This silvery chain of low, jagged mountains strung between the Rivers Durance and Rhône delineates a très chic side of Provence, notably around upmarket St-Rémy-de-Provence, known for fine restaurants and summertime celebrity spotting. The entire region is full of gastronomic delights – AOC olive oil, vineyards and Michelin-starred restaurants.
See-and-be-seen St-Rémy has an unfair share of gourmet shops and restaurants – in the spirit of the town’s most famous son, prophecy-maker Nostradamus, we predict you’ll need to let your belt out a notch. Come summer, the jet set wanders the peripheral boulevard and congregates at place de la République, leaving the quaint historic center strangely deserted.
East of Avignon
The small towns between Avignon and the Luberon are defined by water. Pernes-les-Fontaines' aesthetic derives from scores of fountains, some dating to the 15th century; L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, famous for antiques trading, is bisected by the glassy River Sorgue; and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is home to the river's source.
Considering the exceptional beauty of its Roman theatre and monumental archway – both Unesco World Heritage sites – Orange is surprisingly untouristy, and eerily quiet in winter. Accommodation is good value for the region, but it's nearly impossible to find dinner Sunday or Monday nights.
Try to visit Carpentras on a Friday morning, when the streets spill over with more than 350 stalls laden with bread, honey, cheese, olives, fruit and a rainbow of berlingots, Carpentras’ striped, pillow-shaped hard-boiled sweets. During winter the pungent truffle market murmurs with hushed-tone transactions.
A moat of flowing water encircles the ancient and prosperous town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, 7km west of Fontaine. This ‘Venice of Provence’ is home to several antiques villages, housing 300 dealers between them. Sunday is the big market day, with antique vendors participating as well, while Thursday offers a smaller market through the village streets.
Dentelles de Montmirail
The Dentelles' 8km-long limestone ridge rises abruptly from peaceful vineyard-covered plains about 20km north of Carpentras. The rocky spires take their name from the dentelles (lace) they resemble. Forty kilometres of footpaths wind through the Mediterranean scrub – look for buzzards, eagles and fluorescent-green lizards. Climbers favour the southern face.
Carpets of vineyards unfurl around tiny, medieval Châteauneuf-du-Pape, epicentre of one of the world's great wine-growing regions. Only a small ruin remains of the château, once the summer residence of Avignon's popes, dismantled for stone after the Revolution, and ultimately bombed by Germany in WWII.
France’s most powerful spring surges from beneath the pretty village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, at the end of a U-shaped valley beneath limestone cliffs. The rain that falls within 1200 sq km gushes out here as the River Sorgue. The miraculous appearance of this crystal-clear flood draws 1.
Across the Rhône from Avignon, compact Villeneuve-lès-Avignon has monuments to rival Avignon’s but none of the crowds. Meander the cloisters of a medieval monastery, take in hilltop views from Fort St-André and lose yourself in spectacular gardens at Abbaye St-André – reason enough to visit.
Pays de Venasque
The seldom-visited, beautiful ‘Venasque Country’ is perfect for a road trip: a rolling landscape of oak woodlands, dotted with villages atop rocky promontories and hundreds of bories (domed stone huts from the Bronze Age). The region is famous for its early-summer ruby-red cherries.
Once the capital of the Comtat Venaissin, Pernes-les-Fontaines is now a sleepy village of ancient buildings. It's known for its 40 fountains that splash and gurgle in shady squares and narrow cobbled streets. Among those not to missed: Fontaine du Cormoran (pont Notre-Dame, 1761), Fontaine Reboul (place Reboul, 15th century) and Fontaine du Gigot (rue Victor-Hugo, 1757).