In an unremarkable looking façade, close to the L’Isle sur la Sorgue SNCF railway station, is La Boutique de Francine. For the past 50 years, Francine and before her, her mother have been travelling from their base in Marseille every Saturday and Sunday to open their treasure trove of ancient textiles, linens and various trousseaux that they have picked up over the past half a century.
The abundance of stock means that a visitor is able to discover pieces that you have been searching for – probably for a long time. There are infinite variations of embroidery initials too – so popular in the markets. Every item they take inot their shop has been lovingly washed, ironed and re-packed in cellophane. They made ideal ‘take home’ gifts as well as new family heirlooms.
Even if you’re not into the whole fabric scene, it’s really worth a visit just to see it. A warning for husbands though, every visit will take time and Francine does not have a Husbands’ bench but a few stones outside are useful for sitting on and perusing the newspaper or merely watching the passing parade.
For more information (in French only), click here.
Deep in the Luberon Valley is the small hilltop village of Saint Saturnin-les-Apt. Only 8km from Apt, it is far enough to be ‘in the country’.
The origins of the village date from the 10th century. There are still significant remains of the Castrum, perched on a rocky spur at a height of 450 metres. The 11th century chapel and keep were recently restored. The remains of the ramparts can be seen as the village spreads down to the plain (12th and 14th centuries). The village is dominated by a windmill dating from the 16th century. An old plaster furnace and dams are nearby. The churches of Saint Etienne and Croagnes, the chapels of Saint Radegonde, Saint Pierre of Agnane, Saint Madeleine and Saint Roch. The centre of the village has magnificent listed gates: Le Portalet, Gates of la Roque, Rome Gate and Leyguier Gate; as well as numerous fountains and washhouses, bridges, the Balcony of Atlantes, the public bake oven (open for guided visits). Outside the village lie 30 hamlets from the 17th century, stone cabins and covered stone water tanks.
To-day the village has 2,800 people and its jurisdiction stretches to Apt in the south and Sault, the lavender growing centre, in the north. “Saint Sat” as it is affectionately known by the locals is the start off point for many wonderful hikes in the surrounding mountains. They are pretty hilly and so quite challengingbut you will be rewarded with stunning views and a healthy thirst when you return – there are a couple of cute pubs in the village to help you recover Our friends in Saint Sat tell us that the new butchery sells a mighty fine steak!
The Provençal markets abound with musicians who earn a living by playing their tunes to the throungs who ebb and flow through the market stalls. The musicians seem to be an international crowd and no doubt move from country to country, much like the street theatre folk do.
Walking through a (nearly) deserted Lourmarin market in February, we found a delightful duo, singing Irish ditties (original compositions and the words of William shakespeare put into music). Although Irish, they seem to be based, if that is possibe, in Germany.
Called, Travelling People, the duo are quite superb.
For more info, click here: www.travelling-people.de
Basing yourself in the Luberon, does not necessarily mean that you miss out on the Riviera.
The French Riviera – the Côte d’Azur is a day-trip away: Saint-Tropez is 1.5 hours, Cannes just 2 hours, and Nice and Monte Carlo 2.5 hours. Take the autoroute which is the fastest way – but remember change for the tolls as most are now automated.
Provence and Markets go hand in hand. Although the large supermarket chains are encroaching into the most remote rural areas, the local Market is still an occasion. Farm fresh produce, unique clothing and fabrics, cheeses, wine, flowers and local delicacies such as rotisserie chicken (poulet roti) abound.
All markets typically start at 07h00 and finish at 14h00
Monday / Lundi: Cavaillon – Lauris – Cadenet
Tuesday / Mardi: Cuceron – Gordes – Lacoste – St Saturnin d’Apt – Aix en Provence – Marche Paysan d’Apt
The Aix market is a large one and apart from the usual local produce has a unique collection of local crafts and art. The market stretches around the main Church. The Cuceron and Gordes markets are brimmed full of fabrics, cheeses, delicatessens and vegetables. The small villages give off their own individual atmosphere and pavement cafés throng with happy customers.
Wednesday / Mercredi: Gargas – Merindol – Sault – St Remy de Provence – Marche Paysan a la Gare de Bonnieux
One of our favourites, St Remy is in the Les Alpilles area, so you will find some different stalls. There is a huge fabric and clothing area on the Town Square and then food and art stalls wend their way throughout the old town’s narrow streets. Many buskers play in the little squares and the atmosphere is special
Thursday / Jeudi: Ménerbes – Ansuis – Isle sur Sorgue – Roussillon – Les Beaux de Provence – Maussane les Alpilles
Friday / Vendredi: Bonnieux – Louramin – Pertuis – Carpentras – Aix en Provence
Lourmarin is rightly regarded as one of the jewels of the Luberon area even though it is not a perched village. This market reflects the upmarket nature of the Lourmarin residents and is jam- packed. The mix of fabrics, craft, food, flowers and spices is a heady one and a great experience. There are a number of good restaurants in the village as well, so a long lunch is almost compulsory (Numero 9 is a particular favourite).
Saturday / Samedi: Apt – Oppede – Pernes les Fontaines – Cheval Blanc – Arles
If its fabric you’re after, then Apt is considered the market to visit. It threads its way through the ancient Roman town and bargains can be had. Parking, however, is a bit of a nightmare so arrive early with ample patience.
Sunday / Dimanche: L’ Isle sur la Sorgue / Marche Paysan a Coustellet
The granddaddy of all markets is the Sunday L’Isle sur la Sorgue market. The village (called ‘The Venice of the South’) in Provençal due to its many canals and water wheels is recognized as the third largest antiques and collectibles centre in the world and many stalls and shops reflect this. However, within the narrow village streets you will find produce, spices, fabrics, wine, food, fruit, vegetables and crafts. It’s a great social occasion – go armed with a large basket (you will buy!), comfortable walking shoes and hungry.
However, if it’s fresh produce you’re after and you don’t want to tackle the Isle sur la Sorgue crowds, Coustellet is regarded by the locals as the best for farm products.The local cafés are open for an aperitif and the fish shop LO serves outstanding seafood snack platters, washed down with local sparkling (champagne).
Make your golfing dreams come true in the Provence- Cote d’Azur Region. There is a choice of 30 golf courses and 18 driving ranges on the shoreline of the Mediterranean, inland or in the mountains. 15 of these courses are affiliated with the Golf Pass Provence organisation. Go to: www.golfpass-provence.com for more details. However, we have chosen four courses which are the closest to Menerbes:
Provence Country Club
A short 27 minute drive away (19km), Provence Country Club is situated between Isle sur la Sorgue and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and below the hilltop village of Saumane-de-Vaucluse. It’s an uncomplicated course with many dog legs and generous openings to the greens. The holes vary in length quite considerably and PCC is regarded as a ‘use all the clubs in your bag’ course. Guests who have played this course, absolutely love it!
Route de Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
Tel: +33 4 90 20 20 65
Golf de Pont Royal
A 40 minute drive from Menerbes (30km), Pont Royal is a Seve Ballesteros design with many slopes, water features and different trajectories. The designer has incorporated many Provençal features such as lavender, and it regarded as a comfortable course for the beginner and a capable challenge for the professional. Pont Royal has hosted numerous professional tournaments.
Domaine de Pont Royal
Tel: +33 4 90 57 40 79
Golf de Chateaublanc
A 42min (31km) drive, Chateaublanc is a course packed with water features. In fact 12 of the holes have water! The course is regarded a ‘technical’ and is a par 72. Numerous ducks and turtles enjoy the water and surrounding nature making it a pleasant outing.
Route de Chateaublanc
84310 Morieres les Avignon
Tel: +33 4 90 33 39 08
Golf Grand Avignon
This course is 34km away (44min) and is 6,037 metres long and a par 72. For our guests this is number 2 and while it has its challenges, is perhaps the easiest of the four courses mentioned. Wide fairways and excellent greens are a pleasure. There are five small lakes and Provençal vegetation abounds.
Chemin de la Benasterie
Tel: +33 4 90 31 49 94
Footnote for the not so serious golfers:
There is also a newish 9-hole short course in the village of Villars (about 4km from Apt, and 30km from Ménerbes). No bookings required.
Lourmarin is a fascinating and beautiful village (for both the scenery and the people). There are a number of up-market and tasteful shops worth a visit, especially if you have a passion for antiques and décor. A well-preserved château in the town is also a popluat attraction, it was here that both Liszt and Wagner lived. The Friday market is quite different to the others and quite up-market – an essential stop!
Fontaine de Vaucluse is where a deep spring feeds the Sorgue River. ‘Fontaine’ means ‘fountain’ and ‘Vaucluse’ is the name of the department (state) you are in. It’s said that all the rainfall that comes off the mountains feeds into this mysterious spring, which is over 1,000 feet deep (however the bottom has never been reached). Fontaine de Vaucluse is the name of the village as well. It’s best to visit during the week – as weekends can be impossibly crowded. There are places on the Sorgue where you can hire a canoe or kayak and drift down the river – then you will be met at the end of your relaxing float and taken back to your car.
Mont Ventoux is a mountain that looks snow-capped year-round, but is, in fact, topped with white shale. In the winter it does have snow and many go skiing and tobogganing there, though runs are short. You can drive to the top and enjoy stunning views to the Mediterranean and over to the Alps. Take a coat as it can be cold at the top, even in summer. For the extremely fit, you can also cycle to the top – it is one of the most notorious stages of the Tour de France cycle race. Plan to take the whole day for this trip. Sault at the foot of the mountain is an interesting little village.
Arles was a major Roman city and the surviving sites, such as the arena and the theatre, are unique in that they are integrated into the houses and buildings of the town, rather than sitting apart as they do in places such as Orange. Arles is also where van Gogh had one of his most productive periods. Arles is the Gateway to the Camargue.