A road trip is the best way of getting a real flavor of the mountainous Luberon, with stop-offs at a handful of mas: ancient farmhouses converted into some of France’s loveliest hotels where you can rest, reboot and recalibrate amid views of surrounding vineyards as exhilarating as the wine itself. It’s a region for exploring historic villages perchés (hilltop villages), fortified centuries ago against the marauding Barbarians, and for visiting markets every day of the week. Then there’s the thrill of the empty road: Luberon’s memorable hairpin roads unfurling between vineyards into the distance; choosing when to speed on or when to linger; indulging in lunch in the shade with carafes of rosé that get paler as you head southwards; and meandering through the various déballages (car boot sales) or herb-scented hillsides. Start in the vibrant city of Avignon and follow the rocky massif of the Luberon, along a trail which grows wilder the further east it goes, through a classic loop of hilltop towns that includes Gordes and picture-perfect Menerbes.
Perched on the edge of a steep valley and filled with beautiful antiques and classical oil paintings, La Bastide de Gordes is the very essence of French elegance. Borrow one of the electric bikes to explore the town’s markets and historic square, before trying the Michelin-starred menu and considered wine list at the hotel’s Pierre Gagnaire restaurant. In October, it’s still warm enough to swim and the poolside terrace beckons – thoughtfully, panama hats are available for sun-sensitive guests.
Further along the road between the pretty villages of Bonnieux and Menerbes (where Ridley Scott lives and filmed cinematic ode to the region A Good Year) is the beloved Provençal hideaway of Le Bastide de Marie. A sense of peace envelops you as soon you enter its thick stone walls; there is no formal reception, the resident hound wags a tail in welcome and you are invited to make yourself at home in the many comfortably rustic communal rooms. Take breakfast on the wrought iron tables beneath the plane trees with views of the surroundings vineyards.
Forage over 300 stalls at Apt’s Saturday market – the biggest of the Luberon’s weekly marketplaces – for everything from antique linens, steak knives and speciality candied fruit, to the just-harvested saffron, wild mushrooms and black diamond truffles that are the bounty of the season.
Even if you’re not staying in the sublime hotel adjoined to Château La Coste, a vast 500-acre estate north of Aix-en-Provence, visit for the incredible open-air ‘art safari’ featuring installations and architecture by Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano, Louise Bourgeois, Tracy Emin and Andy Goldsworthy. Besides the al fresco Frank Gehry concert hall, there’s also a cutting-edge organic winery offering workshops and tastings of incredible vintages produced on the estate. You can also sample them over dinner at one of the three sensational restaurants – Francis Mallmann’s asado is the most lively, serving up Argentinian delights such as lamb ribs with humita and dulce de leche flan.
Throw a party at Le Grand Banc, a sprawling private hamlet surrounded by woodland of holm oak and lavender, overlooking the wild and remote Luberon massif. Sleeping up to 31 in simple and stunning seclusion, it comes with its own quad bikes, yoga room and swimming pool.