Sunday in Provence – sounds like a movie title, right? There simply is movie magic in this region known for wine, romance, and stunning hilltop villages. From touring a Sunday market like a local to sipping champagne with an amazing dinner, getting to spend a Sunday in Provence was something straight out of movie for me.
First of all, the weather was stellar. After a beautiful sunrise, the light fog settled in over the valleys. It envelopes the valley floors wrapping the grape vines and other agricultural products in a blanket of light moisture. It’s part of what makes the wine so fabulous. There was a slight chill in the air early but nothing a light jacket, vest or scarf couldn’t stave off.
My buddy Darrel and I left La Maisonnette, our HomeAway farmhouse rental near Ménerbes, about 9 a.m. and headed over to the Coustellet farmers’ market that takes place every Sunday morning from April to December. It’s considered one of the best markets in Provence. It’s a marché paysan, meaning the produce and goods are sold by the producers themselves. It’s a delightful display of the best the region’s fruit, vegetables, herbs, wine, cheese, bread, meats, oils, and jams. Before getting to the market, I had an image of French folks going from vendor to vendor filling their straw bags with all sorts of fresh produce, breads, and more. Coustellet market lives up to that picture-perfect image. My advice – go early just like we did. If you do, you get to stroll leisurely from stall to stall checking out all of the divine delectables and homemade wares.
We started out with petit déjeuner, which is breakfast in French. Traditional petit déjeuner is simply a hot beverage and bread. Café au lait is tres bon while people watching at the market.
After wandering through the food stalls, including picking up some truffles, we headed over to another area of vendors, which includes not only prepared foods but also provençal goods including soaps, tablecloths, scarves, hats, lavender sachets and more. A handmade knit grey and black beret was my keepsake find in the market. I loved meeting the woman who created this special hat and will get taken back to that market, if only for brief moment, every time I wear it.
From Coustellet we drove over to Gordes, considered one of France’s most beautiful villages. If you’ve seen the movie A Good Year then you’ve seen Gordes. As we drove up the winding road through jagged rocks of the sunbaked landscape, I was wide-eyed as we went around a curve and the stunning view of Gordes against the rugged landscape came into view. With cobblestone streets and beige stone homes that glow orange in the morning sun, the village culminates in the majestic 12th-century castle on the edge of the high Plateau de Vaucluse. Several famous French painters and filmmakers have called Gordes home and I could certainly see how they could easily be inspired by the picturesque village. Quite simply – it will take your breath away.
We found the most charming spot for lunch, Le Jardin. It was a true secret garden, even down to the green leaves on the plates, as we sipped Domaine Coulet Rouge. I went for the Le Grande Salade with tomatoes, mozzarella, red onions, black olives, and greens topped with a tapenade toast. Darrel went for the pâtes à la sauce bolognaise, or pasta in a thick tomato and minced beef sauce. To end the beautiful lunch, Darrel had an espresso and I opted for the sweeter option of a scoop of homemade ice cream served in a tres chic glass dish. Tellement bon (so good)!
We worked off a little of our lunch by strolling through Gordes.
Our next stop was at the Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey in a beautiful valley. Since 1148, it has been, and still is, an active Cistercian monastery. The community of monks does allow you to go on a guided tour, which is in French only. Even if you don’t speak fluent French, it’s fascinating. It takes about an hour. You are guided through the inside the 12th century buildings and see the church, the cloister, the chapter-hall, the warming room and the ancient dormitory. I would love to see it in the spring with the lavender fields abloom.
The next stop was Goult, a charming village that is lesser known than other villages in Luberon. It’s not visible from afar like the hilltop villages. With no shops open on a Sunday afternoon, I found the sleepy little village delightful as we strolled through the narrow streets with no one else around admiring the arches, doorways, and beautiful stone buildings.
We stopped in Cafe de la Poste for a wine and beer. It’s the spot to sit a spell if you visit Goult. As we were sitting there chatting and sipping our beverages, I noticed most folks were doing the same, not staring at phones, but actually engaged in conversation with one another. It was a wonderful observation. Made me make a mental note to put the phone down more and just enjoy being in the moment.
We had enough time before sunset to make a winery stop. Domaine de la Citadelle was our first winery on this trip, so it was fitting it was also our last. Sitting outside surrounded by the vines at La Citadelle is the epitome of what you hope Provence to be. We had to go back for a rendezvous with the pink perfection in their Les Artemes rose. It is a beautiful pale pink rosé with red berries, citrus, and floral notes. It is quintessentially Provence in a glass. Plus, I adored the little black and white chat (cat) with big ears and green eyes that kept doing figure eights rubbing against my legs while I sipped rosé.
Like the rosés, sunsets are spectacular in Provence, especially on a Sunday and especially from the castle in Lacoste. We raced to make it in time and were treated to a masterpiece in the sky against the stone masterpiece in ruins. We quickly wandered through the maze of broken-down walls, vanished gardens, and rooftops. I could only imagine what it was like in its glory days. Then I researched its history, which includes a dark side that is more sadistic than 50 Shades of Grey. It was once the home of an 18th-centure libertine. Marquis de Sade was so sadistic he was catapulted to an illustrious fame that almost seemed more the tale of a fictitious character. Donatien Alphonse François, aka Marquis de Sade, was a writer and revolutionary politician who lived from 1740 to 1814. He died in a mental asylum. His lurid works were banned in France until 1957. The original Lacoste chateau dates back to the 11th Century. The de Sade family owned it from 1716, but in early 1790s during the French Revolution, a mob reduced it to rubble. The stones were looted by villagers leaving what was left of the castle abandoned for 150 years. A local school teacher began a restoration effort in 1952 and in 2001 philanthropist Pierre Cardin restored to central part of the castle to be livable. You can’t visit the central part, but you can explore much of the castle’s grounds.
The hilltop view of twinkling lights of other villages in the distances and stars sparkling in the night sky made Bistrot Le 5 in Ménerbes the perfect end to a spectacular Sunday in Provence. We dined there the first night and on this last night there was shear gluttony as we savored our French feast. I had the Les Capellino, which was stuffed petite raviolis with gorgonzola, pesto butter, and parmesan. Darrel had the Gnocchi de Homard, St. Jacques, Gambas, which is gnocchi with lobster and prawns in a champagne butter. Both were so scrumptiously rich we nearly licked the bowls. Somehow, we both saved a little room for a couple of bites of their special dessert – rum cake.
It was the perfect au revoir after a Sunday in Provence.