the oldest villages in France and a very special place for us. Our explorations of the village include a visit to the ruins of the old castle and the unusual rock formation that provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside.
Our friend Marianne’s goat farm is in the countryside beyond Saignon. Goat cheese or “chevre” is an important part of the cuisine of Provence. We’ll spend an hour with Marianne and her goats, learning how the cheese is made and about her life as a cheesemaker. We’ll also have the opportunity to taste a variety of her wonderful cheeses.
We’ll return to Bonnieux for lunch at one of our favorite cafes, usually out on the pleasant terrace overlooking the Luberon valley. This is a good day for a salad or an omelette… followed by homemade ice cream from Georgette’s shop.
In the afternoon, we usually offer two choices of activities. One group visits the Fôret de Cèdres on the crest of the Petit Luberon mountain above Bonnieux. From this vantage point you’ll see much of the Luberon and fully appreciate its physical setting. From the forest road there are spectacular views of Bonnieux and the Luberon valley. If the skies are particularly clear, you might see the Mediterranean or the Alps. This group usually takes an easy hike to a southern viewpoint.
Travelers who are up for a more physical adventure will visit Fort de Buoux, an ancient settlement perched high in the Grand Luberon. This is a memorable hike of about four miles, involving some steep and rocky sections. We normally make a detour up to the Petit Luberon on our way back to Bonnieux.
We invite the group for an apertif at our home in Bonnieux, across the street from the hotel. After dinner we’ll walk a few minutes down the little main street for a simple dinner at a little family restaurant. We love their pizzas, made in a wood-fired oven.
Day Four (Tuesday)
The village of Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt enjoys a hilltop setting on a rocky outcrop on the opposite side of the Calavon Valley. It’s a lovely village with panoramic views of the countryside and an interesting history and architecture. We especially like it because its more authentic and less discovered by tourists. Tuesday is market day in Saint Saturnin, with a variety of sellers on the main square and surrounding streets. We’ll enjoy a short walking tour with co-leader Gina, who lived in Saint Satunin for five years. If you’re less of a shopper, you can explore more of the village (including the ruins of the medieval chateau, the 9th century chapel, and the 17th century windmills), or relax over coffee in one of the local cafes.
After our visit to Saint Saturnin, we’ll travel over the rocky and remote Vaucluse Plateau, sharing some spectacular scenery that most tourists never discover. We have a favorite picnic spot near the tiny village of Lioux, and we’ll enjoy a leisurely and simple lunch in the countryside… a place with another spectacular view.
After our picnic we’ll head to one of the leading wineries in the Luberon, located just outside Bonnieux. The winery has been in the same family for five generations and is not normally open for group visits. We’re hosted by a good friend who works alongside her father as the winemaker. You’ll enjoy a walk around the grounds and a very special look at a winemaker’s life. Our visit concludes with a tasting of several of their excellent wines, but this is so much more than a winery tour!
Tonight’s dinner is on your own, a chance to enjoy one of Bonnieux’s many restaurants and cafes. Some travelers enjoy buying provisions for a picnic meal and eating in the garden of the hotel.
Day Five (Wednesday)
Today we travel “Beyond the Luberon” on a longer day-trip to another area of Provence, normally within about an hour’s drive.
One of our favorite day-trips is to the Alpilles, another mountainous region to the west of the Luberon. The scenery is incredible! We visit extensive Greek and Roman ruins at Glanum, just outside the village of St. Remy-de-Provence and spend a quiet hour at Saint Paul de Mausole, the monastery and sanitarium, where Van Gogh painted some of his most famous works.
We usually make our lunch stop in the lovely village of Maussane and enjoy lunch together at one of the restaurants that share the large square around the fountain. After lunch we typically visit the Carrières de Lumières, an incredible multimedia show inside the vast old limestone quarries outside Les Baux. There’s a different show every year, typically featuring a noted artist or group of artists, all set to an incredible soundtrack that will surround you in the caves. This is a major area for olive oil, and we may also visit a family-owned olive oil mill to sample their olive oil and other delicious food producs.
This is always an enjoyable day in Provence, but at the end of the afternoon there’s definitely a sense of coming “home” when we return to Bonnieux.
We’ve also used this day to take advantage of some special event, opportunity or interest in another part of Provence. One year we combined a morning in the Alpilles with an afternoon in the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence, where our group enjoyed a special exhibition of Picasso and Cezanne.
We’ll be back in Bonnieux by 5:00 pm. Tonight’s dinner is on your own.
Day Six (Thursday)
Today we’ll focus on getting to know two of Bonnieux’s neighboring villages: Lacoste and Roussillon. Lacoste is perched on a hilltop facing Bonnieux across a valley filled with vineyards and orchards.
Some of the group will choose to leave early to walk through forests, vineyards and orchards to the bottom of Lacoste. The walk takes about an hour and many people tell us it was the highlight of their week. The other option is a visit to the nearby village of Goult, a picturesque and less-touristed village. Both groups will meet up at the top of Lacoste next to the ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s castle (now owned by designer Pierre Cardin) and then walk down through the medieval streets. There’s usually time for a coffee at a pleasant cafe.
We have just a short drive to Roussillon, known for its multi-colored ochre cliffs and distinctive and colorful buildings. Many artists base in this village, and there are several galleries and artisan pottery shops. (We always enjoy visiting our friend Francoise Valenti’s gallery.) Lunch today is on your own in Roussillon; there are a variety of eating possibilities there and we’ll provide some suggestions.
On our way back to Bonnieux, we’ll stop at the Pont Julien (the Julien bridge), built by the Romans in 3 BC.
Dinner this evening is on your own in Bonnieux.
Day Seven (Friday)
Too soon it’s our last full day. Friday is market day in Bonnieux, and we begin our day with a couple of hours in the village. You can rent electric bikes, enjoy the lively market, relax over a coffee at your favorite cafe, chat with new friends, and finish your shopping. Kathy often leads an early morning walk to the Pont Julien Roman bridge.
For lunch, we’ll take a short drive up above the top of Bonnieux for a special lunch hosted by our friend Janice, who has a beautiful home and garden on the plateau. Janice is a delightful hostess (and a excellent cook), and it’s a great opportunity to enjoy a leisurely meal in a local home. We’re sure this will be one of the most memorable experiences of your week.
Later, we’ll take a short drive back over to Lacoste to visit the exquisite, privately owned Abbaye St. Hilaire, dating to the 13th century. The abbey has an isolated setting and beautiful views over a tranquil area of the Luberon… a perfect place to reflect on our special week.
After our apertif in the garden, we’ll enjoy our farewell dinner at our hotel, cooked by Pierre and served family style.
Day Eight (Saturday)
We’ll have a final breakfast together and then say our “au revoirs.” We provide transportation back to the Avignon TGV station, where some will head home and others will make their way to more European adventures. But we know everyone will taking with them the memories of a very special week in Provence.
It’s always such a wonderful week!