This is a 1,000-year-old village like most of them locally, with an ancient church and 12th century château (just sold by the De Sabran family after 1,000 years). Perched on a hilltop, Ansouis is full of tiny streets dotted with boutiques and artists’ workshops. As you walk about, you can admire the village square, shaded by the indigenous plane trees. Take a booked tour of the château to see a collection of 17th and 18th century furniture, splendid tapestries, and the charming gardens. In the village there is a lovely tea room with a shady terrace, or dine at the Michelen-starred La Closerie restaurant opposite.
This picturesque village is built on the edge of a cliff on four levels. Visit the ancient church at the top of the hill, then descend to all other levels. A lot of French film stars have homes here, which prompted Eduard Loubet to open La Capelongue – a wonderful hotel with a two restaurants – pricey but high quality and the views are worth it. It also now has a cheaper bistro. Two more excellent restaurants in the centre of town are L’Arôme and Le Fournil.
Go to Fort Buoux if you’re feeling energetic. This is a prehistoric, Roman and medieval fortress. Have a walk; the views are quite magnificent – at the top you’ll be able to see all the way to Mont Ventoux, the hardest climb on the Tour de France.
A totally unspoilt medieval village with a wonderful square around a large man-made pond (etang). It is worth walking around to see the bell tower, old tower, church etc. Market day is Tuesday, around the pond – very good. A restaurant there, L’Etang, was used for a scene in the film A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe.
This famous Provençal village has buildings of white stone set into the sharp cliff. Its castle, labyrinth of “calades” (narrow cobblestone streets) and pretty shaded square make it a lovely place to wander around. Many artists and celebrities have stayed here and it is the seat of many cultural events in summer with its museums, a festival, concerts and exhibitions.
Across the valley from Bonnieux is the ancient village of Lacoste, where ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s castle sits on top of the village. This is now owned, as is most of the village, by Pierre Cardin. Something you won’t hear about in guide books is that there’s a painting of James Dean on display in the village. The Japanese artist died without receiving payment for the commissioned piece, and so it has remained in situ. The Savannah College of Art and Design draws hundreds of young Americans to study art here.
La Tour d’Aigues
This tiny village overlooking the banks of the Eze River sprang up around an 11th century priory and tower. Its main attraction is the ruins of a Renaissance château, damaged by fires and uprisings during the French Revolution. Fortunately, the impressive gateway and other parts still stand. These form an evocative backdrop to numerous events and festivals, notably the August jazz festival. TOP TIP: Great for kids, there’s a free interactive mobile app that features photos, reconstructions, audio and archives to trace its fascinating 500-year history.
This little village is full of history, with a château and 18th century terraces of the Garrance Conservancy garden (which received a coveted Remarkable Garden label in 2011). Walk around the village to see ancient communal washing fountains, old houses, and plenty of winding alleys and historical monuments.
Despite being subjected to wars and upheaval for centuries, including the 1990s ‘Mayle invasion’, Ménerbes is well preserved. Arriving from the north, you will see the village “rise up from the landscape like a big ship drifting on a sea of vineyards and orchards”, as Nostradamus described it. The old château is at the western end, the church to the east, the town hall rises up in the middle with its 18th century belfry, a wrought-iron campanile, and around it all are the former ramparts. All in stone, Ménerbes is very pretty with beautiful old houses and narrow streets winding through the village, from the bottom, where you will find the shops and restaurants, to the top and the tranquil square.
Oppède le Vieux
It is a pleasure to stroll the flowering and shaded little lanes that lead to the church and the castle ruins or just to sit for a moment in the peaceful Italian-style square. Oppède can only be visited on foot and the alleyways are steep and craggy, so wear sensible shoes! The stunning view over the Coulon Valley, all the way to the Vaucluse plateau where the ochre patches of the neighbouring villages, rewards your effort.
In Roussillon, colour is everywhere – in the landscape and the charming building façades – resembling a painter’s palette. One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France, this magical town is a maze of picturesque little streets and squares. Stroll from the lower town up to the summit of the Castrum (castle) for panoramic views of the Val de Fées and Chaussée des Géants – a place of fairies and giants! Ochre is also at the heart of the Art Trail that leads you on a discovery tour of the village – or explore the numerous art galleries, exhibitions and craft workshops. To learn about the processing and use of ochre, visit the Conservatory of Ochre and Applied Pigments set up in the old factory.
A very old village that has kept its Provençal identity, found in its peaceful streets and pretty traditional houses: Renaissance-style (known as la Capitainerie) and 13th and 17th century examples (la Commanderie). The 12th century Romanesque church is worth seeing. The central fountain was chosen as the setting for the famous French films Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, adapted in 1986 from books by the Provençal author Marcel Pagnol and starring Yves Montand. There is a lovely restaurant, Le P’tit Resto, a bar and a small boulangerie in the village.