There is something about Provence that makes you want to linger–over coffee, along the trail, in a café, at a market. It could be the feel of warm air infused with the scents of lavender, thyme and rosemary, the taste of hot coffee and warm croissants in the morning, or the softness of fading golden sunlight at the end of the day. It could be the rustic elegance of ancient hill towns, the quiet solitude of secluded old stone pathways, or the tenacious vestiges of once-walled fortresses that speak to us of ages past.
This walking tour is all about savoring the many pleasures of Provence’s irresistibly inviting Luberon region. From Bonnieux to Saignon, Saint Saturnin les Apt to Roussillon, we’ll walk from village to village, tracing the cool, shaded canyon of the Aigue Brun River, climbing the crests of the Grand Luberon and exploring the amazing ochre cliffs of the Rustrel Colorado. We’ll walk through pine and oak forests, and skirt the edges of vineyards, olive groves, and lavender fields, with occasional stately cypress standing guard. Each night will be spent in comfortable accommodations that reflect the unique character of the area.
Day 1: Arrive Bonnieux
We will rendez-vous at the Marseille Airport at 1pm and then transfer as a group to our hotel in Bonnieux, about an hour away. Occupying a narrow plateau on the northeast flank of the Petit Luberon, the hilltop village of Bonnieux offers the perfect jumping off point. A 12th-century church crowns the village, narrow streets are lined with fine examples of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century residences, and the remains of 13th-century ramparts that once walled the village are still visible. A climb up to the “Old Church” offers sublime views across the Calavon River valley. We’ll have time to explore the village and perhaps visit the Musée de la Boulangerie, the Bakery Museum, before our Welcome Dinner.
Day 2: Bonnieux to Saignon
Today we take a pastoral walk across a classic Luberon landscape. Our route will take us through forests and lavender fields, past cherry orchards and olive groves, and along the upper rim of the Gorge of Aigue Brun, ending in the tiny hilltop town of Saignon.
Day 3: Saignon
Our hike today is a like a walk back through time. We will begin with a short van transfer to the base of the Aigue Brun Gorge. This tiny, secluded valley etched by the Aiguebrunn River has been traveled since prehistoric times. Romans settled this strategic plateau above the valley that later became the site of the medieval Fort du Buoux, the ruins of which still remain. A cobble mule path, once a famous salt route connecting Marseille with city of Apt during the Middle Ages, still winds its way to the ancient hamlet of Sivergues. Meaning “six virgins,” it was supposedly founded by six nuns and monk.
Our hike will take us first up to the impressive ruins of the 13th-century Fort de Buoux. After exploring the site, our route continues up to the crest of the Grand Luberon, with 360-degree views of the surrounding area. On a clear day we may have views as far as the Southern Alps and Mediterranean. Our descent takes us by the goat farm at La Castelas, on to the hamlet of Sivergues and finally back to our accommodations in Saignon.
Day 4: Saignon to Saint Saturnin Les Apt
Leaving Saignon, our hike takes us down though old terraces and orchards, across lavender fields, and through forests to the “Rustrel Colorado.” Once the site of ocher mining, the process of extracting ocher pigment from the clay has left an amazing array of cliffs and Dr. Seuss-like pinnacles displaying colors ranging from deep reds and oranges to yellow and white. Our day will end with a short transfer to the classic Provencal town of Saint Saturnin les Apt.
This quiet and unassuming village is rich in history dating back to Roman times. Its old fortified church, surrounding chateau, and quaint narrow streets are irresistibly beckoning. Time and crowds have left this town relatively untouched.
Day 5: Saint Saturnin Les Apt to Roussillon
Today’s walk to Roussillon leads through vineyards, olive groves, almond trees, forests, and open fields, and down grassy lanes. The view across the Luberon valley, all the way to rising bluffs of the Grand Luberon, is lovely. Imposing deep red ocher cliffs greet us as we near Roussillon.
Day 6: Free Day Roussillon
Roussillon is a perfectly picturesque Provencal village, with its narrow streets and ocher painted buildings. Another prominent center for ocher mining the village itself nearly radiates with pale yellows, oranges to deep reds and everything in between. The inhabitants of the area began mining ocher in prehistoric times and by the 19th century export of the ochre pigments was considerable. The onset of synthetic dyes put the ochre mines out of business. The effects of this mining have made for some very interesting rock formations. There will be time to visit the open-air museum of mining technics and pigment fabrication, as well as wander beneath the stunning cliffs of the Ochre Trail.
Day 7: Roussillon to Murs
Murs is a tiny hamlet situated on the Vaucluse Plateau surrounded by vineyards, cherry orchards and forested hillsides. The village is built around a 13th century castle and roman church. There are several ways of walking to Murs from Roussillon, including through the narrow gorge of the Combe Vaumale. It’s also possible to transfer to Murs and day hike from there. There are number of walks that can be made from the village of Murs, including to Murs de la Peste ruins. The Mur de la Peste, or Plague Wall, was built in the early 1720’s to stop the spread of the plague. It was 27kms long and section of it still remains not far from Murs.
Day 8: Murs to Gordes
Departing Murs, our walk takes us through the narrow Gorge of Veroncle. A small dam and series of 10 mills were constructed in the gorge during the 15th Century, the ruins of which are still visible. Our trail leads passed three fine examples of these ancient mills, climbs to the rim of the gorge, bringing us to the village of Gordes. Also, designated has one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages, Gordes occupies a majestic vantage point on edge of the Plateau du Vaucluse. White stone houses climb the hillside to the top of the village, which is dominated by a Renaissance castle and church.
After lunch, we’ll walk to the Cistercian Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, famous for its lush lavender fields. Founded in 1148, the Abbey’s fortunes have fluctuated throughout the centuries. A small community of monks still resides there. We’ll have time to explore the before walking back to Gordes.
Day 9: Gordes to Fontaine de Vaucluse
The walk from Gordes to Fontaine de Vaucluse takes us first through the dry-stone Village of Bories, then onto the picturesque villages and Cabrieres de Avignon and Lagnes. Our walk ends in the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse. Apparently, the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is the “largest spring in France and one of the most powerful resurgent springs in the world.” The spring is located at the terminus of the valley at the mouth of a cave, surrounded by high cliffs topped by the ruins of a castle. There are also a number of small museums in Fontaine de Vaucluse, including the Monde Souterrain de Norbert Castere, devoted to speleology. Farewell dinner.
Day 10: Transfer to Aix-en-Provence TGV Station/Marseille Airport
Morning transfer to either Marseille Provence Airport or Aix-en-Provence TGV station.
Note: This itinerary is subject to change either before the trip start or while en route.
If you wish to have your own room at the hotels there is a single supplement charge of $500. Please let us know if you would like a single at the time of registration. If you are traveling alone and would like to share a room, we will match you with a roommate. If there is no one with whom you can share, we will not charge you extra for this “forced” single during the hike.
All accommodations, all breakfasts, all dinners, luggage transfer for one medium-sized bag, all group transfers as per the itinerary, transfer from and to the Marseille Airport Days 1 and 10, great hiking and great memories!
Airfare, lunches, optional/individual transfers or excursions, items not on set dinner menu, beverages, insurance, tips to guides/leaders, items of a personal nature.
This hike includes luggage transfer each day. You will need to carry a small day pack with only the clothing and extra items you will need for the day.
While this trip includes luggage transfer, it is not vehicle supported. Participants should be in physical condition appropriate to the strenuousness of this hike. It is, however, possible to skip a day of hiking and take a taxi to the next hotel. This extra cost is not included in the price of the trip.
Accommodations and Facilities
Hotels: The hotels on this route are very comfortable; some are basic and simple, others are are very nice. All reflect the local character and offer a warm Provencal welcome. All have private bathrooms, except for one night that may require shared facilities.
Meals: Breakfasts and dinners are served at the hotels and lunches are picnic style along the trail. Most accommodations will provide pack lunches upon request. Typically, it is possible to purchase lunch items at local markets, shops and bakeries.
It is easiest to fly in and out of Marseilles Provence Airport. However, if your plans include additional travel, there are frequent shuttle buses to the Aix-en-Provence TGV train station, only a short distance from the Marseille Airport. Travel between Aix-en-Provence TGV station and the Marseille airport is about 30 minutes by shuttle; travel between Paris and the Aix TGV Station is about 3 hours.
The trip will begin with a group pickup at the Marseille Provence Airport.
The trip will end with a morning transfer from Fontaine de Vaucluse to the Marseille Airport or Aix-en-Provence TGV station, arriving at about 10:30; please make travel plans accordingly.
Who would like this trip?
This hike is a great combination of Mediterranean climate, varied hiking terrain, picturesque villages, and overnight stays in comfortable, relaxing inns. This is a great trip for those with limited time who would like to experience this ruggedly and rustically beautiful corner of Provence. It’s also a great add-on to our Provence Inn-to-Inn trip for those who would like to spend a little more time in the Luberon.
We grade this trip moderate with strenuous. Though not as difficult or as challenging as our Alps hikes, participants should be prepared for a few long days on rugged terrain. You will be completely enchanted and impressed with the beauty of this area and experiencing it on foot.
If you would like register, would like to receive more information including a detailed itinerary (including elevation gains, losses and distance) and/or request a list of past participants, please contact us and specify this trip.
Any hiking trip in the mountains requires a certain amount of effort and proper fitness training will enhance your enjoyment. In the mountains, time and elevation gain or loss as opposed to distance, tend to be the determining factors when defining hiking grades or level of difficulty. We have done our best to grade our trips consistently, please contact us for further clarification. We are happy to offer names of past participants.
Easy: Hike 3 to 4 hours daily carrying a day pack on generally gentle terrain. Distances from 4 to 8 miles. Elevation gain and loss 500' to 1,500'.
Moderate: Hike an average of 4 to 5 hours daily on varied terrain. Distances from 5 to 9 miles. Elevation gains and losses generally 1,500' to 2,500' or about 2 hours.
Strenuous: Hike 5 to 7 hours daily on varied terrain, with consistent ascents and descents of 2 to 3 or more hours generally 2,500' - 3,500'. Distances from 6 to 11 miles. There are some sections that include steep uphill and downhills.
Strenuous Plus: 5 to 8 hours partly on rocky, challenging terrain with consistent steep ascents and descents of 2 to 3 or more hours generally 3,000'-5,000'. Distances from 6 to 15 miles. Though each day is not strenuous plus there are some sections that may include rough terrain and open and exposed trails.