Rabu, 14 April 2010

Les Villages Perchers

The approach to Menerbes

France's answer to the Hamptons. A magnet for the café society and political and art-world scenesters who like to throw their money and celebrity around. But it is also the Provence of shrill cicadas, pulsing heat, friendly countryfolks and the Garrigue (scrubland) crunching underfoot.
The Villages Perchers or perched villages in the Luberon mountain region on the Vaucluse plain, Provence, are amongst my favourite places in France. Several visits for both work and play have confirmed this. The area is already famous for being the setting for Peter Mayle's 'A Year in Provence' when he lived in one of the villages - Menerbes. These sleepy villages sum up the essence of provençal life to me. Our last visit was in the autumn of 2008 and the pictures here are from that trip.
Gordes, Lacoste, Roussillon, Bonnieux, and Menerbes are the best known of the villages. The reason for the hilltop locations was due to fortification against invaders in the Middle Ages. The remains of castles dot the terrain and each village seems to have either a castle or church with turret or tower visible from the approach below.
Menerbes is an ancient perched village on the Northern slopes of the Petit Luberon, one of the last holdouts of the Huguenots, who surrendered in 1578 after a 15 month siege. A number of artists, amongst them Picasso, used to live here.

A dog's life in the centre of Menerbes

Gordes is one of the more touristy villages, a favorite with film directors, artists, painters and Parisiens. It can get crowded with tour groups and the prices can get expensive. However the approach up the winding road at sunset is beautiful and the village is visible from the road for miles.

Taken from the winding uphill approach to Gordes at sunset

More dogs in the centre of Gordes

Lacoste and its chateau can be seen from other villages but is a smaller, less frequented stopover. Its claim to fame stems from its famous resident, the Marquis de Sade, who lived there in a castle in the 1770s.
Nowadays the château is owned by the couturier Pierre Cardin and undergoes a slow renovation; it is closed to the public. He hosts the well known Festival de Lacoste each summer, featuring art exhibitions, recitals and operettas. The village has been nicely restored; many artists live here.

Lacoste and the partly ruined, partly restored chateau of the Marquis de Sade

The hectic main street of Lacoste

Roussillon, once the stomping ground of Samuel Beckett, is unique and often called the Red Village due to the reddish stone mined from the ochre quarries in the distance. Apparently ochre provides a range of colors and does not fade in sunlight, ranging from pale yellow to blood red. Entering Roussillon, the buildings seem to glow and during dawn and dusk, the sunlight provides colourful nuances.

The ochre buildings Roussillon

A corner of Provence in Roussillon

Lourmarin is a very pretty village on the Southern Luberon slopes where the Grand Luberon and Petit Luberon meet, surrounded by lovely countryside with olive groves, vineyards and forests.


Provençal life in the centre of Lourmarin

Bonnieux is another steep village from where you can see at least three other villages. It sits directly across a valley from Lacoste.


A scene in Bonnieux

Right now I'd like to be sitting outside one of the cafés in any of these villages.

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