Provence In A Bentley: Stop And Smell The Lavender
Is there anything better than visiting the picturesque villages of Provence in European summer? Well, yes―visiting them in a Bentley. References to the southeastern region of France most often focus on the admittedly dazzling Côte d’Azur, but there is another side of Provence that offers a supreme holiday experience of a different sort. Much like Bentleys, the villages of Provence’s Luberon region are discreet and secure of their allure without the need to shout about it.
Formerly a secret gem, now a magnet for the rich and famous, the small village of Gordes hangs off the side of a cliff over the expanse of plain about 30 minutes’ drive east of Avignon. A generation ago, Gordes was just another simple French village occupying a splendid location; those in the know revelled in their insider knowledge, just as Bentley drivers revel in the apogee of the automotive experience. Fast forward to the 21st century and the word is out that Gordes is to the Luberon what St-Tropez is to the French Riviera. Not that it diminishes the village’s appeal in any way; it is simply too small to accommodate mass tourism on the scale seen along the coast, thus allowing it to retain its intimate charm―which makes it all the more charming.
Gordes is but one of several achingly beautiful villages in the Luberon. Though they are relatively close to each other, a car is needed to reach them. Nearest to Gordes going east is Roussillon, famous for its ochre mounds which for hundreds of years have provided artists with natural pigments for their paintings. Though the tiny town is lovely, the view of the town is even lovelier; locals know the best of view Roussillon is from the village cemetery. As in other areas of the Luberon, Roussillon is home to many lavender fields that fill the air with fragrance, fill the eyes with colour, and fill the imagination with fantasies of moving to France. A year in Provence? If not a year, at least a couple of nights in the charming Lou Amourié, a guesthouse with exactly one room available to visitors staying in the home of hosts Didier and Philippe, two consummate French gentlemen who receive rave reviews as much for the beautiful garden and tranquil atmosphere of their home as for the gracious hospitality they provide to those who sleep there. Lou Amourié is located in a minuscule hamlet on the outskirts of Roussillon; there is plenty of room for parking.
Across the plain from Roussillon is Bonnieux, a delightful, fairytale village atop a hill that affords expansive views of the land below. Even without the occasional antiques fair that takes place in town, Bonnieux is well worth a stop. Close to Bonnieux is Lacoste, famous for the castle of a certain Marquis de Sade. Further along is Ménerbes, one of the Luberon’s most exclusive places to live; there may be a Bentley or two hidden behind the garden walls of the fine homes found here. The serene views to be admired from Ménerbes’ elevated position are superb.
Enjoying the near silence of the Flying Spur, a short drive from Bonnieux to the southeast brings the Bentley to the village of Saignon, perhaps the most dramatic of the Luberon’s perched villages. Occupying a promontory topped by a monolith that offers 360-degree views, Saignon is a chic little place with a charming central square which, off one side, still shelters an old lavoir, the former public laundry basin that recalls a bygone era when life in this part of France was less glamorous than it is today.
Saignon is the home of one of the Luberon’s most interesting art galleries, the Galerie Kamila Regent, an artspace supervised by the charismatic Kamila that features modern works from European artists as well as contemporary African art by some of that continent’s most renowned painters and sculptors. Known as the Paul Styfhals Collection in recognition of the patron who makes its continued assemblage possible, this unexpected pleasure is administered in the gallery by Pierre Jaccaud, himself an artist of renown in the Luberon. When enjoying the independence of driving around the region, this is the type of pleasant surprises that crop up every day.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019, Bentley Motors has been providing deluxe motoring experiences for a century’s worth of exceptional driving in exquisitely crafted vehicles, every one of them made by hand to this day in the company’s production facilities in Crewe, England. Go online to create a dream Bentley to your exact specifications with the Bentley Car Configurator, which like Provence provides fodder for fantasy when not behind the wheel in one of the most alluring travel destinations in the world.