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Trip report: 3 weeks in Bonnieux (Provence)

Trip report: 3 weeks in Bonnieux (Provence)

Nov 1st, 2007, 06:08 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 3,258
Trip report: 3 weeks in Bonnieux (Provence)

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 Slowtrav.com 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.
justretired is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 06:11 PM
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Trip report: 3 weeks in Bonnieux (Provence), part 2

What we did, day by day

In the following notes, "LNB" is a friend who visited us from England for a week, staying in the second bedroom. CAUTION: These notes are rather verbose, as I wrote them every evening on the laptop as a record of what we did that day. So don't bother with them if you don't need all this detail. They do record, however, how we managed to easily keep ourselves busy for three full weeks, using Bonnieux as a base, seldom driving much more than an hour away (and usually much less).

Saturday, 9/29: This was the day we arrived, taking the TGV train down from Paris. We had pre-paid and pre-printed tickets from the web, obtained by following MorganB's instructions in the Fodor's thread:


Arriving in Avignon, we picked up our car, which we had ordered from Kemwell, also prepaid. They provided the car through Europcar, a nice diesel with a standard shift. The drive from the Avignon TGV station to Bonnieux hit some traffic in Avignon, but still took less than an hour. We were met and given a tour by M. Rocarpin, the concierge, and spent the rest of the day unpacking. We had a nice dinner in Le Tinel, which had been one of our favorite restaurants our previous time in Bonnieux. It did not disappoint us. I tried to connect my laptop computer to the apartment's WiFi network, following the instructions given in the booklet that was given to us in the apartment, but was not successful. However, I could get on the internet easily by carrying the laptop to the lobby, and plugging in an ethernet cable. Thus, we were connected, but not as easily as we had hoped.

Sunday 9/30: We drove to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where we visited their large Sunday open-air Sunday market, and ate lunch. We also bought a rotisserie chicken from one of the vendors, and brought it back to have for dinner. We love this market - this was our third time there, counting two previous visits on two earlier trips to the region.

Monday 10/1: We spent the morning resolving our computer problems. We went to the office of the rental agent, Janssens Immobilier, and met Annie Vernin, with whom we had corresponded frequently prior to the trip to get answers to various questions about the apartment. She dispatched M. Manuel, their IT expert, who came to the apartment, and typed magic incantations into my computer. The result: I got onto the internet via WiFi in the apartment, although not well (the signal was very week). No more searching for internet cafés as we had to do on past trips!

In the afternoon, we shopped in a supermarket in the outskirts of Apt, an adventure in itself. Great for vocabulary - everything is labeled. You have to weigh your own produce. You put it on a scale, and push a button corresponding to what it is. If you can't remember what type of onion you got, go back to the shelves and look for the numerical code. The scale prints out a barcoded label which gets scanned at the checkout counter. The label also gives the name of the product, so the checkout person can see that you entered the right code, and not the code for something cheaper.

Tuesday 10/2: We drove into Avignon to pick up our friend LNB. Before he arrived, we bought Margie a cell phone, so that she could be more comfortable if we separated. Then back to Bonnieux, for LNB to unpack and settle in. LNB, who lives in Nottingham, England, brought along what he called a "SatNav" unit ("Satellite Navegation", which I'd call a "GPS" unit). It was a TomTom 910, and it proved to be enormously valuable in navigating the back roads of Provence.

Wednesday 10/3: LNB set out on his quest for good, but cheap, lavender soap. As part of this search, we drove to Coustelet, and shopped at the lavender Museum, but it was too late to start the tour before the lunch closure. We drove back towards Bonnieux to eat lunch at the Gare de Bonnieux, not really a station, but a restaurant (it's opposite the old station, which is no longer used). We then went back to Coustelet in the afternoon for the lavender Museum tour (but LNB still didn't find a soap that met his specifications). Coustelet is only about five Km. from Bonnieux. It also has a branch of the Crédit Agricole bank, with an ATM.

Thursday 10/4: To see one of the larger towns in Provence, we drove to Aix-en-Provence, toured the old town, and ate lunch at Café Le Verdun (recommended by the "Guidebook to the Luberon"). When we arrived in Aix, there was a large open-air market going on, part of which was right in front of us as we dined on the open-air terrace. But as our lunch ended, so did the market. Solid looking vendors' booths were suddenly packed up into vans, and disappeared. Walking through the town after lunch, it looked completely different. The only clue that there had been a market there was a few residual cleanup crews prowling the streets with large powered vacuum cleaners.

After leaving Aix, we toured the Atelier of Cézanne, on the northern outskirts of the town, which was quite interesting. Back in Bonnieux, we had a good dinner at L'Arôme, now thought by many to be the best restaurant in Bonnieux. It's in the location previously occupied by La Cavette, and has the same telephone number.

Friday 10/5: In the morning, we ordered a prepared Gigot d'Agneau from the local butcher. It turned out that if you indicate any desire at all to chat, he'll regale you with his opinions on various subjects, which were in fact well considered and quite interesting. We then drove to the nearby small village of Lourmarin, where there was (unexpectedly) an open-air market in progress. We visited the village and its excellent castle. We ate lunch 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.

Back in Bonnieux we had the gigot for dinner. It was absolutely fabulous. When I later mentioned to the butcher how pleased we had been, he gave me the entire recipe. He never pierces the meat to insert garlic, because he believes that allows juices to escape. Rather, he coats the entire exterior with garlic cloves. The prepared gigot was hardly cheap, but it was still a lot more economical than eating out for three, and it fed us for two nights.

Saturday 10/6: A longish drive to St.Rémy-de-Provence, which we walked through in the morning. We then ate lunch there, and afterward toured nearby Glanum, a set of Roman ruins, which are quite impressive. On return, we did a laundry, since the machines were not in use, what with people moving out, and new folks moving in. An Australian couple we had met dropped off all their excess supplies for us, enough to actually save us another supermarket foray.

Sunday 10/7: If it's Sunday, this must be L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue - we can't resist that market. This was our fourth trip to the market there. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was a town that we had considered using as a base, but most of the apartments we found there were outside the town. We wanted to be IN a town, where we could WALK to the various services (which, in Bonnieux, worked out exactly as we had hoped). We had lunch in our usual place, Le Bellevue, as on previous occasions at a table along the river's edge, throwing excess bread to the ducks. Then, in the afternoon, we visited a limestone cavern in Le Thor, the "Thouzon Cave" (la Grotte de Thouzon. We made a dinner out of left-over gigot, and potatoes, beans, and tomatoes from a farm stand we stopped at on the way back.

Monday 10/8, LNB's last full day: We walked around the perched village of Goult, where we expected to find an open-air market, but there was none. At the advice of a random guy on the street in Goult, we stopped on the road at a small but interesting chapel in St. Pantaléon. Then on to Gordes for lunch, where we also found a pharmacy for Margie to refill her dwindling supply of Motrin (she was having some back problems), and a small shop where LNB finally found the lavender soap he was buying for his wife. Then, to squeeze in one more activity for LNB, we visited the Village of the Bories, a village of stone buildings built using entirely drywall construction, stone piled upon stone (including the roofs), with no mortar. Back to Bonnieux for a nice dinner at L'Arôme, in order to have a special dinner for LNB's last evening in Provence.

Tuesday 10/9: Woke up at 5:30AM (gak!) and drove LNB to the train station in Avignon, entirely in the dark. The sun didn't rise until about 7:45AM, because France is actually west of the western edge of the Central Europe time zone, and also was still on Daylight Savings Time (actually called "CEST", "Central Europe Summer Time"). Because it was still dark, we had breakfast in the easiest place, the Hotel Ibis cafeteria right at the station, among a large group of Japanese tourists, who stood politely in line for the one coffee machine. Once the sun finally rose, we walked around a bit until the Palais des Papes opened at nine, and then went through it. Being the first in line was great - we toured Le Palais ahead of the massive crowds behind us. Tired of two hour French meals, we had lunch in a Thai restaurant. We then food shopped in Les Halles, buying salmon for dinner, and some things to accompany it. A tip: as the market is about to close, pick out your heads of lettuce yourself - don't let the vendor do it.

Wednesday 10/10: We had a day of rest - we never used the car, never left Bonnieux. We organized, wrote some postcards, and so on. We had lunch at Le Fournil, a very good restaurant, where the lunches are more reasonably priced than the dinners. We bought a Daube de Boeuf at the Boucherie for dinner, which came with a further dissertation from the Butcher (no extra charge). We walked around the town a bit, and had some rich desserts at the Patisserie Henri Tomas, where I spoke Spanish with the girl behind the counter (as I also did a bit later the same day with a group of families touring from Valencia, Spain).

Thursday 10/11: We drove to Roussillon, walked Le Sentier des Ocres, and then ate lunch, and walked around the town. We drove out to the Conservatoire des Ocres, and had a tour of the old ochre factory. We drove BACK to Roussillon (not very far) just to buy some ochre paint pigments for Margie and her art teacher, George Dergalis.

Friday 10/12: I finally mailed my postcards. We drove to Fontaine de Vaucluse, parked in the lot right in the center of town, and toured the museum of "Santons", the small clay figures of local personages which are made and sold in Provence. We had gotten a bit of a late start, and hence didn't have time for much else before everything closed for lunch. We phoned and made a reservation, and then drove to Coustelet to have lunch at the Maison Gouin. It was a good thing we had called, since people were being turned away as we entered. The restaurant has an attached boucherie, and we bought some lamb chops for dinner, to supplement our left over Daube de Boeuf.

We then returned to Bonnieux, and relaxed a bit before our previously reserved 4:30 tour of the garden La Louve. This lovely garden, which turned out to be virtually across the street from our apartment, was originally built by Nicole de Vésian, and is now being maintained and augmented by Judy Pillsbury. Only a few tours of this garden are given each season, and we happened to catch the last one, the only one in October. See:


Saturday 10/13: We drove toward Ménerbes, and stopped along the way at the Abbeye St. Hilaire, a lovely small abbey, where we were inspired to take a lot of photos. We were the only people there, although another car arrived as we were leaving. We continued on to Ménerbes, and visited the Corkscrew museum, a humungous collection of corkscrews of various types, shapes, and sizes. We called and reserved a seat on the terrace at La Gare de Bonnieux, and had lunch there. We then returned to our apartment via the boucherie, where we bought a black-legged chicken for dinner (not cooked). Chickens are sold with one more joint left on the leg compared to chickens sold in the US. Perhaps this is so you can be sure you're getting the "black-legged chicken" that you paid for.

We dropped the chicken at the apartment, and climbed up (and up and up) to visit the Musée de la Boulangerie in Bonnieux, all about bread making. At the patisserie Henri Tomas just opposite the museum, we bought one of his galettes for dessert (his specialty). Back home via the Cocci market for some milk and fruit. I finally asked how to pronounce the name. I'd been assuming it to be Italian, and saying "co-chi", but in fact it's pronounced "coke-see". I think that's a general rule for "cci" in French. The French word for a ladybug (ladybird, in England) is coccinelle, and is pronounced "coke-see-nell".

Sunday 10/14: If it's Sunday, this must be L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, our fifth trip to the market there (the third and last of this trip). We bought ourselves a tablecloth with napkins, and some other stuff. We wandered through new (to us) and distant sections of the market. It's huge - there's lots we'd never seen. Lunch in the usual place, Le Bellevue, where the kitchen was unusually slow (but we were in no hurry). We then drove to nearby Fontaine de Vaucluse, which was mobbed (we needed to go into the overflow parking this time), and went to the paper "museum", more of a store, really. We had a crèpe overlooking the river. Then back home, for a simple dinner at Pizzeria La Flambée, across the street from our apartment.
justretired is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 06:13 PM
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Trip report: 3 weeks in Bonnieux (Provence), part 3

Monday 10/15: We drove into nearby Apt, going past the supermarket on the outskirts, and into the town for the first time. We were able to park right in the center (Place Gabriel Péri, and tour the Musée de l'aventure industrielle du pays d'Apt, which, as an engineer, I found quite interesting (so did Margie, actually). We had lunch in Apt at Le Bartavelle, and then drove to the town of Saignon. It proved to be quite charming, and had commanding views of the surrounding countryside, particularly from a perch on top of a huge vertical column of rock called Le Rocher (duh!). We then took the D232 directly back to Bonnieux, entering the village at the top (the road must follow a ridge, because we didn't go very far down and up in between). Later, we took a walk up into the village, and had an apératif at the Cafe Restaurant Le St. Andre. We had dinner in our apartment, leftover chicken, with potatoes and salad, and the second half of the delicious galette from Henri Tomas. Henri Tomas himself is quite thin - I don't know how he manages it.

Before leaving the US, we had been aware that a one-day train strike had been called in France for October 18. We kept an eye on the news, to see if the strike might be extended, and hence might affect us on our return to Paris on October 20, two days later. We kept up with the relevant thread on the Fodor's site, particularly watching the advice provided by "Kerouac". The site of the railroad company, http://www.sncf.fr, since with everybody hitting it for information about their particular trains, that section of the site couldn't keep up, and stopped responding. Thus, just when you needed it the most, it became useless.

Tuesday 10/16: We drove to Oppède le Vieux, accidentally going via Oppède le Village, which doesn't seem to be on the map (we were suffering the loss of LNB's "SatNav", which had moved Margie into the front seat, and put the burden of navigation on her). We walked all the way up to the church, quite a climb (and took pictures to show that Margie had made it all the way to the top). Back down, we drove to Ménerbes, and had lunch at Le Galoubet, a restaurant recommended in the Provence Byways Guidebook. I had a great aïoli with mouru (cod). We walked around Ménerbes a bit. Then on to Lacoste, where we managed to park (illegally) pretty high up, but still had to walk a good ways to the top, to see the art exhibit of giant white sculptures. Once we had climbed up there, though, we found that there were people driving cars right up to the top - we don't know if just anyone could do that, or if they had some sort of special permission. In all likelihood, we just hadn't found the right road. Back to Bonnieux, where we bought pork chops for dinner, and cooked them in the apartment (editing these notes for Fodor's, I had to correct the spelling from "porc chops" - French was seeping in to my consciousness).

Wednesday 10/17: We were tired from all the climbing we had done the day before, so we took it a bit easy. We hung around Bonnieux in the morning, and walked around the lower village taking pictures. We also visited the library and the adjacent Maison du livre et de la culture, in a modern building below the village. We spoke to a man working in the library, and, on the way back, to a woman who turned out to be a singer, whom we met coming out of a hairdresser. We put some laundry into a washing machine, and then headed out to Buoux, where we had a nice lunch at the Auberge de la Loube. There we chatted with a couple from California.

A Belgian woman at a nearby table was trying to remember the name of a man who had visited often a number of years back. She said he was Peter something (not Peter Mayle), and that he had a cat named Norton who went everywhere with him. He was allegedly an author from New York. I gave her a card, but she does not have e-mail. She also evidently doesn't know how to use Google, since back at home, a web search quickly revealed the name Peter Gethers, author of The Cat Who Went to Paris, about his cat "Norton".

After the meal, the chef was rather amused by our attempts to pronounce the name of his village, "Buoux". He says it's two syllables: French pronunciation: "bu-ouks". It's sort of like "Byewks", but has a French "u" instead of the "ee" sound of the y. That's a front rounded vowel, which as generations of students have discovered, doesn't exist in English. It's very hard to transition cleanly between the "u" and the "ou". At least, it's very hard for me. It didn't seem to be much of a problem for the chef.

We then set out for home, but on the way saw a sign for the Forêt des Cèdres, which had been highly recommended to us by a shopkeeper in Bonnieux. I expected a "forest" to be low down, but this instead led to a long uphill road, made even more interesting by having to pass several enormous buses which were on the way down. The road, with steep dropoffs on the right, and no guardrail, eventually became too hairy for Margie, so we stopped at a wide portion to turn around. We found ourselves atop an extremely high ridge with a commanding view of the countryside to the north, including Bonnieux and Lacoste. After later buying several maps to figure out where we had gone (the area of interest is in the corner of three maps), we found that we had stopped only very slightly short of a parking area located at an altitude of 700 meters. But we were almost at the top - probably at an altitude of 680-690 meters. The top of Bonnieux is only about 410 meters, so were were towering above it.

Coming down, we drove through Bonnieux and out the other side on the road to Lacoste (by this point, we had thoroughly figured out the one-way circulation through Bonnieux, and which exit from the town to take to go in the various directions). We stopped in a few places to take some photos of Bonnieux from the road - Margie was trying to reproduce the classic view of the town seen on postcards, to be painted later (Margie is an artist, working primarily in watercolor). Finally, we returned to switch our laundry from the washer to the drier, and had dinner at the Pizzeria La Flambée (we each had a pizza). The apartment's washing machines are effective, but incredibly slow - a wash takes about 2.5 hours!

Thursday 10/18: Although it didn't affect us that Thursday, the SNCF rail strike paralyzed much of France. As we had previously arranged, Kevin Widrow phoned in the morning. We had intended to meet him, but with the train strike, he had to drive his son to school in Apt. Due to that, and some later conflicts involving his visiting parents, he thought getting together would be too hard.

Nevertheless, we headed out in his direction: to St. Saturnin-Lès-Apt. We walked way up to the huge, fallen-down castle at the top, with its high and imposing chapel (which you can't go into). Coming down, we managed to find a restaurant, one apparently unknown to a postal worker we asked. It's La Restanque. We had a pretty good meal of their Ragout d'Agneau (the special of the day), and then freshly made dessert crèpes. Everyone else in the place was local.

After lunch, we drove toward Rustrel, and walked through a portion of the Colorado Provencal, a large ochre mining pit, with lots of vertical chimneys and other such structures - sort of like Roussillon's Sentier des Ocres on steroids. Finally, back home, stopping briefly at the Pont Julien for a closer look. For our second to last dinner in Bonnieux, we ate at L'Arôme, for the third time. It got very windy in the evening - the waiter at L'Arôme thought it was a mistral, which, he said, generally continues for three days. The weather sites on the web thought otherwise - they were not predicting a mistral.

Friday 10/19: I happened to wake up at about 6:00 AM, so I went on to the SNCF web site to check on my train on the 20th. At that hour, with much of France still sleeping, the site responded, telling me my train was expected to run on schedule the next day. By 7:30 AM, later that morning, the web site was once again bogged down and unresponsive.

After three weeks in Bonnieux, it in fact took us a whole day to pack and prepare to leave. Having gone through three books during our stay, Margie took them down to the library, and donated them to the town. If you do ever stay in Bonnieux, you should know that you can buy a visitor's pass to the library for a reasonable price, and they have a decent collection of books in English. We also dropped by to say goodbye to Annie at the Janssens Immobilier office, and we gave her some small gifts. And as I mentioned earlier, having become particularly friendly with the butcher, we exchanged small gifts with him as well. There was no mistral on Friday, by the way.

We had our first dinner upon our arrival in Bonnieux at Le Tinel, and so we ate there for our last dinner, chatting with the friendly owner, Nicholas. He's spent some time in the US, and speaks excellent English.

Saturday 10/20: We left at 10:00 AM, drove to the TGV station in Avignon, and returned the car. As we walked from the car into the station, a fierce, cold wind arrived - Le Mistral, finally showing up after three weeks.

Our train left on time, and, with a few extra stops, arrived almost on time. I've already reported on the return trip on the Fodor's thread:



A considerable advantage of Bonnieux as a place to stay: it has quite a few restaurants, many of them quite good. The restaurants considered the three best are L'Arôme, Le Fournil, and Le Tinel. These are all close together, and have dinners in the 30€ range, without wine or coffee. Another restaurant in the center of town, Bleu de Toi, had already closed for the season, so we were never able to try it. For more casual eating, we ate at the Café-Pizzeria La Flambée (right across the street from our apartment), and the Café-Pizzeria Les Terrasses, high up in the village, where you can enjoy an outdoor lunch with a spectacular view over the surrounding countryside.

Another interesting restaurant is La Gare de Bonnieux, where we had lunch twice. For 13€, you get a three-course lunch (entrée, main course, and dessert), and a quarter carafe of wine. The entrée is actually a buffet selection of entrées, all you can eat. There is only one main course each day, so it pays to call in advance to see if it's something you like (Friday, it will be a fish course). It's good, and a very good value. This restaurant is not actually in the town - it's about a 5 Km drive, almost at the N100 (that's where the station used to be, when Bonnieux was served by a rail line).

There were three other restaurants, which we never tried, listed on our map from the tourist office: Le Terrail, La Part des Anges, and Le Chapelle-Café. The Hôtel Le César also has a restaurant. On a previous trip to Bonnieux, we stayed in the B&B Le Clos du Buis, and had a very good meal there. I don't know if you need to be a guest to eat there. The restaurants within Bonnieux can keep you happy for quite a few weeks.


How did it work out? We were very happy with everything - with Bonnieux as a town and as a base for touring the Luberon, with the apartment, with how we spent our time, and even with the weather. I think we'll travel like this again in the future, picking a place for an extended stay. I do think it's important to choose a base with enough to do in the area to occupy you for the duration of the stay.

You need to think about how far you want to drive. We went on the web, and collected information about boat tours in the Camargue, for example. But the Camargue (to our south-west, at the mouth of the Rhône river) is 130 Km from Bonnieux, almost a two hour drive. In the end, we decided against driving almost four hours in one day, with a return trip that would probably be in the dark (and as I age, I can find myself rather tired as evening approaches). We considered staying overnight somewhere in the Camargue, to split the drive into two days, but in the end, we didn't do it.

The pattern we settled upon was to tour in the morning, have lunch out, see some more sights in the early afternoon, but then return to the apartment for a rest and a break before dinner. We would then either eat in the apartment, or have dinner in Bonnieux, which meant that we were either already home, or could walk home. The only time I drove in the dark was the morning we took LNB to catch an early train in Avignon (and it's easier for me to be awake and alert in the morning than after sundown).

These were all factors we had anticipated in choosing where to stay, and we're happy to say that it all worked out as we had planned.

In past vacations, we've often taken lots of photographs (our trip before this one, to the Lakes District in Italy, was pretty thoroughly documented). But this time, we took very few photos in comparison. Although there were a few sights that moved us to try to record them, our photographic record is very spotty. I've been trying to appreciate living my vacation, rather than recording it for some future appreciation. I was very negatively impressed a few years ago, in Spain, when I saw a man touring the Alcázar in Seville with his eye firmly pressed to the viewfinder of a video camera. Not once did he look at the amazing Moorish architecture directly - he only saw it through the lens of his camera. While I've never been as bad as that, I have at times put effort into photography that detracted from my on-the-spot appreciation of what I was seeing. So as time goes by, I've been photographing less, and more selectively.

Thanks again to all the Fodorites who helped us make this trip such a successful one.

- Larry & Margie
justretired is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 06:43 PM
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Welcome back, Larry and Margie, I've been waiting for this knowing you were staying in one of our favorite villages. So happy you got to see La Louve. Mmadame D Vesian was quite a lady. She designed for Hermés in previous years.
Wish I had printed for this.
The cat who went to Paris is very amusing. I can loan it to you.
cigalechanta is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 06:51 PM
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P.S. L'Arome is one we haven't tried. Is there outside seating?
cigalechanta is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 07:03 PM
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Larry and Marge -

Thanks so much for a superb and informative report on your 3 weeks in Bonnieux. I'll likely copy it for future reference for our trip next May, one week each in Paris, Provence (a small house in l'Isle sur la Sorgue), and in St. Jean Cap Ferrat.

I noted that you'd considered l'Isle sur la Sorgue as a home base but decided against it because you'd have been on the outskirts of town. Our house is only a couple of blocks from the cathedral and the river (on rue du 4 Septembre). I picked it so that we would also be able to eat dinner at our house or within walking distance of restaurants - your logic for Bonnieux as a home base. Although I've looked at our location on Google Earth and also found restaurants nearby, I can only hope that my "guess" was correct. If you can confirm that it would be great.

Again, thanks so much for a great and informative report.

knoxvillecouple is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 07:09 PM
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KC, we have stayd twice in Iísle-sur-la-sorgue. Our favorite resturant there is Le Jardin de la Quai.
cigalechanta is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 07:21 PM
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Cigale -

Thanks so much. I'm starting to put together lists of restaurants in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and elsewhere in Provence and the Luberon. Although I was excited to really be a "slow traveler" with a week in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, now I see that I'm really speeding through as compared to Larry and Marge. Oh well - it's better than spending a day there I suppose.

I'll likely top this thread periodically to see if others provide valuable advice and experiences.

knoxvillecouple is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 07:21 PM
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Great trip report, thank you so much. We will be back in Provence next year and am starting to look for an apartment, yours looks perfect as I always like to stay in a town and my husband always wants a pool, may I ask how much it was a week as it is not listed on the site. Second, off topic, where did you go for your French classes a couple of years ago? You did a report but I am being lazy by not searching for it, thank you in advance!
susanna is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 07:36 PM
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Cigale, L'Arôme does have outside seating. In fact, it's rather odd, in that it blocks a street that would otherwise be passable by cars. I guess the town decided that they wanted this to be a pedestrian street. But we only ate dinners there, and in the evening, it was too cold to sit outside. It's also lower down on the street, and doesn't have a particularly great view.

knoxvillecouple, I don't know L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue all that well, other than having been to the market there five times. But looking at the maps, your location certainly seems to be in the center of the town. For Europe, http://www.mappy.com has better aerial views than google. Here's a satellite view of the town from Mappy:


Your location has a circle over it. The google satellite view is fuzzy in comparison.

Suzanna, we paid 1,420 euros for the three weeks (about $1,988, or about $663 per week). But you need to inquire about the specific time you will be renting. The rates vary by season, and they also gave us a discount for renting for three weeks.

On a previous trip, Margie and I studied at L'Ecole des Trois Ponts, in Roanne. You can find my Trip Report for that trip at:

"Trip Report, France: Lyon, Roanne, Ecole des Trois Ponts, Provence (Luberon & Vaucluse)":


- Larry
justretired is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 07:48 PM
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Thanks Larry. I want to add, I'm like you, I take less and less photos, mine are mostly friends, don't want to waste time when I should be looking or relaxing.
cigalechanta is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 07:55 PM
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Larry -

Thanks for the Mappy url for "our" house. I may be losing my mind, but I could swear that 2-3 months ago the google earth picture was MUCH clearer than it is now. Guess I can use Mappy now also. Of course, I just gave myself a Garmin suvi 370 for my birthday (with Europe as well as North America maps), so we should be good to go next May.

knoxvillecouple is offline  
Nov 1st, 2007, 09:17 PM
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knoxvillecouple, we liked using LNB's "SatNav" so much that we're apt to buy one before our next trip. I check the web every now and then, and debate the relative merits of Garmin vs. TomTom. I don't know if other suppliers provide both US and European maps. I gather one of the vendors is better in Europe, and the other better in the US.

I'm pretty sure LNB had a TomTom 910, which has now been replaced by the 920. But oddly, those units don't seem to be listed on the TomTom site. I'll have to figure this out before I pick one to buy.

The benefit of a portable unit compared to one built into your car is that you can move it into a rental car (as LNB did with us). For that matter, you can also carry it in a town, or on a hike through the woods.

By the way, when Suzanna asked about our previous (2004) experience studying French at L'Ecole des Trois Ponts, I gave the URL of my Fodor's trip report. But I forgot to mention the URL of that report on my own web page. It's pretty much the same report, but the one on my web site has pictures. It can be found at:


- Larry
justretired is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2007, 02:53 AM
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avalon is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2007, 03:53 AM
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hi, justretired,

what a lovely report, and such an antedote to the "if it's sunday it must be paris" brigade.

I've never had the chance to spend so long in one place, but it's certainly something that I've got in mind - perhaps for when we are "just retired".

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2007, 05:22 AM
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Thanks you so much for this very detailed report. It's as good as any guide book. I love those apts. and have saved it for future use.
avalon is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2007, 07:45 AM
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Loved reading your report and the things you did in the Vaucluse. After Paris, that area of France is my most favorite place on the earth. I have been to the Vaucluse twice now, the first time staying at Villa Velleron and the second time at Le Lavandin in Pernes les Fontaines. Bonnieux was our first daytrip last summer and the Cave was first to stock up on wine for the 8 days we were there. Loved that village! What a fabulous place to stay for 3 weeks. We went as far north as Vaison la Romaine, south to Cassis, Pont du Gard to the west, and Bonnieux was probably as far east as we got. We did wish to get to Loumarin but time didn't permit. That's what next trips are for!!!

We, too, had dinner at Maison Gouin on the recommendation of Georgia from LeLavandin. Wonderful dinner on the "porch."

I would love having 3 weeks to spend there -- then you don't have to rush around seeing everything on your "list." However, sometimes you just don't have the time or the money (especially now with the dollar so weak!!).

Glad you enjoyed your time and thank you so much for the wonderful report! Great fun reading and bring the memories back on a Friday morning!

luvparee is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2007, 12:52 PM
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Thank you so much for your detailed report. We will be spending 5 days in Bonnieux at Le Clos du Buis next June. Your information will be very helpful in planning our meals.
CRAZY4TRAVEL is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2007, 01:33 PM
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Hi Larry and Margie,

I just happened across your very detailed and interesting report about your three weeks in Bonnieux, and I'm glad to know that you had such a great time. It sounds like you had the right balance of touring and relaxing, and of course I think you picked the right village to do that in.

Thanks again for taking the time to share so much information.


P.S. Knoxvillecouple, are you in Knoxville, Tennessee? That's where I live.
KathyWood is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2007, 06:17 AM
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Larry - our Garmin nuvi 370 is also portable, so we're looking forward to using it as we walk around everywhere (using the pedestrian mode). It's the coolest "toy" I've seen and gotten in a LONG time.

Kathy - yes, we live in Knoxville. My recollection is that you responded to an earlier thread I started (about 6-8 months ago) when I was first putting together our plans for next May/June.

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