Lourmarin streetLourmarin sits prettily in a combe, or valley, separating the Grand Luberon mountains from the Petit Luberon. On sunny days, its golden stone glows against a swathe of green, marshy land watered by the Aigues Brun brook.

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So, in contrast to many other villages in Vaucluse, Lourmarin isn't a rugged village perché. It's only just slightly hilly, with narrow cobbled streets spiralling lazily up to the belfry at the top of the village.

Bustling café terraces spill out onto the pavements and squares (the climate is usually mild enough for people to enjoy them) and there's a relaxed and sophisticated vibe. It's one of the most popular villages in the Luberon.

Lourmarin, like much of Europe, was laid waste by the Black Death plague epidemic in 1348 and left semi-deserted. Its fortunes turned around a century later with the arrival of the powerful D'Agoult family which started building the Château de Lourmarin.

The D'Agoults also repopulated Lourmarin by inviting a colony of vaudois (Waldensians) from Piedmont in Northern Italy to settle in the village (nearby La Roque d'Anthéron and Lacoste pursued a similar strategy). This was a sect that had split from the Catholic Church, leading to its members' persecution.

Lourmarin general viewMany were burned as heretics; many more fled to Provence, where the massacres nonetheless continued, notably in nearby Mérindol.

Those who remained joined the Reformed Protestant movement in the 16th century and finally built their own church - sometimes referred to as a "temple" - in Lourmarin in the early 19th century.

This austerely elegant building is set directly opposite the Château, which is Lourmarin's most important attraction.

THE CHÂTEAU DE LOURMARIN

The Château itself is a proud and splendid beast and Lourmarin's key cultural focus. It emerged in three stages, an early fortress of which little remains, a Gothic mediaeval castle built by the D'Agoult family, and a later, 16th century wing which makes this the first Renaissance castle in Provence. Pictured: the Château, left, and the Protestant church of Lourmarin.

Chateau and Protestant church of LourmarinThe Château had fallen into ruin by the 1921, when it was bought by Robert Laurent-Vibert, a rich industrialist and literary scholar, who set about restoring it.

Tragically he died in 1925, in a car accident, but left the estate to the Academy of Arts and Belles Lettres of Aix en Provence, on condition that it set up an arts foundation there. The plan was for this to be a Medici-style centre of patronage in Provence.

Today the Fondation de Lourmarin Robert Laurent-Vibert has a library of over 28,000 books on the arts and holds classical, pop and rock concerts in spring and summer, both indoors and outside on the terrace.

There is also a busy programme of film screenings, conferences, exhibitions and other events throughout the year, as well as a Renaissance Festival, a family-oriented celebration of the Château's historic roots each April. It's truly a major asset for the village.

The Château's arts programme isn't just about high culture. In 2013 the wonderfully named Festival Yeah! was launched by the leading DJ Laurent Garnier, along with the concert organiser Arthur Durigon and Nicolas Galina of the Pop In bar in Paris. It's held in early June.

Festival YeahThough Provence is hardly short of summer music festivals, Yeah! has been given a big thumbs up for its combination of top electro-rock bands and DJs, intimate atmosphere and gorgeous settings (it spills into locations all over Lourmarin itself as well).

It includes free events during the day: activities for children, exhibitions, arcade games, a record market and concerts. Website for the Festival Yeah!

You can either book an English-language tour of the Château or visit it yourself armed with one of its very informative leaflets, available in a dozen or so languages.

Spiral staircase Chateau de LourmarinA free jeu de piste (treasure hunt / puzzle game) for children, also in several languages, can be requested at the reception desk.

Unlike its sister-Château over in nearby Ansouis, the two historical parts of the structure here are separate and adjacent wings rather than embedded within each other.

They contain many superb architectural features such as an elegant, three-storey Italian loggia around an inner courtyard, and a dramatic and unusual double-spiral staircase, pictured above.

You'll see, among other things, the reception room, with engravings by Piranesi, the huge kitchen stocked with golden pottery from Apt, an elegant music room that hosts the regular concerts, a painters' studio and a touching permanent exhibition of artefacts made by First World War soldiers in the trenches.

Bedroom Chateau de LourmarinLast not not least are the gorgeous provençal bedrooms where a handful of lucky young painters, sculptors, musicians or writers stay as artists in residence at the Château each summer.

The Château remains open all the year round (check the website for details and opening times). Allow between an hour and 90 minutes for the visit.

Afterwards you can buy refreshments at a little buffet bar on the terrace, picnic in the nearby olive grove (there are no tables, so bring your own sheets) and / or drop into Les Caves du Château, the Château's own wine cellar, for a tasting of local wines.

Insider tip for the Chateau de LourmarinThe Château of Lourmarin has an arrangement with several other key tourist sites in the region.

These include the Conservatoire des Ocres in Roussillon, the ochre mines in Bruoux and the Abbaye de Silvacane in La Roque d'Anthéron. After visiting any one of them, you can get reduced-price admission to the others in the group.

 

ALBERT CAMUS IN LOURMARIN

Albert Camus, the novelist, playwright, philosopher and journalist, lived in Lourmarin from 1958 to 1960, the last two years of his life. He died, aged 46, in a car crash in Burgundy and is buried in the little village cemetery, despite a failed attempt in 2009 by the then-President Nicolas Sarkozy to have his remains transferred to the Panthéon in Paris.

albert camusLourmarin's Tourist Office has devised a promenade in Camus' footsteps with readings to illuminate his life and to explain what drew this acclaimed international author to the rural Luberon.

Truth to tell, there aren't many visible vestiges of Camus' presence in Lourmarin today, but it's an unusual way to see the village and learn more about his life and work.

Born (in 1913) and raised in Algeria while it was still a French colony, Camus came from a poor working-class background.

He was encouraged to start writing and first learned about Lourmarin from his high-school philosophy teacher, Jean Grenier, who had visited the Château as part of the Foundation's arts programme.

Camus visited Lourmarin twice, in the 1930s and 1940s and bought a house there in 1958, the year after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Village life allowed him to escape from the resulting glare of celebrity.

It was a refuge, too, from the Paris left-wing literary establishment, which he had angered after he attacked totalitarianism in the Soviet Union, as well as from the deep unrest brewing in his native Algeria.

The walking tour goes past Lourmarin's football ground, where Camus, a huge soccer fan, would come each Sunday to cheer on the local team (its members were pall bearers at his funeral).

Albert Camus graveYou see the restaurant - the former Hotel Ollier, now a snack bar - where he ate, sometimes using the pseudonym Monsieur Terrasse for anonymity. And you may possibly get a distant glimpse of his house in the rue Albert Camus (there's no plaque: when we visited Lourmarin in 2014, his daughter Catherine still lived there and wanted privacy).

The walk ends at the cemetery where Camus' very simple grave, pictured, is left to go a little wild with irises, lavender and oleander and a weathered old headstone just bearing his name and contrasts dramatically with the neat and tidy plots around it.

It's a much more fitting memorial to a free-thinking rebel than a pompous marble tomb in the Panthéon.

Lourmarin's other distinguished literary figure is Henri Bosco (1888-1926). Less well-known to English-speaking readers, he was admired for his novels for adults and children about provençal life and is buried, too, in Lourmarin's cemetery.

You can visit Bosco's study and take a guided walk in his footstep, also organised by the Tourist Office.

Finally one other enjoyable thing to do from Lourmarin is to visit the Gerbaud herb farm just outside the village. Click here to read more about it.

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The Tourist Office for Lourmarin is at place Henri Barthélemy, 84160 Lourmarin. Tel: (+33) 4 90 68 10 77. Website for the Lourmarin Tourist Office. As well as the literary walks mentioned above, it runs general guided tours of the village.

The official regional website Vaucluse Tourism in Provence includes a guide to Lourmarin and other attractions in the area.

Lourmarin's weekly market - reputed as one of the best in the region - is on Friday morning.

How to get to and from Lourmarin: Lourmarin is 37 km / 23 miles north of Aix en Provence and forms part of a small pocket of six of the Plus Beaux Villages de France or Most Beautiful Villages of France, the other five being Ansouis, Ménerbes, Roussillon, Gordes and Venasque. If you were short of time, you could drive this entire circuit in under two hours.

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There is no train station in Lourmarin, but the village is served by a bus: no.9 from Aix en Provence and Apt. Click here for the current timetables (look for the link marked "horaires des lignes", then choose the relevant timetable from the list).

Where to stay and where to eat: We stayed at Le Moulin de Lourmarin, an 18th century oil mill that has been converted into a boutique hotel. Click here to read more about it. Another option is Le petit Ollier, an apartment in the village centre in the former hotel-restaurant once frequented by Camus.

The village has an unusually large number of bars and top-quality restaurants, many of which - even more unusually - are open outside the main tourist season.

Place de lOrmeau in LourmarinCafé culture clusters around the place de l'Ormeau, pictured at the end of this street: we took the photo early one morning at the beginning of April - it's usually a lot livelier!

The small square is named after an elm which was planted there as a sort of "tree of liberty" in 1792 during the French Revolution. It had to be cut down in 1944 and was replaced by a fig tree (though the square was not renamed).

For dining, popular venues in the heart of the village are L'Antiquaire (click here to read more about it) and the recently opened Numéro 9. La Louche à Beurre is prized for its thinly-sliced prime beef, which you grill yourself on a table-top pierrade (hot stone). Pizzeria Nonni hits the spot for a simple meal.

 

 

Insider tip for LourmarinOn Thursday evenings in summer you can have a home-made supper at the idyllic Ferme de Gerbaud featuring simple country recipes and starring the aromatic provençal herbs grown on the farm.

There are currently no Michelin-starred restaurants in Lourmarin itself, but a number are within a short drive of the village.The closest is Auberge la Fenière, about 2 km / 1.25 miles south of Lourmarin, with a Michelin starred restaurant as well as a bistro, a number of rooms, a cookery school - and a heliport!

Over in Bonnieux, 13 km / 8 miles north-west of Lourmarin, La Bastide de Capelongue has two Michelin stars and also offers accommodation (its young superchef, Eduouard Loubet, formerly owned Lourmarin's Le Moulin).

Cucuron, 8 km / 5 miles to the east has La petite Maison de Cucuron, while Anouis, 17 km / 10.5 miles south-east, has La Closerie. Further afield, there are yet more gourmet dining options in Gordes, Gargas and La Garde d'Apt.

Fun fact Lourmarin gibassierLittle Lourmarin has its own culinary speciality, the gibassier (sometimes spelled gibassié), a large pâtisserie made with olive oil and flavoured with anise and orange flower water.

It looks and tastes rather similar to the pompe à l'huile, though the gibassier is crunchier - a pastry rather than a brioche - and, unlike the pompe, which is only eaten at Christmas, is available all year round.

Photo credits (from top): © RWS for Marvellous Provence, ArjenW and Georges Seguin for Wikimedia Commons, RWS for Marvellous Provence (two images), vintage portrait of Albert Camus, Véronique Pagnier for Wikimedia Commons, SJ for Marvellous Provence.

 

 

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