Summer is finally peaking its head around the corner, which means one thing… rosé season is here! And if, like me, you’re a fan of the pink drop, then there’s no better place to find it than in its natural habitat – Provence, France.
I visited Provence earlier this month on a quest to see it all. There was only one problem. Provence is big. Huge in fact, stretching from the lower Rhone River and across to Italy, taking in the French Riviera along the way.
Given the region includes many of France’s most iconic destinations (think Nice, Cannes and St Tropez), I quickly became overwhelmed when trying to decide what my time in Provence should look like. So lesson numéro un, when planning a trip to Provence, pick an area and commit to it!
We decided to base ourselves in the Luberon, an inland area of Provence characterised by mountain ranges, hilltop villages and some spectacular French countryside. It’s also here that you’ll find Provence’s famous lavender fields. The Luberon may not have the glamour of the French Riviera, but you’ll immediately fall in love with its rustic charms.
Once we settled on the Luberon, it was much easier to come up with a definitive list of what to do. Here’s how we spent* our four days. (*Does not include time spent eating cheese by the pool.)
First things first, the wine. While the Luberon is very much Provence, the appellation d’origine contrôlée (or AOC; the French certification of origin and quality) for its wine technically sits within the Rhone Valley – apparently because this brings more prestige. But like the rest of Provence, rosé here is still king, making up 50% of production.
What was refreshing was that unlike some other wine regions in Europe, many wineries in the Luberon let you drop in for a free tasting without having to endure a longwinded tour about the wine making process (let’s be honest, once you’ve seen one oak barrel, you’ve seen them all).
You will need a car to get from winery to winery. If no one is willing to be designated driver, consider a private or group tour to chauffer you around. We chose a private tour with Provence Wine Tours, who took us to three wineries as well as Aix en Provence.
The standout wineries that we visited during our time in the Luberon were:
Chateau la Verrerie
This was one of our favourite wines. The grand country house and its classic Provençal interiors also made it a charming place to enjoy a tasting. As well as some fantastic wines, they also produce olive oils and sell a range of local produce.
Chateau la Verrerie, 1810 route du lubéron, 84360 Puget-sur-Durance
Domaine de Fontenille
What do you get when a former fashion CEO and a Parisian gallery owner open a winery? Domaine de Fontenille!
The brand new cellar and tasting room overlooks the vineyards and is every bit as stylish as you’d expect from such an illustrious pairing. And despite the fact that they sell box wine (which gave me unpleasant flashbacks to my high school days), the wine here is very good.
As well as the new cellar door, the chateau at Domaine de Fontenille has been meticulously restored to its former glory and is now a luxury hotel.
Domaine de Fontenille, Route de Roquefraiche, 84360 Lauris, France
While the experience of Chateau Fontvert isn’t as glossy as Fontenille or Verrerie, the quality of its organic and biodynamic wine makes it well worth dropping in for a tasting. In fact, this may very well have been my favourite wine of the trip. And it’s conveniently just a stone’s throw from the charming village of Lourmarin….
Chateau Fontvert, 15 Chemin de Pierrouret, 84160 Lourmarin
The Luberon is bursting with picturesque villages, each vying to outdo the others in the cuteness stakes. You can’t travel too far without running into a new one – here are five where you should stop and explore:
Lourmarin is on the official list of the most beautiful villages in France and it’s easy to see why.
The traditional Provençal look is everywhere, with the soft palettes of the building facades contrasting with the bold colours of weather-beaten doors and shutters. Boutiques line the streets, their shop fronts wholly consumed by vibrant green ivy. And all the while, très chic French sit at cafe tables that spill out onto the narrow, winding streets, sipping their aperitifs and (probably) judging tourists like me who won’t stop taking photos of windows and doors.
Market day: Fridays
Roussillon takes the old saying ‘paint the town red’ quite literally. Inspired by the ochre deposits found in the clay surrounding the village, each building is painted in earthy tones, from yellow through to deep red. This uniformity creates a striking contrast to the vivid green hills that surround the village, immediately distinguishing Roussillon from the rest of the Luberon.
From here you can walk the ochre trail through the nearby disused ochre quarries, which are a site to behold in themselves. Just keep in mind that Roussillon is the second most visited village in the Luberon – and therefore gets busy!
Market day: Thursdays
Gordes is the most visited village in the Luberon, and also makes it onto the list of most beautiful villages in France. Dramatically draped over the top of a hill, its beige-stoned buildings dominate the skyline. Spend some time here wandering through its labyrinth of cobbled laneways, taking in the sweeping views of the countryside below.
Market day: Tuesdays
Bonnieux is another hilltop village, not dissimilar to Gordes. However it doesn’t draw in the tour buses like Gordes and Roussillon, which makes it worth stopping in for a visit. Make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes – there’s a lot of steep cobblestone laneways to navigate, but they just make the awe-inspiring view from the ‘Eglise Haute’ church at the very top all the more rewarding.
Market day: Fridays
Cucuron may appear tiny, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Start at the main square for a drink by its rectangular basin lined with trees, and then stroll through the laneways for more Provençal facades, hidden shops and some great views.
If you have a bit more time, you’ll also find the Michelin-starred La Petite Maison here. Its old-school French fare, brought to life by Eric Sapet, the colourful chef who seemed to spend more time entertaining his guests than in the kitchen.
Market day: Tuesdays
I love a French market. The colours, the produce, the saucisson.
There’s really no better way to get a sense of French village life than to experience its markets. So no trip to Luberon could be complete without visiting a market or two.
Whether you’re looking for something specific, or simply just meandering, it’s a laid-back way to spend a morning. Many villages have a market day each week – you can find the schedule here.
We chose the market in Apt, the largest in the Luberon and one that has been operating for over 900 years. The market snakes its way through the village laneways and offers a good variety of fresh produce, handcrafted wares and of course, local wine!
The market operates every Saturday until approximately 12:30pm (and also Tuesday mornings from June to October).
Take a day trip
If you’re staying more than a couple of days in the Luberon, there’s also plenty to do just beyond its borders. (Did I just contradict my earlier advice about committing to an area?)
After a few heavy days of rosé, we visited Chateauneuf-du-Pape (about an hour’s drive from the Luberon) for a day of red. As you’d expect given the Chateauneuf price tag, the wine was excellent. The big surprise was that they also produce some exceptional white wines. But given only 5% of their production is white, you’ll be hard pressed to find it outside of France. We also tried some great rosé – but under their AOC, they’re not allowed to call it a Chateauneuf-du-Pape!
The standout winery that we visited was Vignobles Mayard, which offers free tastings and no appointment needed for under five people. (24 Avenue Baron Le Roy, 84231 Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
Quick tips when visiting the Luberon