Day Trip 2 - The Perched Villages: Bonnieux - Lacoste - Ménerbes - Oppede le Vieux
The other half of the golden triangle lies between the D900 and the northern slopes of the Lubéron massif. Leaving the Isle to the south-east and joining the D900 towards Apt there is an obvious right turn to Bonnieux at a roundabout as you pass Goult high on your left. If you ignore this and carry on another couple of kilometres there is a lesser right turn on to the D108 which curves around the ancient stone Pont Julien (which you can see on your right or stop and have a look at). Keep left at the roundabout and take the Route du Pont Julien towards Bonnieux. Closer to the village there is the Château de Canorge on the left, filming location for A Good Year and a pleasant little visit for the attractive grounds and their delicious rosé wine.
We normally use the free car park at the base of Bonnieux, leave the car and wander as our nose takes us ending up at the very top at the old Eglise. Being a bit short of breath after the climb makes for a good excuse to linger over the extensive views. The ancient cedars with glimpses of Lubéron views through the gnarly old limbs make for a photographic opportunity. Look for Lacoste, Goult, Gordes and Mont Ventoux from this great vantage point.
Bonnieux was quite a wealthy village at one time and there are some fine residences to be found here and there. Market day is Friday morning and centres mainly around the square close to the bottom of the village – it’s about the only flat bit in town. Dining suggestions include Le Fournil (or as I call it “the soccer score restaurant” – you know, 4-0). In summer you dine on the terrace but the infrastructure of the restaurant is seemingly dug into the rock face. L’Arôme only has a couple of tables ouside but no matter, the cellar-like interior and wonderful light fittings make for an interesting setting.
You can see Lacoste across the valley so it’s hard to get lost on the short drive between the two villages. There is also a nice walk from Lacoste to Bonnieux (see Walks). There is free parking on the lower side of the village. Lacoste is not a long visit. A stroll up to the castle and maybe a coffee or glass of wine on the terrace of the Café de France with its panoramic views back towards Bonnieux would cover it. A number of properties in town have been taken over by the Savannah College of Art and Design and you will see the signs. In summer we never see the students and the streets are pretty quiet.
Ménerbes is a few kilometres to the west and there are at least three routes we know. It doesn’t really matter which you use. I always liken Ménerbes to a ship - a long , narrow, fortified village on a prominent ridge of rock running sort of parallel to the northern slopes of the Petit Lubéron. It was at one time considered ‘impregnable’ but everything is relative. This is a distinctive village built as it is up on a narrow outcrop and lends itself nicely to a walk with a camera or sketch pad. Ménerbes became best known to the English speaking world when it was Peter Mayle’s local village at the time he wrote ‘A Year in Provence’. There were reports that the book inspired tourism surge was not universally welcomed but Monsieur Mayle has moved on and Ménerbes always seems pretty sleepy to us, even in the summer.Avoid driving in Ménerbes if you can. The streets are narrow, sometimes one way and four cars can lead to a traffic jam. The place is tiny and like all these villages, walking is the only way to have a good poke around. There is not a lot of commerce in town. A bakery, a couple of cafés and a little shop or two is about it. We come to Ménerbes for a stroll and a coffee rather than anything more substantial.The things to see are mostly at the northwest end of town – the Place de la Mairie, the Place de l’Horloge, the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin du Lubéron (even if you had no interest in either truffles or wine, this is a splendid old town house of lovely proportions and has a walled garden out the back) and the views over the lower agricultural land and vineyards one way and the north face of the Petit Lubéron the other way. At the stern of the ship is the church and cemetary at which point one must turn back.There are a couple of restaurants but we have not dined. The marked Lubéron cycle trail runs through this town.
Your legs may have had enough for one day but if not, Oppède le Vieux beckons but be warned – further uphill treks on uneven stone paths await. It used to be possible to actually clamber around the ruins at the very top but apparently that was too unsafe even for the French and a fence has been installed.
Getting home from anywhere on this route just involves heading generally north until you get to the D900 and turning westward.