Summer in Provence: a road trip through the Luberon

Summer in Provence: a road trip through the Luberon

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We were not that far south of Lyon, when we stopped at a gas station on the Autoroute du Soleil. As I rolled down the window, I was surprised to get a whiff of a strong natural fragrance, instead of the usual smell of overheated macadam. It was a mix of sweet, herbal and spicy bouquet: the aroma of garrigue. A scent that I wish I could have captured in a bottle and kept it forever. Never had I been to a place before, where the local fragrance hit me so dramatically in the face!


All of a sudden, I could sense what Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the main character in Patrick Süskind’s novel The Perfume, might have felt like. The scent of garrigue was totally overwhelming. And we were only at a gas station on a freeway! You don’t want to know how strong the aroma was, once we got to the hinterlands.


Along with the characteristic scent of Provence’s garrigue came the breathtaking scenery, as we drove through medieval hilltop villages, past ripe olive groves and blossoming lavender fields. In short: summer in Provence is absolutely splendid!


While I loved exploring the major cities of Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Avignon, my favorite thing to do in Provence is to roadtrip through the Luberon, a massif in central Provence. This is where the scent of garrigue – the essence of Provence – is the strongest!





Perched on a rocky promontory, Gordes is probably one of the most famous hilltop towns of the Luberon region. It has inspired many famous painters such as Chagall, Vasarely or Lhote, and is known for being one of “the most beautiful villages of France”. But apparently, Gordes has become such a popular town mainly because it’s where the films from Peter Mayle’s bestselling novels A Year in Provence and A Good Year were shot.


Since we knew that Gordes is quite touristy, especially during the summer, we arrived in the early morning. With lesser people, we got to enjoy a quiet stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets, while admiring the picturesque limestone houses, surrounded by picture-perfect cypresses.


As soon as it started to get crowded in Gordes, we drove to the nearby Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, a 12th century Cistercian monastery, where we spent more time in the surrounding lavender fields than visiting the monastery.





The most breathtaking lavender fields that we found in the Luberon region were, however, not in Sénanque, but just outside the village of Murs, located about 8km north of Gordes. We had bought several sachets of dried lavender in Gordes. I told Kerstin that the scent of the lavender sachets was really strong. However, when the fragrance became more and more intense, we started to wonder if the scent really came from the sachets. Then, all of a sudden, we saw a huge lavender field as we drove over a hill towards Murs. Kerstin made a full stop in front of the lavender fields, and we spent the next half hour inhaling the distinctive aroma of fresh lavender.


When we arrived in Murs, I was eager to visit the restored château, which dates back to the 15th century. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open to the public. So, we strolled along the many stone houses, stopped at the 12thcentury Roman church, and had a walk around the Mur de la Peste. It turns out that this “Plague Wall” was built in 1721 to protect the area from the plague that was ravaging in Marseille at that time.





Set against a backdrop of vibrant red cliffs, Roussillon is a hilltop village best known for its rich ochre deposits.


Unfortunately, a storm was coming when we arrived in Roussillon in the late afternoon. So, we had a quick walk through the village’s winding streets to gaze at the well-preserved houses painted in yellow, orange and red, that perfectly blend into the ochre cliffs. Because of the upcoming storm, we didn’t get to explore the old mines, nor the Ochre Conservatory, a museum dedicated to the history and production of ochre pigments in the area. Of course, I regretted as soon as we left. But now, we have an excuse to return to Roussillon to explore the village more in depths, and hopefully under a cerulean sky!





Since the rain didn’t come after all, we stopped in Goult for a drink at the Café de la Poste. When the sky cleared up a bit, we walked up a narrow road towards the top of the perched village.


Unfortunately, the castle on the top of the hill was not open to the public. But behind the castle, there was a beautifully restored windmill, called Moulin de Jérusalem. For a moment, we thought we were in Spain, following the footsteps of Don Quixote…




L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is “THE” place to go to if you like antiques. Every weekend, you can find about 300 stalls selling antiques, from furniture to jewelry to work of art. And twice a year, over 500 antique and bric-a-brac dealers gather in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue during the biannual antique fairs.


But even if you’re not into antiques, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is worth visiting, especially after spending a hot day in Gordes or other hilltop villages of Provence. We enjoyed walking along the peacefully flowing canals, while marveling at the emerald water and pastel colored houses. In fact, we liked L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue so much, that we ended up staying a night in the wonderful Grand Hôtel Henri.


On the next day, we learned that L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue used to be a major textile-manufacturing city. Thanks to the power of the Sorgue River’s water flow, and the construction of water wheels, textile mills could be developed in the city. When we walked along the Canal de l’Arquet, we saw several water wheels that go back to the Middle Ages. In the 19th century, there were even 66 water wheels throughout the city. About 30 textile factories produced woolen and silk cloth that was exported via the port of Marseille. Today, only one textile factory is left in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: the Brun de Vian-Tiran, which has been producing woolen blankets since 1808.





Perched on a rocky ridge on the southern side of the Luberon mountain, Lauris is one of our favorite hilltop villages in Provence.

Most of the visitors of Lauris seemed to flock to the 18th century castle, which holds a spectacular garden. Called Jardin des Plantes tinctoriales or Garden of dyeing plants, this garden has over 250 species of plants from which dyes are extracted to produce paints and inks. From the garden terraces, we were amazed by the breathtaking views of the Durance valley and the Alpilles.

But what we loved about Lauris is above all the authentic flowery paved streets in the old part of the village. As we wandered through the narrow alleys, we couldn’t stop marveling at the old stone houses with colorful windowpanes and clad in vine leaves. Here and there, exquisite flowers, tall cypresses and meowing kittens invited us to linger around for a few hours, taking in the slow-paced way of Provençal village life.





Not far away from Lauris, there’s Lourmarin, nestled in the middle of olive groves and vineyards. This is a town split in two parts, located on two different hills. The Renaissance Castle was built on one of the hills. And the typical Provençal village on the other hill.

Like Gordes, Lourmarin is also known as one of the “most beautiful villages of France”. And just like Gordes, it is therefore quite touristy. At first, we planned to have lunch in Lourmarin, as the village offers more than 15 restaurants and cafés, spread in several shaded squares. But all the places were packed. So, we meandered through the crowds, stopped in a few art galleries and local shops… And soon decided to head to a quieter village.




Cucuron is located only 8km east of Lourmarin. I will remember it forever as the charming town where we had one of the best magrets de canard! Seriously, relishing such a delicious dish alongside a beautiful large pond in the town’s main square, and shaded by huge centuries-old trees was a true delight for the hangry me!


It was only when we finished lunch, that I found out how famous the pond is. It’s actually the one featured in the movie A Good Year. The pond, called Bassin de l’Etang is man-made and was built in the 15th century to power flour mills. In the 19th century, it became purely ornamental. And today, it’s the heart of the village, around which a weekly market is held every Tuesday.


The churches and ruined castle in Cucuron are definitely worth visiting. But what I liked best was the fantastic view over the village roofs with red tiles from the town’s highest point inside St Michel Dungeon.





Grambois is a perched village, where we spent a whole afternoon strolling around without seeing a single soul. But from the dramatic sound of a French soap opera coming from an opened window, I knew that Grambois was not a ghost town. It was around 3pm on a scorching hot summer day, so what else were the villagers supposed to do but napping or watching TV?


Apparently, several scenes from Yves Robert’s film La Gloire de mon père was shot in Grambois, because the filmmaker was enchanted by the village’s charming paved streets and picturesque stone houses. I wondered how many of the villagers have watched that movie? I must admit that I haven’t.





Located in the far eastern end of the Luberon, Manosque is best known for being the hometown of the French writer Jean Giono. A few months before traveling to Provence, Kerstin read one of Giono’s novels. So, I decided that we should end our road trip through Provence in Manosque.


The old city of Manosque has two medieval gates, called the Porte du Soubeyran and the Porte de la Saunerie. As we walked through the southern gate, we found ourselves in a maze of passageways and narrow lanes. Here and there, we walked past picturesque fountains and charming squares surrounded by laid-back café terraces. At the center of the old town we stopped at the Renaissance-styled Hôtel de Ville, and also visited a medieval church dating back to the 13th century.


In Jean Giono’s novel The Man who planted trees, the author tells the story of a shepherd who re-forested a desolate valley in Provence. In this short story, the author wrote: “There are also times in life when a person has to rush off in pursuit of hopefulness.” Of course, following his footsteps was not the reason why we visited Manosque. But was it to pursuit hopefulness? Perhaps… after all, we traveled through Provence during Covid-19! And our greatest hope was to see the end of the pandemic.

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Summer in Provence: an unforgettable road trip through the Luberon ©

Summer in Provence: 10 Beautiful Villages in the Luberon Valley ©

Summer in Provence: an unforgettable road trip through the Luberon ©

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Mei is an Archaeologist, born and raised in Luxembourg City. She's not only a travel enthusiast, but also a passionate travel writer and blogger. When roaming the world, she loves roadtripping through mountains and deserts, visiting archaeological sites and museums, as well as exploring small towns.

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