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Travel guide: Luberon & Ventoux

Captivating mountain views, welcoming châteaux and wines that match perfectly with the classic local cuisine. Plan a road trip through the beautiful countryside that straddles the regions of the Rhône Valley and Provence in southeast France, says Carolyn Boyd

As I gaze down the avenue of plane trees towards Château Pesquié, I’m surrounded by much of what the diverse Vaucluse department in France’s southeastern country has to offer: verdant vineyards encircle the elegant château, and the white-peaked Mont Ventoux towers above a landscape that cradles the Luberon and Ventoux appellations. Nearby, sleepy Mormoiron is one of the many characterful villages to explore both here and to the south in the Luberon regional nature park. And, as if this wasn’t enough to spoil me, the vineyards in the prestigious smaller appellations of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras are within a 40-minute drive.

At Château Pesquié, brothers Frédéric and Alexandre Chaudière are the third generation of their family to make wine. They adore the location, with Mont Ventoux lying just to the northeast. ‘Here on the Rhône, we’re in a corridor between the mountains, but also close to the Mediterranean,’ explains Frédéric as he shows me around the vineyard. ‘Meanwhile, Mont Ventoux creates a kind of amphitheatre and, although the temperature is around 30°C in the day, it is much cooler at night, which allows for longer maturation – we’re one of the last to harvest in the whole area.’

We walk around the organically farmed vineyards, planted with parcels of 50-year-old Carignan vines, along with Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvèdre, Clairette, Roussanne and Viognier, and admire the nine-year-old Syrah vineyards planted with bright yellow blooms of broom and gypsum to improve soil quality.

In the winery, soil samples and detailed three-dimensional maps demonstrate the unique geography and terroir. The Ventoux appellation is quickly growing in popularity and this is one producer ready to offer guests a truly Provençale experience, with hampers for picnics in the gardens, vineyard walks and harvest days.

Nearby, other family-run vineyards such as Domaine du Tix share the same 350m elevation, with its hot days and cool nights, and they also welcome visitors for tastings.

Chateau Pesquie view

Château Pesquié looking towards Mont Ventoux. Credit: Herve Fabre Photography

Enchanting exploration

To make the most of those hot days, I spend a couple of them in the Parc naturel régional du Luberon, which enjoys a similar climate to the Ventoux appellation just to its north. It’s also one of the most enchanting areas in this part of the Provence interior, abounding with golden-stone villages and lavender fields. The terroir offers conditions for vineyards to produce perfect drinks for summer evenings – fruity whites and pale rosés that pair so well with the region’s typical fish, olive oil and tomato-based dishes. At the Domaine de la Citadelle, near the village of Ménerbes, it isn’t only the wide range of excellent wines that draws visitors, but its unusual collection of corkscrews, as well.

The domaine’s Musée du Tire-Bouchon holds 1,200 bottle openers of every age, provenance, shape and size. As I gaze into the many cabinets, it strikes me that getting into one’s bottle of wine as easily as possible has long been an art form. There is everything from corkscrews that double as shaving brushes, swords or pistols, to some salacious ones – brass legs akimbo, forming a ‘T’ shape.

On the hill behind the winery and museum, the domaine’s botanic garden overlooks the vineyards and Ménerbes perched on a ridge nearby, with raised beds that each contain a different herb or medicinal plant. Inhaling them is as much a treat for the senses as the tasting I take part in when I return to the winery, sipping different blends of the 17 different grapes grown across the vineyard’s 50ha.

Exploring the different villages is one of the region’s greatest pleasures, especially when so many have good vineyards nearby. After wandering the cobbled streets of Bonnieux, its jumble of terracotta-roofed houses piled up on a hill, I drive on to the Aureto wine cellar. Belonging to the nearby luxury estate, La Coquillade, the breathtaking views add a further wow factor to the award-winning wines here.

The architecturally striking winery, with its filigree-iron wall coverings, offers tastings, workshops and tours. Further to the southeast, beyond Ansouis, a village with
a medieval château, you can explore the vineyard of the Marrenon wine estate in the company of one of its winemakers, complete with a gourmet picnic among the vines.

Fact file

Luberon White Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Vermentino, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Ugni Blanc, Viognier Red Syrah, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault

Ventoux White Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Marsanne, Viognier, Vermentino Red Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre

No boundaries

I finish my journey with a foray back to the north, where a patchwork of appellations is cradled in the southern Rhône valley. To the west, below Orange, are the exclusive vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and I drive past those of Côtes du Rhône cru villages Beaumes-de-Venises, Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Séguret in quick succession. Where I’m destined, though, is the crossroads at which four of the southern Rhône’s appellations meet.

On the hill behind the village of Crestet, I drive narrow, pine-shaded lanes to find Chêne Bleu, a wine estate that envelops you in its natural surroundings. After buying it in 1993, Xavier and Nicole Rolet painstakingly restored the medieval priory at its heart, seeing the potential of the vineyard with an altitude of 550m. As I arrive, Xavier’s daughter Danielle is there to show me around the extraordinary setting, which is overlooked by the Dentelles de Montmirail. As I admire the saddle of land where the Ventoux, Séguret, Côtes du Rhône and Gigondas appellations meet, I hear a cuckoo call, frogs croaking and the warm breeze blowing through the trees. Here they welcome the Mistral wind; it helps fend off disease in the vines.

We continue inside, where Danielle points out the level of dedication and adoration that has gone into the winery; from Nicole’s exquisite friezes that adorn the walls surrounding the concrete vats, to humorous medieval-style wine labels. Afterwards, I taste the acclaimed wines that do not adhere to appellation boundaries. ‘It was a brave move as first-time winemakers, but it’s paid off!’ says Danielle.

When I leave, she thanks me for making the tricky journey to see them, but with chambres d’hôtes, gourmet dinners and wine courses on offer, it’s a trip I’m willing to make again.

Luberon & Ventoux: Accommodation

Château de Montcaud, Sabran

A short hop over the Rhône river, this new four-star hotel run by friendly Swiss couple Rolf and Andrea Bertschi has a superb restaurant and a very knowledgeable sommelier. Makes a good base if you’re including Châteauneuf-du-Pape in your trip.

  • Address: Hameau de Combes, 30200 Sabran

Crillon le Brave

This ‘scattered hotel’, which occupies historic buildings in the village of the same name, enjoys a breathtaking view of Mont Ventoux. Its refurbished rooms were designed by top French architect Charles Zana.

  • Address: Place de l’Eglise, 84410 Crillon Le Brave

La Coquillade, Gargas

An eco-friendly and luxurious resort looking out over the surrounding vineyards belonging to its own winery Aureto. Explore the area on high-quality bicycles from the on-site cycling centre.

  • Address: Le Perrotet, 84400 Gargas

Luberon & Ventoux: Restaurants

La Figuière, Fontaine de Vaucluse

Tucked away in a corner of the village near the river Sorgue, this classic bistro restaurant offers an idyllic courtyard under the shade of parasols. Its menu features French and Provençale classics.

  • Address: 3 Chemin de la Grangette, 84800 Fontaine de Vaucluse

La Table de Xavier Mathieu, Joucas

In a small village between Gordes and Roussillon, chef and Provence native Xavier Mathieu brings together Provençale ingredients for his exquisite dishes, served on the terrace of the restaurant, overlooking the Luberon valley.

  • Address: 220 Route de Murs, 84220 Joucas

Les Bories, Gordes

This one-star Michelin restaurant near Gordes sees chef Grégory Mirer, who previously worked for the late, celebrated Joël Robuchon in Paris, serve refined dishes using the best Provençale produce.

  • Address: Route de l’Abbaye de Senanque, 84220 Gordes

Getting there

The easiest airport to reach is Marseille, which is served by several airlines. The one nearer to the destinations detailed here, however, is Avignon. Both Marseille and Avignon are served by direct trains on Eurostar. From Marseille, it is about a 90-minute drive to Mormoiron; from Avignon, the drive is 45 minutes.

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