In the Fall of 2018, we spent nine weeks in the south of France, mostly in Provence and the Cote d’Azur. I naively thought that I would post an article about our experiences every few days. I managed to put out five posts, all during the first month of the trip.
The following is a post I started on September 26, 2018, and never finished. We were staying in Bonnieux, and this is about one of the day trips we made from there. Here it is – finished at last.
From September 26, 2018…
Yesterday, we spent an afternoon exploring the villages of Lourmarin and Cucuron. We had intended to also go to Ansouis, but got a late start, so we plan to visit there another day. One of the things about this trip that we are most happy about is that we really have no set schedule other than our lodging reservations. We have lists of places to see and things to do near each of our lodgings, and each day we either pick some things from the list, or we decide to have a day off, or we go somewhere or do something that we have learned about while here. This is a wonderful contrast with our previous travels where we had maybe two weeks to see as much as possible, and so had a full pre-planned itinerary of places to go and sites to see.
Lourmarin is one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, and it is indeed a very pretty place. It is also full of shopping opportunities for tourists, mostly upscale and pricey. At this time of the year, however, many of the shops were having 50% off sales, so we dove in. Debbie bought a scarf, and we plan to go back later in the week to do some Christmas shopping for family. [Note: we did, in fact return to Lourmarin twice. On the first revisit, we were successful in making some gift purchases. On the second revisit, we found several of the shops we had hoped to patronize were closed for the season, or in one case, permanently.]
We wandered around the grounds of the chateau, known as the Villa Medici de Provence, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries when it was rebuilt on its original 12th century foundations. It was closed for the traditional 2-hour lunch break, so we took our own quiet lunch at a Corsican/Italian restaurant, away from the main tourist areas, and did some more wandering. [We enjoyed a proper tour of the chateau during our second visit to the village.] Lourmarin is not a perched village, so it is mostly flat, and its narrow, winding streets are picturesque collections of tightly-packed, and very nicely restored and well-kept, homes and shops.
Cafe culture, not so prominent in other villages of the Luberon, is alive and well in Lourmarin. The winding lanes lead to the village center where restaurant tables occupy seemingly every square meter of sidewalk space, with waitstaff bustling between the storefront kitchens and their animated customers at the tables. On our second visit to Lourmarin, we had our only encounter of the entire trip with a stereotypical “Ugly American”. He was fat, inebriated, and loud, sharing his adoration of the current resident of the White House with a group of Asian tourists at the next table. We ate elsewhere, out of earshot.
Lourmarin’s most famous former resident was nobel laureate Albert Camus, who is buried in the village cemetery. In more recent times, the village gained some fame and attracted tourists as the home of Peter Mayle, author of “A Year in Provence” and other bestsellers based on life in Provence.
Just a 10 or 15 minute drive East from Lourmarin is Cucuron. It is not particularly beautiful or well-restored, but this picturesque medieval village is worth a visit anyway. Cucuron is a working village, not so dependent on the tourist trade as many other Luberon villages, and therefore active year-round. The surrounding area is home to over 200 farms which produce cherries, melons, olives, and Côte du Luberon wines.
We explored the ruins of Saint-Michel tower, a 14th century donjon or prison, walked the steep streets, and had coffee at a cafe along the large bassin or pool in the village square, Place de l’Etang, just outside the medieval ramparts. 200-year-old plane trees tower over the square and bassin, providing cooling shade even on the hottest days. This was one of the locations used in the Ridley Scott movie “A Good Year“, starring Russell Crowe, and based on another Peter Mayle novel.
Back to the Present…
We have been living in France since February 2020. As travel restrictions are lifted, we plan to explore places in France that we haven’t seen before, but there are a few places to which we will likely return. Lourmarin is one of these. And maybe we’ll finally get to Ansouis.