The Luberon Mountains, southeast of Avignon, reach an altitude of 1,256m. They actually consist of two mountain ranges: the Grand Luberon to the east and the Petit Luberon further west. The dividing line between the two is the wild Aigue Brun valley between Apt and Loumarin. Its Southern and Eastern border is the river Durance. The Coulon valley between the Luberon ranges and the Plateau du Vaucluse contains most of the historic towns and perched villages. Poor soil, poverty and migration to the cities has resulted in the preservation of a most astonishing array of historic villages and picturesque spots. With the creation of the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon in 1977 the region was protected from further tourist development. The Luberon with its open oak and cedar forests and dry Garigue vegetation is a great place for hiking during the shoulder season. Garigue or Garrigue is a term you will often encounter in Southern France. The term is used for scrubland vegetation, composed primarily of leathery, broad-leaved evergreen shrubs or small trees. It is found in areas with a thin, rocky soil. Many of the shrubs are aromatic, such as mints, laurels, and myrtles. The wild trees - olives, figs and especially oak - are small and hardy. In early spring the numerous broom brushes (in French: genêt) add their bright yellow color.
Historically the area is remembered as one of the last retreats of the Waldensians (in French: Vaudois), a reformist movement. Founded around 1173, they promoted poverty, truthfulness, public preaching and the literal interpretation of the scriptures. Needless to say they were declared heretical by the Catholic church, persecuted and nearly totally destroyed, albeit remnants of the Waldensian Church survive to this day in Europe and the Americas. The Route Historique des Vaudois en Luberon leads you through many historic villages where the Waldensians once lived.
A much admired historic curiosity are the Bories, dry-stone huts similar to an igloo made of stones. Lack of wood, abundance of stones and the necessity for storage close to the fields have lead to these very practical structures. They can be found in many places in Southern France and the Luberon has an interesting selection of them. In the Luberon the Bories date back to probably the 12th century, also there are quite a number of more recent structures. If you are interested visit the Bories Village near Gordes.
In the 1970s the Luberon started to become fashionable with the French. "A Year in the Provence" by the British author Peter Mayle was published in 1989 and has contributed to the popularity of the Luberon with the British and also us, their cousins in America. This and his two subsequent books, "Toujours Provence" (1991) and "Encore Provence" (1992) are wonderful, funny reading and quite popular with our French friends too. Peter Mayle, who no longer lives in Ménerbes, describes his live as an expat with a lot of humor, without a condescending view.
If you want to tour the Luberon by car start early. Plan for a light lunch in one of the many cafes or restaurants. During the high and shoulder seasons it is better to plan ahead and make reservations. In the Western part of the Luberon our favorite luncheon place is the "Cafe de la Poste" in Goult - attentive yet easy going place. Or do as the French do and bring your own lunch along - some crusty bread, sausages and cheese, a tomato and a bottle of rosé wine - park your car in a nice shady spot, spread a blanket and enjoy. Visit the most touristic spots - Gordes and Roussillon - very early or late in the afternoon, you have less problems finding a parking spot.
If you want to bike the Luberon make sure you are in excellent physical condition and choose the right time of the year. Early April to first week of July is probably the best time, although you might still catch a couple of days of the Mistral. Summer is too hot. Late September and October are excellent, but the chance of rain is much higher. Hard to tell when - but when it pours it pours heavily for at least 2 - 3 days. If you want to play it save May and June are your best bet. Another curious encounter we had last year: horseflies in late summer, tons of them and only in the Eastern part of the Luberon, i.e. between Apt and Manosque. We don't know why, horseflies and mosquitoes are normally not a problem in the Provence, except in the fruit growing Durance valley. For further information on the recommended bike tour refer to the official Luberon biking brochure which you can read and download here. It does not lead you to Roussillon and Gordes, both are worth a detour.