The Fall of Provence

Exploring the Luberon in September offers travelers discounts, unique seasonal delights and a welcome respite from the summer crowds.

There is no better time to visit the South of France than in September, after the summer hordes have gone and while the last vestiges of summer linger on. The prices tend to drop, but the temperature doesn’t and the fragrant beauty of the region fills the senses with a potency that doesn’t fade until late-October when the winds starts to cool and the scent of the lavender and the thrum of the cicadas finally disappear.

Views of the Luberon

The Luberon region, a wandermelon favorite, sits inland and stretches along 34 miles on either side of a small, rocky mountain range, an hour or so north of the Mediterranean Sea. Surrounded by rugged limestone cliffs, ancient hilltop villages such as Bonnieux, Lacoste, Gordes, Roussillon, Saignon and Oppède-le-Vieux are perched up high and overlook low mountains and peaceful farms with sweeping views that never seem to end. Peter Mayle described this bucolic area in his best-selling book, “A Year in Provence,” which was also featured in the 2006 movie “A Good Year.” For a taste of the good life, check into La Bastide de Marie–a rambling farmhouse surrounded by vineyards–in Menerbes near Bonnieux, two of Provence’s prettiest towns. (Rates start at 450€ p/day. Click here for specials.)

The Romans, whom always knew good land when they saw it, came here 2,000 years ago and have left a rich legacy of amphitheatres, aqueducts, temples and old theatres that can make even the most seasoned travelers gaze in awe. The impeccably preserved medieval towns, 500-year-old papal palaces in Avignon, Côtes-du-Rhône vineyards and stunning gorges such as the Gorde de l’Ardeche are all easily and more comfortably explored in the off-peak season. You can wander the Alpilles hills in Van Gogh’s footsteps or explore Arles, where Picasso, Hemmingway and Cocteau hung out in the ’50s and ’60s while residing at the legendary Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus. (The hotel was owned by Nello, a clown who rode a tiny bicycle while telling jokes, and Germaine, a young cabaret singer.) To this day, it remains a place of pilgrimage for those who long for the days of yore. (Rates range from 170-345€ for rooms and 460-570€ for a private apartment.)  For a more modern alternative, try the Hotel Particulier in Arles with its paired-down contemporary elegance. (Rates range from 190-290€ when booked through Mr & Mrs Smith.)

The local weekly markets offer a cornucopia of delights, especially in the grape harvest season (or verdange), which begins in September. (Truffle season begins in November!) Food is woven into the everyday fabric of life in Provence. The soil is rich, the sun is warm and there is an abundance of good things to eat. The range of fragrant herbs one will encounter in the wild is simply staggering (thyme, sage, savory, lavender, rosemary…), not to mention the figs, melons, berries, truffles, eggplant and olives that naturally thrive in the region. Village feasts abound in the harvest season, so be sure to stop and enjoy the fruits of their labors. The biggest market resides in Aix-en-Provence. Click here to see a list of market days or here for a calendar of local monthly events. During September and October, Relais & Chateaux’ five-star Hotel Crillon le Brave is offering four all-inclusive Verdanges & Cooking in Provence Weekends, as well as a Truffle & Wine Weekend. Click here to find out more. (Smith members receive a complimentary champagne breakfast for two.)

Four of “the most beautiful villages in France” are located in the Luberon: Roussillon, Lourmarin, Menerbes and Gordes–a spectacular ancient stone village built into the high Plateau de Vaucluse with panoramic views of the Luberon mountains. A simple but charming guesthouse to stay in is La Fermes de la Huppe, full of character and authentic Provence hospitality. (Rates range from 95-185€ p/night.) For a five-star experience, go to the 16th La Bastide de Gordes & Spa century tucked into the ramparts of the village’s clifftop terraces. (Rates range from 183-648€ p/night.) Another great little spot to either stay or have lunch is at Les Remparts in nearby Venasque. (Rates range from 45-86€ p/night.)

Gordes on the Plateau de Vaucluse

Just outside Gordes you’ll find the stunning Abbaye de Sénanque, a 12th-century monastery hidden in a deep gorge surrounded by lavender fields that bloom in June and July, drawing large crowds at that time. Senanque continues to function as a working monastery and the monks make honey, lavender oils and liqueurs. Nearby in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse discover the largest and most beautiful natural spring in all of France as well as one of the largest natural springs in the world. In the 50s, Jacques Yves Cousteau came with a submersible to explore the depths but did not find the bottom. If you like to shop, visit L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with its collection of art galleries, vintage and interior décor shops, grouped in several “villages.” On Sunday morning the place becomes an orgy of antiques and bric-a-brac stalls, about 300 in all. This is the time to visit, when the streets are thronging with color and life. Other villages worth exploring are Pertuis and Cucuron, which features a beautiful Bassin de L’Etang (rectangular pool) surrounded by restaurants and cafés perfect for a late afternoon or early evening aperitif, including La Petite Maison–a delightful Michelin star restaurant with a rising star chef. Be sure to book early!

Just outside Cucuron is the Le Pavillon de Galon, an enchanting B&B run by husband and wife team, Bibi and Guy, who left their busy lives in Paris as a journalist and photographer for a simpler one full of country charm. And utterly charming it is. The 11 acres of award-winning gardens and a heated infinity pool, as well as cooking lessons, make this stylish 18th-century home a rare and beautiful find for discerning travelers who are looking for the real thing. (Ensuite bedrooms with breakfast included start at 175€ p/night.)

Le Pavillon de Galon in Cucuron

Truly, the best way to explore Provence in the fall is to pack up your plans and your car and just let yourself drift through the twisting French countryside and see where you land. There’s certainly no shortage of beautiful places to stay, but just in case you get stuck, here are a few more of our favorites: Alain Ducasse’s romantic hillside hideaway, La Bastide de Moustiers in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie; the Domaine Les Roullets at the foot of the Luberon mountain range in the golden triangle formed by Gordes, Ménerbes and Bonnieux; Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus near Gattigues; Château La Roque in La Roque Sur Pernes; Relais & Chateaux’ Le Couvent des Minimes at Mane en Provence; the hip and historic Chateau de Massillan in Uchaux; La Mirande in Avignon offers guests cooking courses as does Le Mas de Gres in Langes, which also offers cooking classes for kids! For the perfect accompanying soundtrack, turn up the volume and play Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien.” You may think you have entered a dream.

wandermelon Travel Concierge can design a completely unique experience in Provence in a variety of properties starting from US $6000 per/week for self catered villas and holiday homes to the ultimate in luxury properties with private chefs, as well as any of the above hotels or B&B’s. Private Villas are available between Aix en Provence and Avignon in the Luberon and Vaucluse region. We can organize all transportation, activities and provide 24/7 services for any requests while traveling in the area. We will familiarize you with the nearest village and seasonal events, entertainment, cuisine, arts, local culture and touring. Time to stop dreaming and start packing! Call + 1 949 466 3526 or email: travelconcierge@wandermelon.com to make an enquiry.

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