Hilltop villages, vineyards, verdant valleys, and ancient châteaux characterize the region of Sud Luberon, located north of the Durance River. It's best to explore this area by car, since Pertuis is the only town with substantial transport links.
25km (15 miles) SE of Apt; 39km (24 miles) E of Cavaillon; 8km (5 miles) east of Lourmarin
Movie fans might already know Cucuron from the many films that have been shot here. Location managers can't resist the combination of a panorama of terra-cotta rooftops, an 11th-century dungeon, ramparts, stone gateways, and an air of ancient peace. They are also drawn to the Etang, an enormous reservoir picturesquely shaded by 200-year-old plane trees and the setting for the Tuesday morning market (as well as not-to-be-missed night markets during the summer). While the village appeared in Jean-Paul Rappaneau's 1995 adventure Le Hussar sur le Toit, the Etang itself had a starring role in Ridley Scott's 2006 romantic comedy A Good Year.
Cafes and restaurants surround the Etang, notably the Michelin-starred La Petite Maison (tel. 04-90-68-21-99; www.lapetitemaisondecucuron.com). Top-quality dishes are served within its secluded garden, including caramelized sweetbreads, roasted pigeon, and tuna tartare; menus start from 40€. A considerably more affordable alternative -- with lovely views of the Etang -- is next door at the Bar de l'Etang (tel. 04-90-77-23-11). It might attract tourists but it's not particularly touristy; it's just a down-to-earth cafe serving good omelets and other French staples at decent prices. The Hôtel de l'Etang (tel. 04-90-77-21-25; www.hoteldeletang.com) is a two-star Logis de France hotel in a bright-yellow building right beside the Etang. Its six rooms are simply furnished but you can't beat the location; doubles range from 70€ to 120€.
The Office de Tourisme is in rue Léonce Brieugne (tel. 04-90-77-28-37; www.cucuron-luberon.com). They have information on local walking routes as well as details for visits to local olive farms.
23km (14 miles) N of Aix-en-Provence; 36km (22 miles) S of Apt; 76km (47 miles) SE of Avignon
Pertuis is the largest town in the area, and the only one with decent links to public transportation as well as a substantial shopping district. Trains arrive from Marseille and Aix-en-Provence to the SNCF station just south of the town, and buses come into the gare routière in place Garcin near the town center. The ancient central quarter is the site for the busy Friday morning market in place Mirabeau. Stalls are set up in full view of the remains of the 13th-century fortified château, whose dungeon and clock tower are symbols of the town.
One of the area's most renowned restaurants is Le Boulevard, 50 bd. Pécout (tel. 04-90-09-69-31; www.restaurant-leboulevard.com), where organic local ingredients are served in a cozy setting. Chef Pierre Bontoux prepares Provençal specialties, including stuffed zucchini flowers and roasted loin of lamb, with many of his dishes featuring Pertuis's own variety of potato; menus start at 28€. Bontoux also holds Saturday morning cooking classes.
Just east of Pertuis is the Best Western Sévan Parc Hôtel on route de la Bastidonne (tel. 04-90-79-19-30; www.sevanparchotel.com), a friendly family hotel set within 3 hectares (7 acres) of landscaped gardens. It's like a minivillage, with two swimming pools, plenty of sporting activities, and two restaurants: l'Olivier serves French specialties and La Paillote serves Tex-Mex. Doubles range from 102€ to 163€.
The Office de Tourisme is in the château's dungeon in place Mirabeau (tel. 04-90-79-15-56; www.tourismepertuis.fr). They have information on bicycle rentals as well as visits to local vineyards.
35km (22 miles) N of Aix-en-Provence; 79km (49 miles) SE of Avignon; 63km (39 miles) N of Marseille
Ansouis is another of the numerous Provençal villages that has officially been designated one of the most beautiful in France. Unlike many hilltop villages in the Luberon, Ansouis manages to avoid the worst of the mistral winds thanks to its southern situation. This makes it very pleasant to leisurely wander through its ancient and pretty cobblestoned streets.
Its medieval château (tel. 06-84-62-64-34; www.chateauansouis.fr; admission 8€) had been in the same family since its inception in the 12th century until it was sold in 2008. Now it's run by the Rousset-Rivière family, who give guided tours of their magnificent home. Mme Rousset-Rivière explains how the castle had been modified since its beginnings in a thoroughly enjoyable tour of the salons, kitchen, bedrooms, and gardens.
The Musée Extraordinaire (tel. 04-90-02-82-64; admission 3.50€) is an unusual museum that pays homage to sea life. Scuba diver and artist Georges Mazoyer has combined his artworks with his finds from his travels to create a series of interesting exhibits dedicated to underwater life. The highlight is a blue grotto made of coral. Sculptures, corals, fossils, and glass creations form a vivid display in a medieval setting. It's just on the right side of kitsch.
Accommodation is scarce in the village, but there is a charming chambres d'hôtes (bed and breakfast). Un Patio en Luberon, rue du Grand Four (www.unpatioenluberon.com; tel. 04-90-09-94-25), has five romantic rooms in a 16th-century auberge for 70€ to 80€ a night, including breakfast. They also serve evening meals with advance notice.
Ansouis doesn't have a tourism office of its own, but you can get information from the office at La Tour d'Aigues or at www.ansouis.fr.
La Tour des Aigues
29km (18 miles) N of Aix-en-Provence; 35km (22 miles) S of Apt; 81km (50 miles) SE of Avignon
This tiny village overlooking the banks of the Eze River sprang up around an 11th-century priory and tower. Nowadays, it focuses on producing excellent Côtes du Luberon and harvesting fruit from its numerous orchards. La Tour d'Aigues's main claim to fame, however, is the Renaissance château (www.chateau-latourdaigues.com; admission 4.50€), which stands in ruins overlooking the village. The château dates back to medieval times, but fires and uprisings during the French Revolution caused much damage to the structure. Fortunately, the impressive gateway and other parts of the château still stand. These form an evocative backdrop to numerous events and festivals held in the vast courtyard, notably the August jazz festival. A visit to the château includes constantly changing exhibitions as well as the 18th-century earthenware on display in the Musée des Faïences. The Office de Tourisme is located in the château (tel. 04-90-07-50-29; www.sourireduluberon.com).
Less than a 10-minute drive northwest is one of the Luberon's favorite water playgrounds, the Etang de la Bonde. It's a popular spot for swimming, fishing, and boating. It's also the idyllic setting for the Restaurant du Lac (tel. 04-90-09-14-10; www.restaurantdulac.eu), a superior restaurant with a panoramic terrace on the lakeside. The light cuisine focuses on the best seasonal products from the region. You can put yourself in chef Philippe Sublet's hands and go for the six-course surprise menu for 55€.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.