Tag Archives: Provence villages

Bonnieux

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Rising above the valley, Bonnieux appears on the hillside after the last curves in the road, which is the passage-point for crossing the massif Luberon dividing the northern and southern Luberon.  027

The road winds back and forth through the hills and up into the village of Bonnieux – a popular ride for cycling enthusiasts. In the village, the views of the surrounding valley are superb, with a patchwork of vineyards and orchards, and also across the Vaucluse plateau to the equally picturesque perched village of Lacoste.

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In the village you can walk up through the narrow streets of the village passing through arched tunnels beneath the houses, and up 86 steps to the top, where you can discover the 12th-century “Eglise Haute ” church with a high, pointed steeple, and take in the spectacular views.

Past the end of the high church, there is a lovely little park with lush green grass shaded by tall pine trees and magnificent centuries old cedars with a view of the gorges cutting through the Luberon to the south.

The Musée de la Boulangerie is located in the village in a 17th-century house. The museum explains the history of bread, from Roman times through Medieval and the French Revolution. Explained is the entire sequence of bread making, from the agrarian civilizations and their farming equipment, through the milling to the distribution. The museum is open in the summer, daily except Tuesdays. In the Spring and Summer the museum is on weekends.

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Menerbes

menerbesMénerbes also ranks as one of the most beautiful villages in France.  This medieval stone village is perched at the top of a ridge with outstanding views of the Luberon and overlooks the cherry orchards and vineyards in the surrounding valley. Menerbes has now returned to is origins as a quaint and quiet village, after the onslaught of visitors that came to the village following Peter Mayle’s book ‘A Year in Provence’.

011The village streets are lined with 16th and 17th century architecture, including the Citadelle, a 16th century miniature fortress, and the chateau du Castellet.

The Maison de la Truffe et du Vin is located in the Place de l’Horloge at the top of Menerbes in a beautifully restored mansion, where you can learn out all about truffles and taste the excellent Côtes du Luberon wines. Wine appreciation courses are offered in the summer.

005Menerbes has several shops, cafes and restaurants, and a market on Thursday mornings. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch on the sunny terrace at Le Galoubet. The vegetable quiche (tarte du jour) was excellent, and was served with a delicious side salad.

 

 

Cucuron

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Just up the road from Ansouis is the delightful walled Medieval village of Cucuron. This picturesque village is pretty enough to have been used as the setting for the movies ‘A Good Year’ and  ‘The Horseman on the Roof’.

 

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Cucuron is best known for its bassin – a lovely rectangular pool of water in the main square shaded by 200 year old plane trees and a line of cafes and restaurant terraces on one side. The Cucuron bassin began as a small lake fed by water sources from the Luberon hills, and the water was used to power the flour mills. It was converted into the rectangular walled bassin at the beginning of the 19th century. On Tuesday mornings, there is a great little market around the bassin.

411The village is constructed in the usual style of the Middle Ages, with streets and houses winding up to a castle at the highest point, although in Cucuron, only the castle’s dungeon remains.

413You can walk around the village exploring the charming streets up toward the medieval rampart walls and the donjon (dungeon) St Michel. You can also visit the village church: Notre Dame de Beaulieu, which has a rare stone campanile and is quite beautiful inside with a wood mural from the 16th century, an original Romanesque nave, and a magnificent restored organ from 1616. In the summer, there are often concerts held in the church.

From the high points of the village, you can enjoy spectacular views over the tile rooftops to the valley below filled with orchards, vineyards, and olive groves, and the southern slope of the Luberon mountains. On a clear day, you might even see Mont St. Victoire and the Alpilles in the distance to the south.

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During our stay in the Luberon, Cucuron was our home. We stayed at a lovely one bedroom apartment with a sunny terrace on the edge of the village.    

 

 

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Ansouis

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Our visit to the Luberon begins in Ansouis, an exceptionally well preserved village that retains its original beauty. Ansouis is ideally located just 30 minutes north of Aix en Provence and 1 hour from Avignon.

 

 

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The village of Ansouis is crowned by one of the most beautiful castles/châteaux in the Luberon. Originally, built as a fortress in the 10th century, the castle has some beautiful furnishings and tapestries dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, plus a lovely kitchen and beautiful terraces and garden, which make the castle well worth a visit. Both the castle and the village are beautifully preserved, and many of the houses date back to the 15th century.

346Where to stay:  Ideally located in the heart of Ansouis, this beautifully restored historic village house is very well appointed and well equipped. This Luberon Village house cleverly combines original charm and character with modern conveniences, and features 5 luxurious bedrooms, 5 recently renovated bathrooms, a new chef’s kitchen, a gorgeous sunny rooftop terrace with fabulous views, a pretty interior courtyard with a fountain, and air conditioning.  The house can be rented in a 3 or 5 bedroom configuration.

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Where to eat:  Ansouis also has one of the best restaurants in the region. La Closerie is a tiny restaurant with excellent food and service. The restaurant now has a Michelin star, yet it retains a relaxed charm and reasonable prices. Make sure you book well in advance as this tiny restaurant is very popular with both locals and visitors.

 

 

 

The Luberon region of Provence

The gorgeous sunny and warm weather has continued throughout our visit to Provence. The temperatures have been in the low 20’s C during the day, although at the end of October we are now beginning to feel the cooler air in the mornings, late in the day, and evenings.

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We are now in the Luberon region of Provence – a spectacular area with its countryside filled with vineyards and olive groves, and picturesque perched villages with stunning views. The incredible luminosity and warm colours have long attracted artists, writers and visitors to the Luberon, which boasts 5 villages classified as the most beautiful villages in France.  The perched villages of  Gordes, Roussillon,  Bonnieux, Lacoste, Menerbes are designated, and Ansouis and Lourmarin are also worthy contenders.

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Warm Provencal coloured houses, time-worn stone buildings, shady squares, ancient fountains, and seemingly eternal sunshine come together in charming hilltop villages, which beckon visitors to relax and drink in the beauty, the lifestyle, and the history that have shaped the architecture and the people.

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The Luberon is also an area of lush vegetation with beautiful vineyards, orchards and gardens throughout the countryside, and gorgeous produce fill the market stalls throughout the seasons, including strawberries, asparagus, cherries, melons, figs, apricots, muscat grapes, garlic, black truffles, olives, aromatic herbs and more!

During our stay in the Luberon, we will visit villages, markets, restaurants and vacation rentals in Ansouis, Cucuron, Lourmarin, Menerbes, Goult, Bonnieux, Gordes, Roussillon and more. 276

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Hill towns of the French Riviera

contact_03The hill towns of the French Riviera are a delight to explore, especially during in the off season, when even the most popular hill towns such as Eze are quiet. Eze village is a dramatic Medieval village precariously perched on a rocky outcrop towering above the Riviera coast like an eagle’s nest.  The ancient fortified village is still crowned with the ruins of its 12th-century castle, and the castle grounds host the well-known tropical Jardin Exotique.  The charming village is a maze of steep cobblestone streets and arched passageways, and the panoramic views from over 1500 feet above sea level are breathtaking.

gourdonvillageGourdon is another stunning hilltop village near Grasse (40km NW of Nice). From Grasse you can travel the D3 road which winds back and forth through the Gorges du Loup and up a steep ascent to the beautiful village of Gourdon – an unspoiled gem with a spectacular setting clinging to the steep hillside and overlooking the Loup canyon on one side and the countryside and villages to the distant Riviera on the other side. On a clear day you can see from Nice to the Italian border.

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The village is filled with picturesque cobblestone streets and quaint stone houses, shops, and a handful of restaurants. On such a beautiful day, we chose La Taverna, which has a panoramic view from the large south-facing terrace. We enjoyed a lovely salade chevre chaud (my favourite salad). This version served the chevre cheese bubbling hot on the side of a green salad with tomatoes and croutons. The salad was delicious, and the setting and the view from the terrace were extraordinary.

Other hill towns that we have visited in the past and recommended are Tourettes sur Loup, Biot, and Mougins.

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Tourettes sur Loup is an especially picturesque village with a Medieval core of clustered warm stone houses, most of which are now artist ateliers (workshops), where you can watch the artisans at work and purchase lovely olive wood products, handmade jewellery, and artwork.

Biot, near Antibes, is known for its colourful handblown glassworks filled with tiny air bubbles. You can visit the Verrerie de Biot to see a demonstration of glass blowing and purchase some of the beautiful pieces, which can be shipped home.

Mougins is a charming medieval village just north of Cannes that has become known as a gastronomic centre. Mougins has a charming pedestrian only centre courtyard with a fountain, lots of flowers, and shady trees, where you can find several Michelin starred gastronomic restaurants.

056We continued our journey NW into the Var region of Provence and stopped at Lorgues, another lovely village to revisit one of our favourite villas: Villa Lorgues.

063This pretty south-facing villa opens onto a sunny terrace surrounding the pool. This 3 bedroom villa now has a studio suite on the ground level, as a 4th bedroom to accommodate and additional 2 guests. Villa

 

Lorgues is ideally situated within easy walking distance of the pretty village of Lorgues, which has a weekly market, and several shops, cafes & restaurants. The villa is very well appointed and features air conditioning. Lorgues is ideally located just 1 hour from Nice and Aix en Provence and the Mediterranean coast.

 

 

 

 

 

Villefranche sur Mer

pic_flowerfestivalFrom the moment you arrive, Villefranche-sur-Mer offers an awe-inspiring panorama. The Bay of Villefranche is embraced by Cap of Nice on the right and Cap Ferrat on the left, and it is reputed to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The colourful Old Town of Villefranche cascades down the hillside to the sea, and the sandy kilometer-long beach that offers great recreation throughout the year.

Villefranche-sur-Mer is one of the most charming and authentic fishing villages on the French Riviera. Villefranche retains all the charm and authenticity of a little village where people still know one another, yet it also attracts an interesting cosmopolitan group of visitors and residents, including students attending the renowned French language Institute.

Situated in the heart of the Cote d’Azur with Monaco just 7 km to the east and Nice 3km to the west, Villefranche is just 10km from the Nice airport. Antibes is 15 kilometers away, and Juan les Pins and Cannes just beyond that. St Paul de Vence, Vence and Grasse are also just a few kilometers away, and the border to Italy is just 15 kilometers from Villefranche. You do not need a car to enjoy all these sites. There is a fabulous convenient and inexpensive public transport system by bus or train to most of these places.

There is so much to do in Villefranche, swimmming in the clear blue sea, relaxing at the beach, strolling through the cobblestone streets,  or sitting in a cafe while taking in the beautiful scenery. Or maybe you want to enjoy the French lifestyle, cuisine, wine, delicious local market produce, shopping, or just experience the village life like a local. You can do some sightseeing in the town and take in some of the magnificent walks and places of interest in the surrounding area. You could visit Italy for the day – its just 30 minutes away. You won’t tire of all the opportunities there are to enjoy yourself and get away from it all.

The buildings in Villefranche’s authentic Old Town date from the 12th and 13th centuries, and the town is filled with wonderful provençal colors, flowers, and balconies — all cascading down the hillside to the beautiful blue sea and the lively waterfront quay.

Every February, Villefranche’s fishermen celebrate Carnival with a Bataille des Fleurs (Battle of Flowers). Traditional fishing boats are decorated with flowers and parade through the harbour tossing flowers to one another and all the spectators. There is also a wonderful parade in the village with music and costumes.

The Citadel has a lovely garden and outdoor summer theater. The wonderful Volti museum is a great place to visit and explore. Take the water’s edge path at the base of the citadel and walk from the Old Town to Port de la Darse where many beautiful boats are moored. Or, drive through the moat of the citadel and marvel at the nearly 100-foot-high walls.

Winter weather in Villefranche is fabulous!  While other places in the northern hemisphere are experiencing typical winter, temperatures on the Cote d’Azur remain mild with Indian Summer days lingering into December. Daytime temperatures routinely reach 18–23 degrees C, and evenings rarely dip below 13–16 degrees. People still enjoy coffee and lunch in the café’s – even restaurants still serve outside in the warmth of the early winter sun.Of course the Cote d’Azur is a lovely place to visit at any time of the year, but the winter months are the quietest time – and the best time to really experience the local lifestyle & culture.

Winter is the season artists have loved most for the light and clarity. There are so many exquisite walks, along the seaside and in the mountains,  and autumn and winter months are the perfect time of year to enjoy walking, when there are no crowds, its not too hot, and the colours are beautiful.

Winter is a great season for visiting markets, shops and cooking. The produce at this time of year is wonderful, and its a great to time to learn local recipes with all the wonderful winter ingredients you will find at the many fresh food markets. And the brocante markets and little shops are filled with art and beautiful things for your holiday gift list.

Winter is the perfect season to study French.  Whether you choose to  study on your own, or with the help of a local tutor, or attend the world famous Insitut de Francais, autumn and winter are a great time to improve your French. Not only can the shorter days be more conducive to studying, but there are lots of opportunities to really practice speaking with the locals during the quiet season.

Additionally, for those who stay for several weeks from mid-November to mid-December, we can help to organize several outings and special events:

  • Cooking Classes: one led by a renowned Cordon Bleu chef based in Nice, and another conducted by a local chef highly regarded for his original preparation of fresh seasonal fare. You’ll learn how to make 2 different three course meals, perfect to try over the holidays!
  • Wine and cheese tasting in a private Cave
  • Guided walks, stopping for a delicious lunch along the way
  • A cultural and shopping excursion into Nice

France Bound will be visiting Villefranche sur Mer at the end of the month. Follow us as we check-out new restaurants, sights and activities.