Intoxicated by the most beautiful villages in Provence

Find life in the French countryside…

Beyond the artistic allure of Paris and the ritzy glamour of the Riviera, lies an offbeat France. Where old-world romance lives in the maze of cobbled medieval streets of centuries-old hilltop stone villages. Where the pace of life is slow and simple pleasures still count. Where the aroma of fresh baguettes wafts from age-old bakeries, locals linger at tiny home-run cafes on warm afternoons, fountains tinkle away in sleepy corners, and crumbling manors silent spell aristocracy of their owners.

Its the quintessential French rural landscape, overflowing with the best of produce including veggies, fruits, herbs, wines, olives and truffle. With scenic roads winding through rocky outcrops under eternal blue skies. And endless lavender fields to make you go weak at the knees. So, surrender to the rustic charms of the Luberon valley. Pick three of the 160 villages rated as ‘the most beautiful’ by the Plus Beaux Villages de France Association.

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Menerbes: Life is beautiful 

The dreamy view gets clearly as you roll closer along that enchanting Provencal path to paradise. A sun-bathed cluster of stone dwellings perched high up on a grassy hill, surrounded by magnificent unbroken views of the Luberon mountain and miles of vineyards and open countryside. Park in the square below and walk up the streets leading to the village of Menerbes. The large brass alphabets embossed on a stone wall of a little shop, “La Vie Est Belle” (life is beautiful) say it all. Could it be a more gorgeous day? Wander through the empty narrow streets with small cafés and hand-painted shop-signs, carefully restored medieval houses and quiet corners.

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Explore the clock tower in the small open square, the miniature 16th century Citadelle, cemetery and the Chateau du Castellet. Practice time telling with the ancient sundial. Ogle at the impossibly perfect views and drown with envy. Or float on clouds…because you’re part of the scenery now. Poke your nose into the prettiest of stone houses. But be careful, trespasser…as you sneak into the enclosed garden of a large, exclusive looking private villa. Whoa! Instead of shooing you away, the owner graciously invites you inside, right to the exotic back garden complete with its sky-view swimming pool! That’s Lady Luck with one of her broadest smiles.

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Roussillon: Red is the colour of love

The winding hill roads of the National Park du Luberon are drenched in an ochre-infused landscape. Any wonder its called the French Colorado? Destination next: the red village of Roussillon, situated in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world. All around is a blaze of red cliffs and quarries, perfectly set against the blue Provencal sky and the lush green pine trees. A picturesque maze of streets and squares, with houses showing off their technicolor glory…yellow, peachy pinks, bright orange to darkest red. Flamboyant, cheerful facades highlighted even more with brightly painted shutters and doors. A photo opportunity at every step, every doorway.

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Roussillon, Provence 1

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With the fragrance and flavour of lavender flavoured gelato to transport you into heaven, debate upon this old legend of the region. A young girl was married to the lord of Roussillon fell in love with a local musician, who was killed by the husband in a fit of jealousy. The ill-fated romance turned immortal as she jumped into the valley. They say that the earth went red with her blood, and that’s how it is till today. Believe it or not, it does add to the drama of the scene.   

Roussillon, Provence 4

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Gordes: Save the best for last

The most photographed and the most visited of all the villages in the region is built out of a high rock. Gordes with its narrow, steep cobbled streets flanked by tall, ancient purple ivy-covered houses, shuttered windows, church and 12th century castle will win your heart. Despite the sprinkle of luxury shops and restaurants around the village square, it appears medieval and untouched. You half expect a horse carriage to emerge out of some corner, and a lady in a flowing gown stepping out, clutching her billowing skirts, high coiffure and even higher hat announcing her lineage. But its just wide-eyed you for now. In the time-weathered stone streets, quiet squares, peeping inside the traditional workshops of the artisans.

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As you exit the town, consider the unending rows of stone boundary walls hiding luxurious villas…unthinkably high price-tagged real estate where celebrities, artists and wealthy jet setters keep exclusive residences. A few minutes down the craggy hills of Luberon is the 12th-century L’Abbey of Senanque, founded by Cistercian monks, their home and place of worship till today. Imagine the fragrance everywhere, when lavender is in season! That most famous lavender shot of Provence is shot here, so take back one of your own. Besides lavender oils, essences, perfumes, soaps, lotions which the monks make and sell on the abbey grounds. Tough competition, L’Occitaine! A lifetime of monkhood, a lifetime of lavender, maybe not such a bad bargain after all…

Gordes, Provence 6

 

Sénanque Abbey, Gordes, Provence 1

As your head hits the pillow that night, you’re thinking…they have glorious weather. Plus unmatched natural beauty. Plus unspoilt villages. Why don’t more people come to Provence? Maybe its for the best 🙂

 

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83 thoughts on “Intoxicated by the most beautiful villages in Provence

  1. I hope to go to sleep and one fine morning wake up in Provence. It is that beautiful, like a living dream. The French countryside is an inspiration for creativity, no doubt the best of French artists got inspired nature. Monet gave expression to the beauty of the French countryside in his paintings. Alas till now we have focussed only on Paris and the vicinity. Have vowed to ourselves that the next time around we head to the lesser explored parts of France.

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  2. This looks amazing! The weather looks absolutely perfect. I’ve always wanted to visit France, but I’m curious- what was your experience like with the people? I’ve heard mixed reviews. Did you notice a difference between Paris and the countryside?

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    1. The French countryside is a different world and as all with small towns, life is more laidback. In our limited experience interacting with people, we observed that they are friendly, family-oriented and fun 🙂

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    1. I did find some resemblances between French and Italian countryside. The red-chequered tablecloths are in both too 🙂 Not surprising, considering Avignon was the French Vatican at one point of time.

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  3. I’ve been thinking about visiting Provence for an extended period. Now that I’ve read your post I might just bump it up my list a little and hopefully will get there next year. Love your photos and the villages look so charming.

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  4. Beautifully written, very poetic. The south of France is indeed magical and so romantic. I love medieval old villages with cobblestones and ancient houses and vineyards all around them. You brought the sights and fragrances of Occitania to life, wonderful.

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  5. Many of my friends talk about going to Paris, but somehow, I prefer staying in the countryside, at least for a while. These old villages and fields are just to inviting to ignore.

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  6. 60 villages listed as most beautiful – what a wonderful way to promote rural tourism. Totally love that sundial – wonder when and where did we lose such simple things in favor of complicated earth harming technologies. Lst few images look like it is a castle more than a quaint village – is that because the village is on a hill?

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  7. I tend to prefer my travels in the great outdoors, but when I travel to cities – it’s these that I like to see. Admittedly I haven’t seen much of France outside of the Paris and some spots on the coast. These little villages – esoecially Gordes – are super cute. I could spend hours navigating the narrow alleys and cobblestone streets (with pit stops for wine). 🙂

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  8. Your post reads like a beautiful poem! I could feel myself becoming more and more relaxed as it went on. The story about the poor girl who was killed by her husband was fascinating, I’m always eager to know morbid history of places! lovely photos too. So nice when people use their own images (I’m just nosy!) x

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  9. Provence looks so beautiful. I love the story about Roussillon, the red dirt is gorgeous and the story behind it is romantic. I feel like I can smell the lavender through this post. Thank you for sharing, traveling through Provence will be a must do next time we are in France.

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  10. The idea of visiting the French countryside really appeals to me, it does give me Tuscany vibes quite a lot! The red village of Roussillon is so beautiful and intriguing, it almost doesn’t look like France – I can’t believe it is one of the largest deposits of ochre in the world!

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  11. I love your writing, I felt like I was there!! The French countryside seems so lovely. Thanks for all the tips! I’m planning a trip to France over the summer and will have to stop in at few of these villages 🙂

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  12. I’m so jealous! 😀 It’s really my dream to stay in a fairy tale villages in France such as these. The castles, the vineyards, the architecture and the food… ahhh just can’t wait to experience it personally. Lovely post! 😀

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  13. Great post. I loved all the pictures, they are so magnetic and beautiful. I had a great experience in the countryside of France. Clear skies, cobbled roads, great architect and pristine surroundings always add up to the experience

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  14. Ughhh I am just living vicariously thru you here! I studied abroad in southern France during my university days but never got to visit Provence while I was there. Biggest regret to date still. Your photos are so gorgeous and that lavender gelato is making me drool! Will for sure be adding these suggestions to my bucket list for when I visit!!!

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  15. The Provence is an amazing area, and the views and nature are beautiful. La Vie Est Belle indeed 🙂 And you capture the beauty and the elegance so well in your pictures! Nicely done!

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  16. Im sitting at my desk at work looking at these beautiful pictures and reading about Provence and it makes me just want to walk out of here and go pack my bags… WOW! this place is amazing… I have never actually seen such beautiful pictures from there before, it looks so nice and relaxing. Enjoyed this post.

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  17. Ok. So I am reading this from cold and dark Paris and I am also saying to myself, why not Provence? lol Thanks Punita for this introduction to a corner of France that I still don’t know. Gordes is really beautiful and must be all the visitors’ favorite town but I got impressed with the ocher landscapes of Roussillon, the legend fits to it very well!

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  18. People are often shocked when I say that Paris is by far my least favorite city in the world…but those rural villages in France especially Gordes seems right up my alley. What an amazing view! I do love the other small areas of Provence too that is the France I want to explore more of!

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  19. Love your writing. You really brought Provence to life. I have been to several places in France but Provence is definitely on my list too: “Where old-world romance lives in the maze of cobbled medieval streets of centuries-old hilltop stone villages. Where the pace of life is slow and simple pleasures still count.” Beautiful 🙂

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