A few years ago, my mum said I absolutely MUST watch a film that she had bought on DVD from a second hand store. It’s the story of a man who inherits a vineyard in the South of France, trading the hustle and bustle of the rat race in London for the simple pleasures of life in Provence. I wasn’t much keen on the film itself, but the locations? Oh how I wanted to visit! The scenes of the endless beautiful countryside and the undeniably charming French towns are a recipe for delight – and, yes, perhaps the mention of French wine may have increased my yearn to visit Provence even more.
Parc naturel régional du Luberon is the “green bit above Marseille” on the map, as my sister Becka described it to me when we began planning our trip. The Luberon region was relatively unknown in terms of tourism until the beginning of the 1900s and began booming in the 1980s with the publication of a series of books by Peter Mayle about his life as an expat in Ménerbes. Whilst it’s still a very popular area (particularly in summer), it’s a wonderful place to visit.
The towns in this post are acclaimed as some of the most beautiful French villages in France. An independent tourism body named Les Plus Beaux Villages de France ranks small, picturesque villages across the country, aiming to promote them without turning them into tourist theme-parks or soulless museums. However, with such a prestigious title, I’m always a little skeptical. Are these villages really as beautiful as people say?
The answer is yes, they are. This is the image of France that you conjure up in your head: the romantic, beautiful rêverie in which people carry their baguette in hand while cycling down the street, where the tablecloths in the brasseries are chequered in red and white, and where people don’t seem to do very much apart from walk their dogs, drink coffee, and chatter in the alleyways. There truly is something quite magical about all of these villages; they have an irresistible charm that lures you in and makes you want to linger a little longer… and in Provence, why not? The relaxed, laissez-faire feeling exhumes from the very cobblestones beneath your feet. Just driving through the surrounding countryside whisks you away to a world of sun-kissed happiness.
My sister and I decided to spend a few days in the South of France as an excuse to practice her French before her speaking exams at university. Despite visiting one of the most touristic parts of the country, we spoke entirely in French from the moment we stepped off the plane, and I was surprised to find my French isn’t too rusty after not speaking it for three years! Armed with a road map, car keys and a list of filming locations, we set out on our mission to find those utterly charming French towns featured in Ridley Scott’s ‘A Good Year’.
Inarguably pretty, this hilltop village is set amid the countryside of Parc National du Luberon, with endless views of the surrounding fields. Acclaimed as the capital of the Luberon region, Gordes gets its popularity from its undeniable good looks. The tiny streets lined with stone buildings seem to transport you into an enchanting fairytale scene, but really, it’s more than just a pretty face. Bursting with restaurants, cafés and boutique shops, Gordes also has a thriving art scene. Worth a visit is the nearby Sénanque Abbey with its lines of lavender set just outside.
This terracotta town is a little different to the rest; it appears to blend into the reds and oranges of the surrounding nature in the area. The ochre cliffs are a must-see; their assertive shade is a distinct contrast to the greenery of the vast landscape. The sediment from these rocks was first used as a natural paint in pre-historic times, and has since made a come-back in this delightful town. Roussillon showcases the beauty of the natural paint. Its vibrant, long-lasting colour makes ochre the perfect material with which to coat the buildings throughout the town, and make it an intriguing place to spend an afternoon.
Another small but inviting village, Lourmarin’s alleyways are filled with shops selling books, gifts, arts and crafts, and many a souvenir to remind you of your time in Provence. It’s the perfect place to linger for a while and observe day-to-day Provencal life, with its courtyards of brasseries, cafes and restaurants opening out onto the streets. Just outside of the town is a 15th century château with views onto the fields of surrounding vineyards, olive groves and almond trees.
If you are driving from Roussillon to Loumarin, Bonnieux is impossible to miss, with the spire of the 12th century Vieille Église (Old Church) rising into the sky. Once a fortified village, this charming town offers plenty to see and do as it’s a little bigger than the previous villages mentioned in this post, with many more restaurants, cafés and a market on Friday mornings. Or you may enjoy simply wandering the winding streets, noting the oh-so-quaint architecture of the 16th century houses, and gazing at the expansive views of the fields of crops and distant Luberon mountains.
Where to stay in Provence:
We stayed at a number of budget accommodation options in Provence, all of which I reserved just a couple of days in advance through booking.com. Use the form below to browse accommodation listings, or why not try AirBnB?
How to get around
We chose to rent a car with Interrent while we were in Provence, simply because it gave us the most freedom. You can easily visit all of the above villages in a day, and there are many more beautiful villages in Provence to add to your list, such as Lacoste, Ménerbes and Vénasque, among many more. Use a free offline GPS app such as Here We Go (Nokia) to help you get around.
Have you visited any of these charming French towns?
Thanks for reading & happy travels!
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