Menerbes the Luberon Village Made for Exploring
We often find ourselves sitting on the wall on the front edge of the pretty village of Menerbes, while we’re out exploring the area on our bikes.
Like so many of the hilltop villages in the Luberon, it has an incredible view that stretches as far as Mont Ventoux. We spend time sitting and watching the light shift across the hills while listening to the swifts screaming as they hurtle around the rooftops. Needless to say, it’s always a very lovely way to pass a few minutes (often more) on our way around the Valley. Continue reading here for this contributor blog post and photos of Menerbes by Vaucluse Dreamer.
Today, the perched villages of the Luberon offer visitors and residents sweeping pastoral views of the Vaucluse. However, historically, these hillside locations were chosen for strategic and defensive reasons, not because of their beautiful settings.
The village of Menerbes is well-deserving of the “les Plus Beaux Villages de France” label. After visiting hilltop Menerbes, it is easy to understand why the Luberon and this town have enchanted so many. The charming main street compels you to pause and wander through an art gallery, or have a drink at one of the restaurants, particularly so if you have biked up the hill like Vaucluse Dreamer.
It’s believed that Menerbes comes from Minerva (Minerve in French), the Roman goddess of wisdom, strategic warfare and a supporter of the arts. The name is fitting for a village that has been home to famous artists and writers.
Author Peter Mayle may have put Menerbes and the Luberon on the radar for many of his readers, but that is more recent history. Long before his books were published, the town was home to several creative types. Those famous names included Pablo Picasso, Nicolas de Stael and Dora Maar (French photographer, painter and Picasso’s muse) among others. Nicolas de Staël painted Nu Couché in Ménerbes in 1954 at Le Castellet. In 2011, the canvas sold for €7 million, the auction record for any work of art in France that year.
However, not everyone felt that way about Menerbes. In 1950, shortly after delivering the manuscript of French Country Cooking, Elizabeth David and a couple of friends rented a huge draughty house in the Vaucluse at Menerbes, in her own words, “a crumbling hill village opposite the Luberon mountain.” She was there for some months from late winter to early summer.
As part of a program developed by Marina of Learn French in Provence, Julie joined a guided walking tour of the village. They explored the town that Nostradamus described as, “Ménerbes is a ship in a sea of vines.”
Traces of human habitation on the hilltop date to Neolithic times. Construction of the citadel took place in teh 12th century. During the Middle Ages, the townsfolk lived behind fortified walls, and traders entered the village via one of two gates the Saint-Sauveur and Notre-Dame (destroyed in the 19th century).
Menerbes was almost impregnable with its combination of high-level viewpoints and fortified walls. In 1573, During the wars of religion, the protestants arrived. They occupied the town for five (5) years full of upheaval and fighting in the heart of Papal territory. The protestants left on December 10, 1578, after years of conflict between the Pope’s armies and the King’s forces.
The 18th-century belfry with a wrought-iron campanile
The former ramparts
St Blaise an 18th-century chapel
The House of Truffles and Wine (Maison de la Truffe et du Vin) with a restaurant, bar, wine cave and boutique. Located in the centre of town in a restored Renaissance-era home.
Place de l’horloge
Domaine de la Citadelle, botanical garden and the corkscrew museum (Musee du Tire-bouchon) with over 1200 corkscrews.
601 Route de Cavaillon
The troglodytic dwellings
Abbey of Saint-Hilaire a Carmelite convent and associated buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries.