G O R D E S
Possibly the most well-known town of the Luberon region, Gordes is a great place to start exploring Provence. It's certainly more posh and built up than its neighbors, and is very popular, so be sure to arrive early in the day. Keep in mind that Tuesday is market day in Gordes - you may want to avoid the crowds, or get up extra early for the market experience.
I think it's a rule that, when driving up the hill into Gordes, everyone must stop and take photos at least once. After participating in this ritual, find parking (refreshingly easy, inexpensive) and start wandering through the hilltop village.
Slowly continue to work your way through plenty of charming pebble streets (caldades) with stone buildings, little shops, and stunning views out over the countryside.
At some point, you'll need to stop to eat. We couldn't get a spot at La Trinquette, but both the Rocket Salad and Gnocchi were delicious at Le Provençal. If you're looking for something a bit more glamorous, try L'Orangerie. Take your meal at a leisurely pace (you're in the South of France, after all) then keep exploring - preferably with a cone of glacé.
On your way out of Gordes, visit Sénanque Abbey to the north on D177. If you find the lavender in bloom (we weren't so lucky), this is another mandatory photo stop.
R O U S S I L L O N
Roussillon is built on top of a striking red-ochre cliff, and isn't as crowded as nearby Gordes. Arriving early is a still a good idea, but we couldn't resist a stop at the early-blooming lavender field we found on the way into town. Alternatively, visit Roussillon for sunset - most tourists come through during the day, and I can imagine that the reds and oranges of this village just glow during golden hour.
After parking, make the short climb up to the top of the village where you'll be rewarded by sweeping views of the Luberon countryside. There are even a few love locks on the fence! When you've had your fill of landscapes, hike down past the southern end of the village toward Le Sentier des Ocres for colorful views of the main town and ochre cliffs.
L O U R M A R I N
Almost sleepy by comparison, manicured Lourmarin sits below a Château instead of on a dramatic hilltop. Visit the castle for about an hour to look out over the town below and learn a little about the interesting phases of Lourmarin's history. Then take your time walking down and wandering through the winding streets.
The town is known for its three belfries and lush gardens. Every turn seems to reveal more pretty doors, flowering vines, and neighborhood cats lolling through the alleys. Of the Provincial towns we visited, I'd say Lourmarin would be the most likely real-life setting for Beauty and the Beast.
Next stop: The Provençal Coast!
Did you see the first Provence post?