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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Luberon, Provence at its Finest

Guest Post and Photo by Jessica Bloom Galen
 
The approach into the hilltop villages of the Luberon was unforgettable. The winding "two-way" streets barely held our Renault convertible - it's hard to imagine how two cars could pass simultaneously. We were rewarded for our faith in the GPS (highly recommended) and ambiguous road signs with a view of Gordes, an absolutely breathtaking village out of a picture book. It is one of the more touristy villages in the area so I recommend selecting accommodations in a more remote section of Luberon.
 
We stayed at Le Phebus and Spa, a rustic and charming inn on a street that had almost nothing else on it, in a town called Joucas. Our room was in a free-standing unit about 100 feet from the lobby, complete with a small balcony to look out on the grounds where we ate our breakfast of coffee, bread, meats, and cheese every day. Like many hotels in the area, Le Phebus' restaurant is graced with a locally renowned chef who creates over-the-top gastronomic experiences every day. The tasting menu we had our first night there was filled with unusual and challenging offerings, like the sheep sweetbread croquettes and smoked mackerel accompanied by thin strips of octopus. The meal was heightened with the truly exceptional wine pairings, which we requested from the sommelier.
 
Which brings us to one of the true delights of the Luberon trip: the wine. It was a completely different experience of wine than we ever had before. We drove around just looking for signs to vineyards and tastings, known locally as "degustation" (as soon as you find one, pick up a guide to find the rest) as the hotel had been unable to provide much guidance. Our favorite by far was the Domaine de Tara, where a hilariously snarky guide with surprisingly good English led us through his delicious selections.
 
Another favorite stop was the Maison de la Truffe (truffle house). It hosts a small museum with artistic renderings of truffles through the ages, as well as some unexpected history of the fungus and its role in global commerce. They also have a beautiful courtyard where they serve delightful dishes featuring truffles (prosciutto, brie, fois gras) which, when paired with a glass of local rosé, formed one of the trip's most iconic meals. On your way out through the gift shop, make sure to sample the truffle aperitif, a liqueur used locally in a sparkling wine cocktail, like an earthy kir royale. We also greatly enjoyed stumbling upon a few olive oil producers.
 
The populated towns like Gordes and Apt are nice to walk around for a bit, but to be honest, the really special part of the trip was letting the roads and our whims dictate what we saw and experienced. 
In short, here are out tips for a trip to the hilltop villages of Luberon:
 
Select an adorable inn with a restaurant you won't mind eating at more than once.
Have a car, with a GPS.
Just drive around, and be ready to stop short whenever you see a sign for a degustation (tasting).
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/11/12 at 12:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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