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.
Les Baux-de-Provence is a spectacular old fortress village on a hill, dating back to Roman times. It can get very busy but it is worth a stroll through – especially to browse the many art and pottery shops. It is one of the most popular sites in Provence so crowds are an issue in the mid-summer. Just down the road (about 500 metres) is the Carrieres de Lumieres – a sound and light show held in an old quarry, mined from the 5th Century until mid 20th Century. The productions are by the Louvre in Paris and are magnificent.
St Rémy de Provence is a picturesque, busy town with a good choice of restaurants and hotels. The road between St Rémy and Cavaillon is arrow-straight and lined with plane trees – just like French roads are portrayed in films. This is where Nostradamus and van Gogh lived, and the old town is very atmospheric. The St Rémy Market on Wednesday mornings is a must! The narrow, cobbled streets are lined with art studios and food shops. Enjoy lunch at one of the many restaurants (avoid the ones in the Town Square!) and soak up the atmosphere provided by the many buskers playing traditional French music.
The Gorges du Verdon is a spectacular canyon, up to 700m deep and 21km long – compact, wild and beautiful. From Castellane to the village of Rougons, the Verdon River flows clear and swift, with the road following along the banks. A good hour’s drive from the Lubron but if you’re a boating enthusiast or just enjoy the scenery, it’s a great day out.
Marseille is France’s second city, and just an hour away via the A8. It’s a very lively place with wonderful seafood, and a visit to the Old Port is worth your while. Since 2014, when Marseille was the European Cultural Capital, the city has been smartened up considerably and there are many new museums and cutural places to visit. Beware crushing traffic!
Lacoste is the home of the Marquis de Sade’s château, but beware the steep climb. Pierre Cardin is busy buying up the village and his presence is everywhere. It’s one of the villages in the so-called Luberon Golden Triangle.
Avignon is the 11th Century home of the Catholic Popes. A vibrant old city lies within its walls, dominated by the Palais de Papes and Notre Dame Cathedral. The many town squares offer a vibrant art bias along with a choice of excellent restaurants. This is the perfect small city to wander around and soak up the history and atmosphere – and the shopping isn’t bad either, with all the big brands available here. Take the little white tourist train for a city orientation tour (leaves from the Palais des Papes)
Aix (Aix-en-Provence) is a dynamic city of art and artists, fountains and thoroughfares, universities and youngsters, as well as having ancient roots reaching back to the Second Century BC. Its main street, Cours Mirabeau, is world famous for its trees and the majestic fountain at its heart. Slip away from the main drag into the narrow streets of the ancient city to discover its true character. Lunch at Les Deux Garçons, a 17th Century restaurant famous for its steak tartare – a must for the travelling gourmand! Aix is also famous for its museums, in particular the Atelier Paul Cezanne studio and garden which houses many of his famous works.
The Camargue Region and Saint Maries de la Mer is unlike anywhere else in Provence. Made famous by Roy Campbell with his poem The Horses of the Camargue, it is a nature reserve for birds, black bulls and white horses, as well as containing rice paddies and salt plains. It is a fascinating place to visit for its different culture (very Spanish) but watch out for the gypsies and their light-fingered nature.
Cassis and the calanques are deep narrow inlets, like mini-fjords, that cut into the cliffs between Cassis and Marseilles. The colour of the water is spectacular and some calanques have tiny harbours or beaches at the ends. You may also spy rock climbers scaling the steep walls along the sides. You can’t drive to calanques – you must either hike or take a boat trip from Cassis harbour. On the way back you may want to pop into Aubagne a non-descript town which is the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion – their museum is excellent and open to the public.
The Luberon Region – the Heart of Provence:
“Food is Family. Family is Life . Life is Everything”.
Ménerbes could not be more perfect as a base for exploring the heart of Provence.
Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque outside Gordes is a 12th Century abbey set amid fragrant lavender fields. Here, you will experience the classic Provençal image of vibrant purple fields, as well as being able to tour the working abbey. Visit www.abbayesenanque.fr for the opening hours as they can vary from season to season.
Gordes is a fascinating village clinging to the side of a mountain. It is filled with the atmosphere and spirit of the region, as well as interesting shops and tiny restaurants. It can get quite crowded so go early. The market day is a great occasion and well worth a visit. Gordes was nearly bombed to the ground by the Allies during World War 2 and has been rebuilt quite beautifully.
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (the Venice of France) is a village brimming with antique and bric-a-brac shops, where you can pick up an authentic souvenir of Provence. On Sunday mornings, visit their quintessential Provençal market, you’ll find the streets lined with stalls selling mainly bric-a-brac and local produce. Afterwards, browse antique shops along the river bank. Our – and many other locals’ – favourite past time is to buy a delicious poulet roti (roast chicken) along with roast potatoes and onions and a fresh baguette, for the Sunday evening meal. While you’re there, pop into many of the wonderful cafés, but be careful of lunching along the Sorgue River, some of the restaurants are not up to scratch. Howver, there are other decent restaurants within the old village with its seven water wheels. Paradise.
To-morrow, we’ll continue our trip..
Another chapter in our self-help saga..
Golden rule number THREE: DON’T COME ON HOLIDAY IF THE FRENCH PISS YOU OFF
HEY HO, it’s off on holiday we go. To France. The South of France to be more accurate – Provence. Land of sunshine, grapes, olives, blue skies and a relaxed way of life.
The problem is, the French piss you off!
Why go? Why put yourself through the trauma of living side by side with Provençal French, as well as holidaying Parisians (quelle horreur!)? Some things the French WILL do that WILL upset you, unless you really WANT to be there:
- Lunch will be from 12h00 to at least 14h30. Shops will close and for the 15 minutes before 12h00, the roads will be mayhem as the locals all go home for lunch – quickly.
- You will most likely not be allowed to enter a restaurant after 13h15 for lunch; the chef and staff like to be out of the restaurant as soon as you have wiped the last drop of coffee off your lips. So must you – no linger longer here.
- The Supermarkets will close at 13h00 on a Sunday.
- Many shops will be closed on a Monday – sorry for you.
- The vehicle behind you will ride as close to your rear number plate as possible. They say that within the skeleton of a Frenchman beats the heart of a Formula 1 driver. The French are a frugal bunch; don’t expect them to waste the space between you and their car.
- Your car might break down. Drag out as much patience out of your body as you can – the mechanic will arrive eventually; everything will be very difficult; everything will take time; and, you will wince at the invoice. Live with it.
- The French are not very good at roundabouts, nor at roads that enter a major road. Both are relatively new concepts – roundabouts are from England which puts them at a distinct disadvantage, and the rule that you had to at least yield when you enter a major road has only been around for about 15 years. Not long enough to sink in.
- Waitrons and bar staff are experts at ignoring people. Especially if they do not know you, and that is even not a certainty for service. Wait patiently, smile, know what you want and wait patiently. Don’t forget to say thank you! Tipping is a rarity in France ‘service’ staff are not incentivised to deliver service rapide.
- Occupational Health and Safety is a relatively new concept in France, and not easily understood. Your rental may have a few plug plates dangling from the wall; the electricity connections in all the villages are precarious to say the least; telegraph posts are often down on the side of the road. However, find a man beavering away on the side of the road doing some weeding and you’ll find two little moveable traffic lights perched 100 metres down the road stopping the traffic. Be patient, they will change – eventually.
- France has some of the most obscure and incomprehensible regulations and laws on earth. Often there is no logic in the local by-laws; parking rules; opening and closing times. Live with it. All in all, you’re visiting their country. Embrace the culture and enjoy it!
DON’T ALLOW THE FRENCH TO PISS YOU OFF AND MAKE YOU MISERABLE
DISCLAIMER: All the stories and anecdotes told in this Quick Read are true, but for obvious reasons names and locations have been changed. If any incident scratches a nerve, the hurt is purely unintentional and told in the interest of harmless, satirical fun. The author apologises in advance if any reader feels affronted by some of the comments made.