Bonnieux a Great Place for a Day in the Luberon
Our family first visited Bonnieux during a week in Provence in early June 2003. We stayed in a nearby village and spent a few hours in Bonnieux one afternoon. The Luberon truly captivated all three of us. The following year we returned for a longer stay—six-and-a-half months—renting a farmhouse in the countryside between Bonnieux and Lacoste. Our daughter, then 11, went to the village school in Bonnieux. That was the beginning of our connection with this special village. Over the past 17 years, we’ve spent two to three months a year in Bonnieux. We developed a small group tour, The Luberon Experience, based for a week in Bonnieux. We’ve welcomed over 60 groups to the village over the past 15 years. And in late 2012, we finally got our own home in Bonnieux, an apartment in the town, which has enabled us to spend more personal time there, usually in the off-season. Our apartment is available for rent much of the year.
Bonnieux a Luberon Day
I love the Luberon, and Bonnieux is a perfect village for exploring this area and for longer day trips to other parts of Provence. Bonnieux has an enviable position on the north side of the Luberon mountain, spilling down a hillside where the Grand Luberon and the Petit Luberon intersect and adjacent to a long, narrow plateau, the Plateau des Claparèdes. A road crosses the plateau at the top of the village before entering a twisting mountain pass to southern Luberon. From Bonnieux, there are spectacular views across the valley to another mountain range, the Monts de Vaucluse. On a clear day, you can see several other villages on nearby hilltops and even the top of Mont Ventoux, the highest mountain in Provence and over 25 miles away. From the top of the Petit Luberon mountain, you may even spot the edge of the snow-covered Alps in the east.
Bonnieux has been inhabited since the 6th century. At this time, residents fled their location near the river seeking protection from invaders in stone quarries on the hillside. A few hundred years later, they enclosed their village with stone walls, and there was once a castle at the top. And in earlier times, the Romans were in the area too. In the Bonnieux countryside, you can visit a beautiful Roman bridge, the Pont Julien, that crosses the Calavon river near the oldest settlement site. The bridge is over 2000 years old.
Bonnieux is recognizable because it has two churches—one at the top of the village and a newer church (built in the 1870s) lower section. The oldest part of the village is at the top, located inside the remains of the ancient walls.
Bonnieux is an ideal base for exploring the Luberon and other parts of Provence. Of course, you’ll need a car for that. But you can spend an entire day—or more—right in the village and the immediate countryside.
Friday is ideal because it’s market day in Bonnieux. There might be 100 sellers selling seasonal fruits and vegetables, cheeses, honey, lavender, fabrics, clothes, art, and much more in peak season. Although the market draws tourists, residents also come to the village centre on Friday to shop and visit with friends. As a result, the market has a friendly neighbourhood feel.
We enjoy Bonnieux at any time of year, but for most visitors, I’d suggest coming to Bonnieux in the warmer months, April through October. So here’s my suggestion for a perfect Friday in Bonnieux, hopefully accompanied by perfect weather. Parking in Bonnieux is free, and there are several large parking lots.
Buy your breakfast pastries at the excellent village boulangerie near the traffic circle. Then, you can enjoy coffee and a pastry at one of their indoor or outdoor tables and watch the village come to life.
Visit the Tourist Office, now located in an ancient hospital. You’ll find the Tourist Office just five minutes’ walk from the boulangerie, on Victor Hugo, the main commercial street (one lane, one way). They usually open at 9:30 am. You can pick up a village map, Luberon guide, and other local information. You can also find out about any special events that may be happening in the area.
Head to the market, just a short walk away, filling Place Gambetta in the middle of the village and spilling down the hill with more sellers around the “new” church. Take a break from browsing for a relaxing coffee in the main square. Then you can buy provisions for lunch at your rental or hotel. Or you could also make a reservation to have a casual lunch at Le Terrail, right on the square.
Art and Lunch
If time allows in the late morning, visit a few artisan galleries. We especially like the pottery of Christine Denniel, where you can also visit the workshop. Village residents Philippe Janin and Anne-Marie Ruggeri have two galleries in Bonnieux, one at the top of the village and one on the main street. In addition to original paintings, they offer prints, cards, posters, and books. One excellent book of their artwork focuses on Bonnieux.
After a leisurely lunch, drive up the hill to park in the back of the village and walk up to the old church (part of which dates to the 12th century), where you can enjoy spectacular views of the Luberon Valley. You might find the church open, or you might enjoy the views. An overlook down the steps from the front of the church has an orientation table, which helps you identify key landmarks in the countryside to the north. Next, take the steep stone steps on the other side of the church to reach Rue Droite, the oldest street in the village. Turn left on Rue Droite to explore this narrow pedestrian street and return to your car.
Explore in the Afternoon
Then—back in your car—follow the road toward Lourmarin about a mile, turning right off the main road to drive up the side of the Petit Luberon mountain to the Foret de Cèdres (cedar forest). There are a few places along the route where you can stop to admire the incredible view of the valley—including Bonnieux far below. On a clear day, you can see to the edge of the French Alps.
Continue to the end of the road, where you can park and enjoy several walks in the peaceful and shady forest, including one easy path (about a mile each way) to look across the south side of the Luberon. You should be able to spot the distinctive Mont St. Victoire near Aix-en-Provence and the Étang de Berre, an inland sea near the Marseille airport that connects by canals to the Mediterranean Sea.
On your way back to Bonnieux, consider a stop at the top of the village to enjoy a drink at La Terrazza. Tables on the roadside terrace offer one of the most spectacular views in Provence.
Alternatively, head down to the lower village, where the garden at La Louve is open for visits without reservation every Friday, from 2:30 pm – 5:30 pm, 10 euro. This privately-owned garden, tucked away just down the hillside from the bike rental centre at the end of Rue Victor Hugo, was created in 1986 by a retired designer from Hermès. She terraced the garden on several levels, using only native plants and taking advantage of beautiful vistas. The current owners (since 2014) have continued the original design but have also added their improvements.
Dinner in Bonnieux
Wrap up this perfect day with dinner in Bonnieux, where you can walk to a variety of eating places. (There are at least 10 restaurants and cafes in the village.) Most restaurants open for dinner at 7:30 pm. For a special meal, we especially like L’Arôme, located right by our apartment. Or, for something more casual, we love La Flambée, a casual family-owned restaurant at the end of Rue Victor Hugo where you can enjoy a meal of homecooked Provençal specialities or an excellent pizza made in a wood-fired oven. They have a cosy dining room for chilly evenings and an upstairs terrace with views for dinner on warmer evenings. Dinner reservations are essential everywhere in Bonnieux, especially during busier months.
More Touring Ideas
You might need a second day focused just on Bonnieux! As I haven’t mentioned, the Musée de la Boulangerie, a unique museum dedicated to the history of breadmaking located in a historic house in the upper village. Or the Enclos des Bories, an ancient settlement of dry stone structures, privately-owned and much less-touristed than the Village des Bories near Gordes. (You can walk up from the village or reach by car on an unpaved track near the start of the Cedar Forest road.) You could also hike or rent an electric bike to explore the surrounding countryside. With your car, you can visit the Pont Julien (the Roman bridge) or one of the wineries near Bonnieux, including the excellent Cave de Bonnieux, the local wine cooperative. And then there are enough excellent eating places to dine somewhere different every night.
Where to stay in Bonnieux?
Consider a week or two in our comfortable and well-equipped, three-bedroom apartment (Bonheur en Bonnieux), right in the centre of the village. We highly recommend the excellent family-owned hotel, Le Clos du Buis, directly across the street, with beautiful views, a lovely garden, and a swimming pool for a shorter stay. Le Clos du Buis also offers a rental on the edge of the village and a small studio in the centre.
Bonnieux Address Book
Chemin la gardiole
84480 Bonnieux Luberon – France
Telephone: +33(0)4 90 759 143
Anne-Marie Ruggeri et Philippe Ruggeri
Janin Ruggeri gallery
Cave de Bonnieux
Quartier de la Gare,
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 75 80 03
Le Musée de la Boulangerie
12, rue de la République
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 75 88 34
Rue Victor Hugo,
Telephone: +33 (0)4 90 75 91 90
Kathy Wood is the owner and co-founder of European Experiences, offering unique small-group tours in Europe. She has been travelling in France for 30 years. She first visited Provence in 2003 and returned the following year with her husband and young daughter to live in a farmhouse outside Bonnieux for 6-1/2 months.
Kathy and Charley founded European Experiences in 2006, beginning with a one-week trip based in Bonnieux and expanding to offer experiential, cultural immersion trips in other beautiful and culturally-rich areas of Europe. Their week-long trips are based in one place and are known for unique experiences, off-the-beaten-track discoveries, and interactions with local people. In that time, they have personally hosted 124 Experience groups, including 63 groups based in Bonnieux. As a result, Luberon Experience was named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Although Charley is now mostly retired, he co-hosts a few trips each year. In addition, the Woods have a second home in their beloved Bonnieux, where Charley was recently named an honorary citizen following his retirement.
Kathy spent 27 years as a Human Resources executive and ten years on the business school faculty at a leading university. However, she found her true passion with European Experiences. Kathy is also the founder of Slow Travel Tours, an affiliation of small-group tour operators and is a regular blogger on their website. In addition, she serves on the Advisory Council of JourneyWoman, a leading website for women travellers.
Image credits: All photos were provided by and published with the permission of Kathy Wood at European Experiences.