Students are always encouraged to travel when they study abroad. Especially in Europe where traveling from country to country can be easy. Students are in a great position to soak up as much culture and experience as they can, but often money plays a big part in whether these options are available. Most students want to travel cities like Paris, but soon realize expenses like lodging, transportation, and food can add up. Lack of money forces students to either settle for questionable accommodations or cancel the trip, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Students can get a taste of French culture in the Luberon that fits their budget.
The Luberon is an area of valleys and surrounded by three mountain ranges nestled in the middle of Provence. The area is known for its hilltop villages, vineyards, and orchards. The landscape has inspired many artists and writers including Peter Mayle who made the Luberon popular with his book A Year in Provence. It is a favorite destination for French, British, and American visitors because of its location near the Côte d’Azur, but students can still visit the area without spending a lot of money.
Most of them you can be seen year round, but I recommend coming in the fall and spring months. Fewer tourists visit the area during this time of the year which gives you the change to experience these places without the crowds.
From Paris you can take the TGV a 3 hour train ride to Avignon. From Avignon you can take a bus using the TransVacluse system (€3 to €4 round trip or €12 to €16 for ten trips). The website is in French but you can also find information at Avignon’s tourist Center and the Apt Coach station. Keep in mind that routes can vary during the winter.
Apt’s central location makes it easy to get to other nearby villages and is a great place to stay while you’re here. The Hotel l’Aptois (04.90.74.02.02, www.aptois.fr) has nice spacious rooms that are cyclist friendly for €40-66 a night.
Apt is home to the biggest market in Luberon. It takes place on Saturday morning and the venders usually start packing up by noon. The shops and venders are out selling anything from fresh baked bread and fish to fabrics and hand-woven rugs. You can shop for brightly colored soaps and lavender scented candles at L’Occitane. Across the street you can buy little ceramic cicadae’s for only 2€ and if you’re nice he might even give you one for free. Try your luck with one of the venders selling jars of lavender honey, wire jewelry, and oversized cotton sweaters. The area is a great place to walk around and immerse in the French lifestyle. Walk down the Avenue Philippe de Girard to see beautiful homes with pastel colored shutters all the while listening to music drifting from theÉcole de Musique. The Confiserie Kerry Atpunion (126.96.36.199.43) is a sweets factory that offers free tours and tastings from 9am-12:30pm & 1:30-6:30pm Mon-Sat by reservation.
Oppède le Vieux
Make your way west to the small village of Oppède le Vieux. Oppède is unique because it is actually two villages. The older village is located on the hill, and was abandoned in the early 20th century because farmers were too far from their vineyards and orchards. The inhabitants settled closer to the valley in the village of Oppède in 1910 and it’s still inhabited today. You can walk through Oppède and see a bull’s head door handle, but the real treasures await you at the top. To reach the ruins, pass through a beautiful arch into the deserted village. Stone walls with vacant windows surround you. Many paths veer off in different directions, but most of them lead to dead ends. Follow the orange tubes sticking out of the cobblestone road and you will be on the right path to the top.
Look through the windows. In one house the shell of an old soot-caked oven sits in the corner of an empty room. At the top you’re greeted by a stunning view of the valley, church, and abandoned castle. Don’t bother opening the church door, you can’t go in, but a glimpse through the keyhole will give you a nice view of the altar and a golden framed painting of the Virgin Mary and Child.
Lacoste is a tiny hilltop town. You can stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets and smell the fire from wood burning ovens. The streets are steep so take your time looking at the stone buildings and the iconic red tile roofs. The older part of Lacoste, further up the hill, is owned by the Savannah College of Art and Design. A lot of the buildings were restored by SCAD’s historic preservationists SCAD’s historic preservationists restored a lot of the buildings . You might even spot some students you can talk to, and if you’re here on a Saturday at the end of the school quarter you can see their artwork at the Vernissage.
Château de Sade is the castle at the top of the hill. It’s a hike, through st a narrow passageway carved into a stone wall and lots of steps to the top. Good thing you’re wearing comfortable shoes. A panoramic view waits you. Get there before 5:45pm, and you will see the colors yellow, red and navy wash over the valley and the Alpes de Provence. Smoke floats from the chimneys. Pull yourself away from the view and you will see some strange iron statues of large outstretched arms and a man falling backwards off a wooden branch.
The Lacoste Cemetery is past the elementary school. Even if you’re spooked out by cemeteries I recommend that you visit at least one while you’re in the Luberon. Visiting a cemetery gives you a part of French culture not everyone one gets to see. You will notice that most of the graves are above ground, and beautifully built. Painted ceramic flowers of roses and violets signifying love, faithfulness and loyalty sit on most of the graves beside granite signs of regrets and souvenirs.
Fontiane de Vaulculse
Fontiane de Vaulculse is the source of the Sorgues River. Make this trip early. In the morning, steam rises from the river. The middle of the town is a square with shops and cafés that sell ice cream in the warmer months. A ruined castle sits on top of a high hill. The water looks an unnatural blue green color. Feel free to take the side paths, they will lead you close enough to touch the water.
A gravel path takes you to the source, a pool of clear water surrounded on one side by a high wall of stone scattered with caves. On the other side is a small beach with moss covered rocks. Black birds will fly above you diving into the caves they’ve claimed as their homes, out of reach from everything.
Inside the Vallis Clausa Paper Mill the whole process is laid out. You can watch different steps depending on what day you come. When you walk in you will hear the clank of beaters, large wooden hammers powered by the water mill, pounding the pulp to be made into paper. Large metal tubes hang from the walls used to brand the paper with the factory name. The only sounds are coming from the pounding of the beaters and the scratching of paper. A tall man with black hair neatly tied in a ponytail hunches over a stack of white paper. He uses the tip of a pen-shaped object to scrape off the imperfections, a job he doesn’t skim over, examining each paper at least twice before setting it down.
Château of the Bishop of Cavaillon is the castle on the hill you saw earlier. Take the stairs by the Petrarch museum. It is a difficult hike up but once you see the great view of the village and some of the river down below you’ll be happy you came. A stone arch, crumbling on one side, leads you into the outer wall of the castle. A big window about 6 or 7 feet high gives you a nice view of the town below. All you hear is the wind and the sound of rocks clacking under your feet. For those who are really daring can walk on top of one of the walls that drop’s straight down to the river. Spend some time sitting on a rock that used to be part of the château, listening to the sounds of the river below, an experience that you didn’t have to buy.