Plus Beaux Villages

Saturday, April 23, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Selecting villages to visit in the Provencal region of southern France is a bit like trying to choose a few morsels of candy in a large, well-stocked confectionery.  So many villages, so little time.  After seeing the larger cities of Arles and Avignon, we spent most of our Provencal visit in some of the small villages in the Luberon Mountain area.  Like in Tuscany, many of these villages were established on hilltops-- villages perch├ęs (perched villages), they are called in Provence.

Our choice of villages was made somewhat easier by an organization known as Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages in France).  With the unlikely inspiration of a Reader's Digest Selection published under that very title in 1981, the association was formed to preserve and enhance the quality of the heritage in small French villages while promoting the controlled development of tourism to strengthen the local economies.

To be eligible for this prestigious membership, which numbers 155 of the 32,000 villages in France, a village must meet three primary criteria.  It must be rural in size (defined as having a maximum population of 2,000).  At least two protected historical sites or monuments must be in the village or its area.  And the village must provide confirmation of wide support of its application for membership, which, of course, must include evidence of its comeliness.  Membership in the association is publicized with signs in the villages.

One of the Luberon's perched villages and a member of the "most beautiful club," Bonnieux (bohn-nyuh) was our home base when we visited the area.  With the help of the local tourist information office, we found a small inn, Le Clos du Buis, in the heart of the village.

 As with many hill towns, the village of Bonnieux is topped by a church, in this case, the old church, not to be confused with the new church constructed lower down the hill in 1870.  The 12th century church at the peak of the village is no longer in use.  The Gothic structure is surrounded by cedars, relatives of the trees in the nearby Foret des Cedres.

Foret des Cedres
Cedars are not native to France, but this notable forest was born when a local fellow brought some seeds from Morocco's Atlas Mountains and planted them in the Luberon in the 1800s.  Just a few kilometers from Bonnieux, this protected forest offers a network of hiking trails including a 20-mile path that stretches across the crest of the mountain.

Near the old church at the top of the village is the Bonnieux cemetery.  With a spectacular view over the fields and vineyards below, the local burial ground commands an enviable location.  But then, everyone in the village has the opportunity to end up there.

Though Bonnieux dates back to Roman times, it was little known outside Provence until serving as the scenic backdrop for the 2006 Russell Crowe film A Good Year based on a novel by Peter Mayle.  But now the excitement of the tourists seeking to visit the movie 'sets' has waned and Bonnieux is once again the charming village that made it the perfect filming location and one of the most beautiful villages of France.

Bonnieux Stats
Populaton:  1,441
Elevation:  2,346 ft.

By Our Count:
People in town for market day:  3,623
Cars in town for market day:  3,624
Steps needed to climb to the top:  14,539
Beautiful views over the valley:  26
Residents named Bonnie:  0