A rustic stone building in the centre of Oppede le Vieux
Before visiting Provence in France, I pictured winding country roads, quiet vineyards and rustic hilltop villages. However, the area of Provence is much bigger than I had realised and those scenes I had imagined are more consistent with the type of landscape found in and around the Luberon region within Provence.
Where is the Luberon region of Provence?
Provence (full name Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) covers a large area in the Southeast of France. Bordering Italy and the Mediterranean sea, It’s one of the most beautiful areas of France, attracting visitors all year round. Provence is made up of six smaller areas; Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Bouches du Rhône, Hautes-Alpes, Var, Vaucluse and Alpes Maritimes.
The small region of Luberon sits between the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Vaucluse in the centre of Provence. The Luberon is often referred to as the heart of Provence and it's here that you will find charming French villages, and sprawling vineyards and olive groves. The Luberon is also one of the best places to see the beautiful Lavender fields that Provence is famous for!
The Luberon is a truly beautiful part of France with stunning landscapes and a relaxed, laid back pace of life. Combine your visit with a trip along the French Riviera in the Alpes Maritimes region for the ultimate break in Provence.
Also read: One day in Avignon, Provence
The Luberon region of Provence is full of stunning views!
Below is my 4 day itinerary for visiting the Luberon region. This itinerary is designed for exploring at a slow, relaxed pace. However, if you have less time or want to fit more in, then you could certainly visit several villages in a day as they are quite close to one another.
How to spend 4 days in the Luberon region of Provence, France
Day 1 - Visit the Sentier des Ocres in Roussillon
Roussillon is a unique place in the Provence region. The town is known for its ochre, a clay-like mineral used for its natural pigmentation. Rousilion once had the world's largest ochre deposits. Nowadays, mining for ochre has stopped in Roussillon and the quarry is no longer in use. Standing in the small town, you can see why - almost everything around the town has been carved away in the deep quarry below, leaving just the village centre perched high on the hilltop.
The village of Roussillion sits high on a hilltop above the valley
Although the quarry is no longer being used for mining the ochre, it has been opened up to allow tourists to visit. For a small fee of €3 per person, you can walk the Sentiers des Ocres (ochre trail) through the old quarry. There are two trails - a 30 minute and a 60 minute trail which you can follow. (We took the longer trail, however it only took us about 40 minutes to complete the loop and this includes stopping for photos).
Even though the trail is quite short, the surroundings are spectacular and it is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Luberon. The bright orange, yellow and red cliffs stand out in stark contrast to the green pine trees. It honestly does not feel like you are in rural France, but rather in the middle of a desert!
The bright orange formations made of ochre in Roussillion's old ochre quarry
If you visit the ochre trail - a word of advice - don't wear anything white! The ochre will stain so try to avoid getting it on your clothes by leaning or sitting on the rocks.
After walking the ochre trail, take some time to wander the small village of Roussillon. There’s not a huge amount here, but it is one of the prettiest villages in this part of Provence. All the buildings have a pinky-orange hue from the ochre used in the construction. There are several art galleries and craft shops in the village, as well as a couple of small cafes and restaurants for lunch. Before you leave Rousillion, make your way to the Belvedere observation deck, at the highest point in the village. From here you have sweeping views of Mont Ventoux and the valley below.
You can’t visit this area of Provence without stopping in Roussillon, it is one of the most magnificent places in the Luberon.
The Pinky-Orange buildings made with Ochre in the narrow streets of Roussillion village
Day 2 - Stroll around the beautiful hilltop village of Gordes
The village of Gordes in the heart of the Vaucluse mountains is one of the most famous hilltop villages in Provence.
It is often referred to as one of the most beautiful villages in France, and as you approach the village, you will see why! The centre of the village perches at the top of the hill, whilst stone houses spiral around the side. In the valley below you can see vineyards and pretty villas in the surrounding countryside.
Gordes really is a very attractive village. For the best photos of Gordes,stop at the viewpoint along the main road to the southwest of the village. Start your visit to Gordes by wandering around the outskirts of the village, soaking up the sweeping views across the valley. As you make your way through the cobbled streets, you will see historic buildings, bridges and fountains which add to the charm of Gordes.
In the centre of the village, see the impressive Gordes Chateau, which dominates the hilltop. The castle dates back to the 10th century, but it was remodelled during the renaissance period. Previously the castle was used as a prison and attic for harvest and later, in the 19th and 20th century it was used for the daily activities of the village, housing a school, pharmacy, bar, post office and town hall. Today the castle is used for exhibitions and events.
Gorges Chateau dominates the centre of the village
Underneath the centre of the village is Les Caves du Palais Saint-Firmin. Sat underneath the renaissance Palais is an underground network of cellars and mills. For €6 entrance fee, you can walk through the underground cave network and visit the museum to learn about the history of Gordes. Occasionally wine tasting events are held in the cellars too.
There are several little cafes within the village of Gordes, perfect for a spot of lunch!
Tip: If you are short on time, you can combine Roussillon and Gordes into one day. I would suggest visiting Roussillon in the morning, stopping for lunch here then continuing onto Gordes.
Standing on the side of Gordes mound, looking out across the valley and houses sitting around the hilltop
Day 3 - Go hiking in the Luberon
The Luberon is a great destination for hiking. There is an extensive range of hiking trails across the region, connecting the towns and villages in the Luberon. Even if you are not an experienced hiker, there are plenty of trails to suit all levels and walking in the Luberon is a great day out for the whole family.
The best time to hike in the Luberon is during the winter, autumn or spring. The summer months can be quite dry and fires can be common during this season. If you are planning to hike in the summer, make sure to pack plenty of water and try to avoid midday when the sun is at its strongest.
The rocky landscape of Luberon Natural Park
When hiking in the Luberon, you will find a mixture of signs and markings along the trails. Some trails are marked by just a painted slash on a tree or pole, whilst other trails are marked by small gold signage on poles. Don’t rely on these markings solely. Make sure that you have either a physical map, or a map downloaded on your phone. I am a huge fan of the AllTrails app, and have used this over the world to find and follow hiking trails.
You will also need to be aware of hiking in the hunting season. Hunting season in Provence runs from October - February. It is still safe to hike during this time, but just make sure to stay on the hiking trails. The hunting dogs will usually have bells on them so you should hear them before you see them.
One of the most popular hiking trails in the Luberon is the Gorges du Regalon. Located in the south of the Luberon region, this hiking trail takes you through a narrow gorge before leading you through a picturesque valley. Walking through the narrow, high gorge can be challenging in parts and you will need to clamber over large rocks, but it is a very fun hike!
The Gorges du Regalon is a challenging but fun hike in the Luberon Valley
Day 4 - Visit the picturesque villages of Oppede-le-Vieux and Menerbes
On the final day in Luberon, combine a visit to two of the smaller villages in the region.
Start the Morning in Oppede-le-Vieux
Oppede-le-Vieux is a historic village that, until recently, lay completely abandoned on a hilltop. Oppede-le-Vieux was once the main village of Oppede. Villagers built their homes high on top of the hill to avoid the turmoil of war which this region was constantly involved in. Eventually, as fighting ceased, the position on the hilltop was no longer needed and it made it difficult for farming, so villagers slowly began to move their homes to lower ground. The new village of Oppede was formed at the base of the hill and by the early 1900’s the entire village had relocated, leaving the original village abandoned on the hill.
During WW2 artists and writers arrived in Oppede, searching for some peace. They began to settle in the unused houses of the hilltop village. Slowly they began to renovate the village and it became Oppede-le-Viex.
The village still has a feeling of part-abandonment, with some buildings still in a ruined state. Today, it is a popular site for tourists to visit and stroll around the old cobbled streets.
To get to Oppede-le-Vieux, you will need to park at the designated parking lot halfway up the hill and walk the rest of the way through pretty gardens. In the village itself there are a couple of small cafes to enjoy lunch.
The path leading to the entrance of Oppede le Vieux (L) and a charming row of houses in the village (R)
Sitting even further on the hill above the village is the Notre-Dame-d'Alydon, a church which has parts that date back to the 13th century. The Notre-Dame-d'Alydon is a further 10 minute uphill walk from the village, but the views at the top are worth it. From the church viewpoint, you can see across the Luberon Valley with rolling countryside and vineyards.
The Notre Dame d'Alydon sits high on the hill overlooking the village of Oppede le Vieux
Spend the afternoon visiting Menerbes
Just a short 10 minute drive from Oppede-le-Vieux is the small village of Menerbes. Like many other villages in the Luberon, Menerbes was built high on a hilltop to avoid the turmoil on ground level. It is a peaceful, pretty village with medieval stone buildings and narrow, cobbled streets. Menerbes is often given the title as one of the most beautiful villages in France and it certainly has lots of charm.
The small village is framed by the Citadel - a 16th century fortress - in the south and the Church of Saint Luc to the north. Walking between the two landmarks will take you through the centre of the village, where historic buildings house cafes and shops.
Menerbes is not a big village and you won’t need long here, but it is a nice place to stop if you are close by and perfect to add on to a visit to Oppede-le-Vieux. When driving between the two villages, take your time to soak up the gorgeous scenery of sweeping countryside and vineyards.
The colours of the landscape are particularly pretty in Autumn
Other places to visit near the Luberon
There are so many beautiful villages and towns dotted across the Luberon region, and also in the wider area of Provence. If you have a few more days to spare, here’s some other places which are worth visiting on your trip to the Luberon in Provence.
One of the most popular places to visit in Provence is the beautiful city of Avignon. If you are staying in the Luberon region, Avignon is a great place to visit for the day. Check out my post on the best things to see and do in Avignon.
Aix en provence
Similar to Avignon, Aix en Provence is another popular city in the Provence region. Aix en Provence is a large university city, full of life with lots of cafes, restaurants and shops. South of the Luberon region, Aix en Provence is just a 30 minute drive to Marseille and the coast.
Saint Remy de Provence
The village of Saint Remy was built on one of the oldest archaeological sites in Europe. The main attraction in Saint Remy is the historic site of Glanum. The ruins of this Greek and Roman city date back to the 2nd century. Strolling around the village of Saint Remy is a great way to spend an afternoon, with historic houses, art galleries and shady cafes.
Where is best to stay in the Luberon region of Provence?
The Luberon region is full of quiet villages and towns with peaceful cafes and laid back restaurants. You can’t go far wrong picking a town to stay in here if you are looking for peace and quiet surrounded by beautiful countryside. However, if you want to be close to lots of shops and lively restaurants and nightlife, you might be best to stay just outside of the Luberon region in one of the larger cities of Avignon or Aix en Provence.
Avignon is a great city to visit whilst in Luberon, Provence
How to travel to the Luberon region in Provence?
Without a doubt the best way to get around in Provence is by car. The area does not have a big public transport network between the smaller villages and towns and having your own car is a must.
If you are arriving in France by plane, fly into either Paris CDG or Marseille airport then catch a train to Avignon. From Avignon you can hire a car to explore the region.
Where can I see Lavender fields in Provence?
Provence is known for its stunning fields of beautiful lavender. Here are some of the best spots to see Lavender in Luberon:
1. Sénanque Abbey, close to the hilltop town of Gordes has beautiful lavender fields, You can also visit inside the abbey too.
2. In between the villages of Gordes, Lacoste and Bonnieux are several large lavender fields which are quite a sight to behold!
3. Les Agnels Lavender distillery in the centre of Luberon Natural Park is a great place to see Lavender surrounded by hiking trails and rolling hills.
The best time to see the lavender fields in Provence is in late June and early July. At this time the lavender will be in full bloom. The lavender harvest in Luberon usually begins in the second week of July.