Monday, 25 August 2014

Beautiful villages of the Luberon

Just inland of Aix en Provence is an area called the Luberon. It's home to some of the most picture-postcard villages in France. Indeed, some of them are members of a prestigious group call the Most Beautiful Towns in France. I wasn't disappointed. Our tour guide took us to Roussillon. This village is famous for its houses coloured with local ochre. It's a completely natural product and they have bylaws promoting its use to preserve the character of the town.
Ochre is a natural pigment mixed with sand. It's used in colouring the outside of houses, by artists and textile dyers. The shades range from yellow through orange, terracottas and red to almost purplish. The cafes and houses are so colourful. You can tour the ochre museum if you have time. And there are scrummy local ice-creams to be licked.
This part of France features in the movie A Good Year (Ridley Scott Director) with Russell Crowe in the lead role. Our tour ended up visiting many of the film locations such as Gordes (Renaissance Hotel as Fanny's bistrot) and La Canorgue as as the villa/chateau La Siroque. We passed through Bonnieux where most of the cast and crew stayed. Ridley Scott has a home and vineyard in the Luberon so he was effectively filming in his own backyard.
In this area one can see the Marquis de Sade's castle still visited.  It was fun visiting the locations but even more fun knowing these places are real, ancient and steeped in history and local 'colour'. 
Gordes is a perched village located 38kms east of Avignon. During World War II it was an active resistance village. It's beautiful and to keep it that that way, all the new buildings in Gordes are made of stone and use terracotta roof tiles. No fences are allowed, only stone walls.
Gordes has famous markets and it's hard to negotiate people in the main square. I wasn't tempted by the local produce, or clothing but almost bought some lavender. It's everywhere in soaps and toilet water and little lingerie bags. On the heights is a castle and not far away a cistercian abbey. We didn't have time to visit the interior of the castle or abbey. It was tiring enough wandering he streets up hill and down dale. Worth visiting though.
We visited the town of Lourmarin and the outside of its castle, where an art exhibition was being held. They hold art and musical events here regularly; the Luberon Valley being a magnet for artistic folks. Albert Camus lived and died in Lourmarin.
The least interesting or impressive of our town visits was to Ile sur la Sorgue. It's a quaint town enclosed by a river, thus making it, effectively, like an island. One of its main claims to fame seems to be a series of water wheels. Wool and silk industries profitted from the supply of water and wheels. Water quality in this part of France is very good as it all gets filtered by the limestone rocks. You don't need to filter the water that comes out of the taps as there are no additives, just good quality tastefree water.
The other claim to fame is that it has the highest concentration of antique shops anywhere in France. I wasn't about to check them out. There were certainly some eccentric little shops stocking all sorts of hand-me-down stuff or brocante.

So, if you'd like to do a bit more than just laze around on the cote d'azur, go inland a little bit and discover these charming villages, film locations, local produce and wines. The countryside is breath-taking.


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