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Trip Report Trip report: 3 weeks in Bonnieux (Provence)

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This is a report on our three-week stay in the village of Bonnieux, in the Luberon section of Provence, France, September 29 to October 20, 2007.

The travelers

We are Larry and Margie, in our mid sixties, and we post on Fodor's as "justretired" (although in fact Larry has now been retired for four years). We've been traveling to Europe about once a year, mostly to France and Italy. Larry speaks French pretty well, and Margie is at an intermediate level.

The trip

This trip was a bit different from our earlier trips, in that:

1. It was longer, at about four weeks, including travel time, and four days in Paris not reported on here.

2. We spent a full three weeks in one place, the town of Bonnieux, instead of relocating every three or four days.

3. We stayed in a town, instead of in the country as in the past.

4. We stayed in an apartment, rather than our usual Bed & Breakfasts or inns.

5. We brought along a laptop computer, to stay in touch with family via e-mail. In the past, we've used internet cafés.

Under those conditions, the trip was a bit slower-paced than some of our previous travel, but we still did a lot. We enjoyed it a great deal, and intend to take similar trips in the future.

I should note that, as you probably all know, France is now very expensive, largely due to the weakness of the dollar. A full three-course lunch in a restaurant, la formule, tended to run from 15€ to 25€, which at over $1.40 per euro is roughly $20 - $35 a person. This was somewhat moderated by being in an apartment, and being able to prepare our own meals.

The town

Bonnieux is built on a hill in the Luberon region of Provence, about an hour's drive east of Avignon, "Peter Mayle country". It's one of many such "perched villages" in the area - some of the others nearby are Lacoste, Roussillon, Lourmarin, Gordes, Oppède-le-vieux, and St. Saturnin-lès-Apts. We had stayed in Bonnieux on a previous trip, staying in the B&B Le Clos du Buis. We chose Bonnieux for this trip because we found an attractive in-town apartment that was available for three weeks, Bonnieux has stores and services we could walk to from the apartment (butcher, bakeries and patisseries, a pharmacy, and a small market), and it has quite a few restaurants, including at least three of very high quality. We kept a car for the three weeks, to take day trips from Bonnieux, so we generally had lunch elsewhere. However, we wanted to be able to have dinner in the town, with wine, and not have to worry about driving home in the dark.

As we had hoped, we gradually got to know some of the merchants in town. The butcher was particularly chatty and interesting. But although his French was reasonably clear, it was always at a pretty fast clip, so he tended to lose Margie. We gave him some maple sugar candy from New England when we left, and he gave us a couple of cans of paté made in his shop. Among many of the locals, a regional accent was evident ("biaing" instead of "bien", for instance).

Everyone we met was pleasant and friendly. When Margie started talking in French, they listened patiently even if she took a while to formulate her sentence, and then answered in French, even if in some cases they might have been able to speak English.

One necessary comment: as a beautiful "perched" village, there's a lot of climbing in Bonnieux. Don't stay there if that will bother you. A short morning walk from our apartment up to the patisserie Henri Tomas for morning croissants is probably equivalent to climbing four or five flights of stairs (although there were two other bakeries that were only about one flight down).

We were very happy with our decision to stay in a village, and particularly happy with Bonnieux. As we hoped, all the services we needed were within a short walk. Being in a "perched" village, each trip might cover as much distance vertically as horizontally, but it's still a short distance. And Bonnieux has many good restaurants to choose from (more about this later).

The apartment

We rented an apartment in La Bastide Maréchal Denier, also known as l'ancienne gendarmerie (the former police station) of Bonnieux. You can see their web site at:

We actually rented through the agency Janssens-immobilier, which is in Bonnieux, and maintains the apartments:

This seventeenth century building has been converted into seven modern apartments, each named after a police rank. We rented a downstairs two-bedroom apartment called "Le Colonel". It was very well maintained, and well equipped, with satellite TV, a WiFi computer connection, a DVD player, a CD player, an oven and countertop range, a refrigerator and freezer, a dishwasher, a drip coffee maker, an electric tea kettle, a microwave oven, a toaster, and a full set of dishes and utensils. It was extremely spacious, with two bedrooms. All the apartments had access to a room with two clothes washers and driers, an iron and ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner. The one omission: the apartments are heated, but are not air conditioned. The building has thick stone walls, so I don't know if heat would be a problem in July and August, but it was certainly not a problem in September and October.

There's a swimming pool, but it's not heated, and generally closes at the end of September. We had extremely nice weather, rather warm for the Fall, and so, at the request of some of the guests, the pool was opened on warm days during the first two weeks of October, but then it was finally partially drained and covered for the winter.

We were very happy with the apartment, which quickly felt like home. We loved to come back after an active day, and sit out on our terrace with a glass of wine and some cheese, watching the sun set.

There was only one problem, and that was with the WiFi connection to my laptop. The signal was very week, and hence problematic, downstairs in Le Colonel. Apparently this was because of the layout, and thick stone walls, of the building. Although we generally were able to eventually get it to work, it was troublesome. Another tenant in an upstairs apartment had a strong signal, and had no difficulty connecting.


We find planning our trip to be part of the travel experience, and we always make good use of the Fodor's Forum. We made use of as well. "KathyWood" and "PBProvence" (who both provided great restaurant lists), "StuDudley", "Cigalechanta", "ira", "MorganB", and "Kevin_Widrow" were particularly helpful. "Kerouac" provided much information both before and during the trip on the "one day" (yeah, right) train strike of October 18.

In Bonnieux, we were not far from Kevin Widrow's B&B, Le Mas Perréal, in St. Saturnin-Lès-Apt, and we intended to drop in for a visit. But for various reasons, partly having to do with the train strike, this did not work out, so we'll have to leave it for another time.

Kathy Wood put us in touch with "Provence Byways":

At Kathy's recommendation, we purchased their "Guidebook to the Luberon Region of Provence" (click on that link on their web page to find out how to order it). We found it to be of enormous value, and we consulted it often. Although the driving routes in the Guidebook all start at their base, Lourmarin, that was no problem at all for us, starting from our base in Bonnieux. We simply consulted a local map, and picked up the driving route at some reasonable point.

We also found their restaurant recommendations to be generally on target. The one exception was actually a pleasant surprise. We ended up eating in the Restaurant Michel-Ange in Lourmarin, which the Guidebook did not particularly recommend, but we liked it quite a bit (I had a great aïoli). Perhaps they've finally found their groove.

The weather

We were in Bonnieux from September 29 through October 20, 2007, and the weather was gorgeous and warm throughout our stay. It had rained the entire previous week in Paris, and the weather map each evening on the television showed it to be raining in much of France. In fact, it was typical to see a map of France with rain indicated absolutely everywhere except in the Luberon region, which showed sunshine. Temperatures could be cool in the evenings and in the mornings, but usually reached 20 - 23 degrees Celsius by the afternoon (68 - 73 degrees Fahrenheit). It rained hard only one day, and then only briefly (flooding the pool deck for a time, due to a blocked drain).

The mornings were always foggy, and the haze never entirely burned off, but lingered all day. I think the haze might have been trapped between the mountains of the Luberon to the south, and the mountains of the Vaucluse to the north, awaiting a Mistral to clear it out. Readers of this forum are doubtless familiar with the Mistral, the Provence equivalent to California's Santa Ana winds, which have recently fanned the devastating fires there.

We were hoping for a Mistral, both to see what it was like, and to clear the haze. But we didn't get one during our entire three-week stay - not until our very last day, and only after we had driven to Avignon to catch our train back to Charles de Gaulle airport. In retrospect, we were lucky our wish for a Mistral had not been granted. Margie spoke to someone who was in Provence in the days after we had left. The Mistral lasted several days, and it turned the weather quite cold and unpleasant.

Due to the haze, we never had a really clear view of Mont Ventoux during our stay. Sometimes we saw it faintly, and sometimes it disappeared completely, but it was never in the clear. Nevertheless, we can hardly complain about the weather, which was beautiful, while all the rest of France was rainy. I should note that the warmth was a bit atypical. The pool at the apartment is usually closed at the end of September, but due to the extended warmth, it was kept open until mid October this year.

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