Wine, Truffles & Corkscrews in Ménerbes
Ménerbes is another hilltop village that has found itself on the list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the Most Beautiful Villages in France). It also found itself under siege by countless tourists looking for the house that Peter Mayle immortalized in his 1989 book A Year in Provence. Mayle has since moved on elsewhere, but Ménerbes is still on the tourist trail, even if the frenzy has died down somewhat.
As with many Luberon villages, the town is built on a hill, with the best views at the top. At the top of the medieval village is the place de l'Horloge, a charming square with a simple bell tower topped with a wrought-iron cage. In this place the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin du Luberon (tel. 04-90-72-38-27; www.vin-truffe-luberon.com) pays tribute to wine and truffles, with its wine cellar, museum, laboratory, restaurant, and library -- all housed in a building that dates from the 17th century. Here, you can discover the history of wine production in the region while sampling some of the local wines; you can also purchase bottles at vineyard prices. Similarly, there are demonstrations on how truffles -- those elusive, expensive, and delicious tubers -- make their journey from oak forests to the dinner plate. Taste them for yourself in the restaurant set in a splendid garden with views of the Luberon.
Outside Ménerbes, on the D103 heading towards Cavaillon, is an unusual museum: the Musée du Tire-Bouchon (tel. 04-90-72-41-58; www.domaine-citadelle.com). This museum houses a unique collection of more than 1,200 corkscrews dating from the 17th century to the present day. The exhibits show how the humble corkscrew has developed over the centuries, from the first steel ones forged by hand to modern designer contraptions that are a triumph of style over substance. It's open from April to September Monday to Friday 9am to noon and 2pm to 7pm, and Saturday to Sunday 10am to noon and 2pm to 7pm; from October to March Monday to Friday 9am to noon and 2pm to 5pm. Admission is 4€. The museum is run by Yves and Alexis Rousset-Rouard who own the neighboring Domaine de la Citadelle, where you can visit the cellars or take a tour of the vineyard.
Driving Les Routes de la Lavande
Lavender has played a major role in this region for hundreds of years. When it was part of the Roman Empire, Provence produced lavender flowers to scent the public baths. In the Middle Ages, villages burned piles of the plant in the streets in an effort to fight disease. But it was during the Renaissance that the current industry took root, linked to the Medicis, who padded their wealth with trade in the distillation of the flower's essential oils.
Lavender production covers many regions in Provence, and the Luberon in particular. A drive through the region is most scenic just before the June/July harvest, when the countryside is a purplish hue from the blossoms of the lavender plants, spread out in seemingly endless rows. Not only can you take in the sight and scent of the flowers, but you can also tour the distilleries and farms. Some of these are open only during summer when the year's harvest is undergoing distillation. Those that are open year-round offer tours. They also sell the plants, essential oils, dried flowers, perfumes, honey, and herbal teas.
In the hamlet of Les Agnels just south of Apt, the Agnel family has been running a lavender distillery since 1957. The business has since expanded to include a wellness center with a lavender-scented indoor pool and spa. You can buy their products at their boutique after taking a guided tour of the distillery. The distillery is located at rte. de Buoux D113, Les Agnels (tel. 04-90-04-77-00; www.lesagnels.com); it's open Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm.
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.