Provence attracts more visitors than any other French region, most heading to the Côte d'Azur hotspots around St Tropez and Cannes. Two hours inland, the Luberon is a very different Provence. Yes there are lavender fields, vineyards, cherry orchards and Provençal markets awash with shabby-chic interiors, bric-a-brac and faded linen, but life in the Luberon has less pressure; it is understated glamour without the high-profile glitz of its coastal neighbours.
© Valerie Biset
This is the region Peter Mayle wrote about in his 1989 bestseller A Year In Provence. The book encouraged carloads of visitors to sweep into these sleepy stone villages but the Luberon's status as a protected Parc Naturel Régional has done much to save the landscape — and the lifestyle Mayle described — from change.
Building is ferociously controlled, country roads remain uncongested and shop shutters snap shut at 12 sharp for two hours of le déjeuner.
Combine this lifestyle with easy access — Avignon TGV station and Marseille airport are within one hour of most parts of the Luberon — and the attractions of the area become as clear as a glass of rosé.
The Luberon begins where the Rhône Valley ends and stretches east towards the Alps. In the north, sheltering between the green folds of the Luberon and Vaucluse Mountains, a series of pale limestone villages perch high on hilltops. These are the siege villages — Gordes, Ménerbes, Lacoste, Bonnieux — some of the most picturesque in France.
Gordes is a favourite for property buyers, though with so little new building, prices are steep. Sotheby's has property from £411,800 for a restored three-bedroom stone house with south-facing gardens, up to £23 million for a grand, 18th-century château. "Most buyers want a 2,200-square foot, four-bedroom stone house with a view, pool
and gardens," says Pascal Danneau of Sotheby's. "Today that costs from £1.3 million."
'The Luberon attracts people who want to live peacefully in a fantastic natural environment'
The small village of Lacoste is developing a reputation as an artists' haven. Designer Pierre Cardin has invested millions there, buying and renovating part of the château once owned by the Marquis de Sade, opening small and discreet guest houses and shops that fade into the stone walls, and establishing a chic summer music festival.
At the top of the village in the shadow of the château ruins that cut into the skyline, Sotheby's is selling a four-bedroom, 17th-century house with a roses-and-lavender-filled garden, infinity pool and panoramic views across the Luberon valley for £1.24 million.
This romantic village home was created by playwright Tom Stoppard who lived there for 13 years and co-wrote the screenplay for Shakespeare In Love from the first floor study. The boulangerie and bars of Lacoste are a brief stroll away down the steep, cobbled streets, a major attraction for many second home owners.
In the hamlet of Les Imberts, Knight Frank associate Michael Zingraf is selling a three-bedroom stone house with patio and garage for £265,200 while a 1,300-sq ft house in the centre of beautiful Roussillon with terrace and views but no garden costs £411,800.
Buyers keen to build their own home have to search hard, as land with planning permission is a rarity.
Michael Zingraf has flat land near Gordes for £370,610 with permission to create a 2,700-sq ft house. Further south-east in St Saturin les Apts, Erna Low is selling handsome, newly completed houses with private pools on a small estate. The 22 fully furnished three- and four-bedroom homes start from £426,970 and come with an annual 3.8 per cent leaseback rental return.
"The Luberon attracts people who want to live peacefully in a fantastic natural environment," says Ernst Klatte, who replanted an olive grove and harvests his own olives. Klatte, a lawyer, has lived in a four-bedroom house outside Gordes for 10 happy years.
"Local activities include canoeing and biking, while I enjoy shopping and eating at the marché paysant in Coustellet and the Matisse museum in Aix-en-Provence. The bigger towns are close and full of activities."
Klatte is now selling his house for £1.3 million through Michael Zingraf. The south-facing gardens have exceptional valley views, a pool and his olive grove producing 40 bottles of oil annually. The house currently rents throughout July and August for £2,550 a week.
Sotheby's: luberonsothebysrealty.com 00 33 (0) 490 725 500
Michael Zingraf through Knight Frank: knightfrank.com 020 7629 8171
Erna Low Property: ernalowproperty.com 020 7590 1624
Provence Tourist Information: provenceguide.com