Southern France has stolen my heart. Lavender fields, rolling hills, cobblestone streets and all in the sweet sunshine? C’mon! A little over a year ago I moved to Marseille to teach English and au pair, and since then, I’ve had the privilege of exploring southern France at my leisure. Personally, you can’t go wrong with any destination in France, but some tug at the heart strings more than others. I’ve compiled some of my favorite Provence road trip destinations so that you can profiter and simply savor the best of southern France in the Vaucluse department at your own pace with destinations including Gordes, Ménerbes and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
Population: ~1,000 (source)
Location: It’s about an hour or so drive from Marseille. You can also access Ménerbes by bus.
In the crisp of autumn, we embarked for an afternoon in Ménerbes, a quaint village who carries a nostalgia yet embraces modernity. I love sleepy villages for their charm, but this isn’t one of those villages. Although Ménerbes is by no means bustling, it stills pulses with its up-and-coming art galleries and refurbished antiques shops. Take a stroll through La Vie Est Belle, a modern antiques bazaar with the most pleasant aroma thanks to its candles. Once you’ve had your dose of antiquity, enjoy more modern pieces at Maison Dora Maar, a mini art gallery and store, on 58 Rue du Portail Neuf. French artist Dora Maar lived in a home in Ménerbes bought by her lover Pablo Picasso.
Sip on a beer or Schweppes Agrumes (if you’re me!) at Le Café du Progrès, a simple cafe-bar with the most exquisite views. We enjoyed our drinks as we sat on the terrace and overlooked the valley and vineyards of the Luberon.
Meander up the cobblestone path to the Église Saint-Luc, a church with history dating back to the 1500s. From the courtyard, you can watch the sunset and take in the sweeping views of the Luberon. Just a couple minutes walk from the church, you can take a peek inside a small ancient prison built in the late 1500s. I don’t know about you, but the view from this prison is better than my bedroom’s window. I mean, the torture! Ménerbes is sure to melt your heart on your Provence road trip; don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Population: ~1,700 (source)
Location: About an hour or so drive from Marseille. You can also access Gordes by bus.
This hilltop village is sure to charm you: it was named one of France’s most beautiful villages, making it a very worthy contender for your Provence road trip itinerary. Gordes started developing in the 1000s and is bound to wow with its valley views and quaint streets. I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would’ve liked; we took a quick stroll and simply enjoyed the views. But I’m itching to go back to see its quaint abbey punctuated by a lavender field and and to explore the castle, whose first mention was in 1031. The castle served as more than just a feudal residence; it was also a prison, warehouse, school cafeteria and art museum, according to its website.
And no need to fear, foodies: there are Michelin-starred restaurants and vineyards in this darling village, according to Les Plus Beaux Villages en France. They even filmed a scene from Emily in Paris Season 3 at a restaurant in Gordes.
Population: ~600 (source)
Location: About an hour drive from Marseille. You can also access Fontaine-de-Vaucluse by bus.
Listen: if there’s a castle, I’m so there. You can hike up to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse’s castle, also known as Le Château des Évêques de Cavaillon. Given its history dating back to the early 700s, there’s really only ruins that remain. They leave lots to the imagination! However, it’s still incredibly cool to explore the fortress and its enchanting view over the valley.
We parked in this parking lot and walked a little further down the road to find a path with a blue sign saying Calade F. Pétrarque. This pathway takes you directly up the hill to the castle in about 20 minutes.
When visiting this village on your Provence road trip, you can’t miss its namesake spot, the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, or the source of the Sorgue River. You can explore the major rock formation and marvel at the deep blue water. It’s a great spot to take a nice walk and enjoy nature. It’s not a strenuous hike at all.
We also enjoyed a nice stroll through the Jardin du Pétrarque, a small but enchanted park along the river. I felt like a fairy in the canopy of trees changing colors for the fall.
The downtown village area is very cute, and their Hôtel de Ville is pink. I mean, goals!
Population: ~1300 (source)
Location: 1.5-hour drive from Marseille, 1-hour drive from Avignon
I love the charm of French villages, but sometimes they blur together in my memory: cute boulangerie, elegant church, rustic architecture. But one thing is for certain: Roussillon is a village that will stick out not only for its typical French village charm but also for its beautiful red colors, thanks to its ochre deposits. You can take a light hike through these quarries and marvel at the stunning Sentier des Ochres. Along the hike, there are markers explaining the history and uses of the quarry.
Once you’ve enjoyed your 30- to 50-minute hike, you can enjoy a meal or (let’s be real) ice cream in the village. Roussillon is also lined with local boutiques and businesses to peruse.
Provence road trip roundup
Paris gets a lot of hype, but the heart of French life lies is many other places, including the department of Vaucluse in Provence. If you’re looking to experience la France profonde, rent a car and create your itinerary de folie as you explore the Luberon, Vaucluse and the rest of Provence.
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