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Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon (www.parcduluberon.fr) is made up of three mountain ranges and their common valley. Author Peter Mayle brought attention to the area with his “A Year in Provence” series extolling the virtues of picturesque villages such as Bonnieux, Lourmarin, and Menderes, where Mayle restored his first French home. Most of these are within 12km (7 1/2 miles) of each other, making the Luberon well worth an afternoon’s exploration.

For avid cyclists, Vélo Loisir en Luberon (http://eng.veloloisirluberon.com) has marked hundreds of kilometers of bike routes throughout the region’s vineyards and lavender fields. See the website for maps and bicycle rental agencies, as well as a bunch of bucolic dining spots en route.

This romantic hilltop village of Bonnieux, nestled in the heart of the Petit Luberon, commands views of nearby Roussillon and the whole Coulon Valley. Strategically located between Spain and Italy, Bonnieux has had a bloody history of raids and battles since its beginnings in Roman times, when it stood closer to the valley floor. To better defend itself, the town was moved farther up the hill during the 1200s, when it also received sturdy ramparts and sentry towers. In the 16th century, Bonnieux grew into a Catholic stronghold and often found itself surrounded by Protestants who were suspicious and jealous of its thriving economy. Since its streets were lined with mansion after mansion belonging to prominent bishops, allegations swirled around that the town received particular "favors" to bolster its standing. Envy and zeal got the best of the Protestants, and they eventually laid siege to the town, killing approximately 3,000 of the 4,000 inhabitants. Even though Bonnieux is the largest hill town in the area, its population never truly recovered and continues to hover around 1,500.