There are numerous outdoor and cultural activities to participate in if you’re feeling energetic. Here we offer a few ideas for the best things to see and do in Provence, but you’ll find plenty more inspiration in local tourist offices.
Gardens in the Luberon are simply wonderful! Here are just a few to put on your to-do list …
Garrance Conservatory Garden (Lauris) – This unique and ‘remarkable’ garden, is located on the terraces of an 18th century château overlooking the Durance valley. It is entirely devoted to plants that are extracted for dyes, painting, ink manufacturing, cosmetics and food. This site is both a place of species conservation and education – exhibits, workshops and tours are on offer. (Also see this article about the dyes.)
Apt’s park – Built in 1903, the park evokes 19th century city gardens of water ponds, grottos and rocks. A collection of exotic plants and trees: Chinese ginkgo, Canadian honey-locust tree, Japanese pagoda tree, Virginian catalpa, virginals.
Le Verger Conservatoire d’Amandiers – National collection of 40 different varieties of almonds (150 trees), are grown in the orchard, near the mill at Salignan (Apt).
Le potager d’un curieux (Saignon) – A collection of rare and old vegetables, flowers and aromatic herbs. Cultivated for 20 years, there are 50 different tomatoes and 200 perennials in this extraordinary garden.
Les jardins du Château de Bourgane (Saint Saturnin les Apt) – An 18th century bastide (farmhouse) with long tree-lined drives. A grove, a closed garden with boxwood patches and ponds, water works, the ornamental vegetable gardens and orchard (12ha).
La Louve (Bonnieux) – Nicole de Vésian, a Hermès fashion designer, gave up fashion and material for nature and leaves. More than a garden, it’s a creation, a sculpture of box trees, lavenders and local garrigue plants, a green embroidery made of remarkably pruned trees that capture imagination and brings to serenity. It was classified as a ‘remarkable garden’ in 2007.
Le Jardin Remarquable du Château Val Joanis (Pertuis) – The château is built on the vestiges of an ancient Roman villa. The garden was created in 1978, comprising three terraces, a vegetable garden, orchard, botanical garden, olive grove, central basin and a quad. Free tasting of wine and olive oil.
Hiking and walking
Being the gateway to the Lubéron Natural Park, Lourmarin is a recommended base for hiking. There is easy access to great hiking trails, some of which can be picked up in the village. Others are just a short drive away. Get a detailed map or hiking guide of the area. Although most of the trails are developed for walkers (rather than hikers), you should check with the tourist office for details about levels of difficulty.
Be aware that hunting season begins in Aug-Sept – wear high-visibility clothes off-road. And don’t forget to take a hat and plenty of water with you, even when you’re just going for a short walk, and especially in summer when it gets very hot indeed.
The ochre trails are very popular and scenically interesting. Visit roussillon-provence.com and okhra.com for more info. You can also walk in a disused mine in Brouox (minesdebruoux.fr) or through the Colorado Provençal Rustrel (rustrel.fr).
In Aix-en-Provence the summer air is filled with the sounds of jazz and opera, and aficionados flock here for annual festivals. There are two very special musical events that you simply must try to attend:
Festival International de Piano de La Roque d’Anthéron: Now in its 36th year, this international piano festival held in Cadenet in July-August has an exceptional foothold in the world of piano music of all styles – classical, contemporary, jazz, electronic – attracting young talent and top international performers. The acoustics in the legendary garden in the Château Florans are perfect for piano recitals, concertos and symphonies, making the whole experience charming and magical. Highly recommended. festival-piano.com
The Festival d’Aix-en-Provence: An international music festival devoted mainly to opera, but includes concerts of orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo instrumental music. Events are held in wonderful historic and cultural venues across the city throughout July. festival-aix.com/en
There are plenty of places to visit if you’re interested in Gallo-Roman history, most just 1-2 hours’ drive from Lourmarin.
• Arenes d’Arles, a wonderful Roman amphitheatre
• Les Alyscamps, a fascinating cemetery and church with Roman and medieval tombs. Also a favourite painting spot for Van Gogh and Gauguin.
• Theatre Antique, a 1st century BC Roman theatre still in use.
• Thermes de Constantin, a well-preserved Roman Bath complex from the 4th century
• Pont du Gard, an incredible three-tiered aqueduct
• Ambrussum archaeological site
• Les Arenes, still used for concerts and bull fights
• Maison Carree Roman temple
• Le Castellum Aquae, the arrival point of the Roman aqueduct
• The Temple of Diana
• Tour Magne, the remaining part of a Roman fortification wall
Here you can see one of the largest and oldest Triumphal arches of Gaul and the spectacular Theatre Antique, where theatre, opera & classical performances still take place. TOP TIP: Also visit museums housing art and displays of Provençal fabrics, the history of bread and basket making, santons (hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines), archeological finds, and even dinosaur eggs.
Saint Remy de Provence
• Glanum is a smaller, truly inspiring site. This ancient Roman town was only rediscovered 100 years ago, after Van Gogh painted its olive trees and bushes. It’s quite extraordinary, as the village dates to 200-300 BC. The two best kept Roman arches you will ever see (free of charge) are at the entrance, but there’s a lot more to explore.
• Vaison la Romaine archaeological sites: Get a feel of everyday Roman life, from villas with mosaics to bath houses and gardens. Just to the north of this site lies the Site de Puymin, which includes the grand Antique Theatre (and hosts events in the summer). Some artefacts are on display in the Musee Theo Desplans.
Unique Provence experiences
Truffle hunting – Experience one of France’s most secretive traditions: the truffle hunt. Tours in English on weekdays in summer and winter truffle seasons, followed by a sampling of fresh truffle hors d’oeuvres, champagne, and a tasting of olive and truffle oil.
Grape stomp – Tour the vineyard, learn how grapes are cultivated and wine is made, then channel your inner “Lucy” by stomping grapes in enormous antique oak barrels. Learn traditional French drinking songs while tasting wine and olive and truffle oils. 1-30 Sep.
Olive harvest – Experience a traditional French olive harvest as it has been done for centuries – organically and by hand. Pick olives in the autumn sun, then enjoy a Provençal apéritif. 1-15 Nov.
Booking essential: lespastras.com
Village des Bories
Found dotted across the Lubéron landscape are drystone huts known as bories. The Village des Bories, not far from Gordes, is an exceptionally well-preserved, ancient village of drystone buildings, including sheepfolds, houses and bread ovens. It is also a rural settlement museum with displays of traditional objects and tools, where you can take a marvellous tour back in time. levillagedesbories.com