Vaucluse (84560) Population: 1,118 Altitude: 244 m
Ménerbes is a beautiful stone village perched along the top of a long ridge on the north side of the Luberon mountains. Ménerbes is Medieval, very picturesque (and "most beautiful"), popular, and similar to its neighboring perched villages of Lacoste and Bonnieux.
Ménerbes is one of the Most Beautiful Villages (Plus Beaux Villages) of France.
Approaching the village from across the farmlands, you'll see ancient walls, towers, churches and chapels perched on the stoney cliffs, in the center of an area of bories.
The ridge is very long, with Ménerbes stretched out thinly along the top.
The church is perched on the east end of the ridge, the ancient chateau is perched on the end towards the west, and the Mairie with its 18th-century wrought-iron belfry (campanile) is in between.
Village streets of Ménerbes are mostly narrow and cobblestone, although these near the center (our photo) are somewhat wider, where terrace cafés and restaurants are located.
For local dining, there are a few restaurants and café-restaurants, many with outdoor terraces. Overall, they're of the tourist type, but reasonably good.
Most of the streets inside the village are very narrow, winding up and down between lovely old buildings. We made a lot of interesting discoveries, like this innocuous hole-in-the-wall Progres Café (our photo) that surprised us with a terrace with a magnificent view.
We love the old advertising wall signs left over from the early 20th century. In Ménerbes on previous trips we discovered a faded PTT wall sign, which was slightly more damaged on a recent visit in 2017.
Through an arch at the top square beside the ancient Mairie you have a magnificent view out across the plains, with several distant villages visible, including Gordes to the north, and sights such as a small Notre-Dame-des-Grâces chapel and farmhouse just below where you stand.
The ancient abbey of St. Hilaire is located about 3.5 km east-southeast of Ménerbes.
There are many of the fascinating dry-stone bories along the small roads and in the fields surrounding the village, some of them marked on the hiking maps.
Our photo here is of a double borie that's been cunningly incorporated into a stone house complex. This is a countryside house we were shown on an adventure ride by an elderly village woman (a complete stranger) to show us the nearby sites.
There is a very similar fountain, not yet restored, in a shady nook on the Rue Kléber Guendon in the center of the old village.
Favorite Sons of Ménerbes
The painter Pablo Picasso never lived here, but in 1994 he bought a house in Ménerbes as a parting gift for his muse, Dora Maar.
Dora Maar, French painter, photographer, and muse and mistress of Picasso had a large house in Ménerbes, near the top of Rue du Portail Neuf. There's a bronze plaque on the outer wall that identifies the house.
The Russian-French painter Nicolas de Staël moved to Ménerbes in 1953, into a compact chateau property called Le Castelet, on the very northwestern end of the ridge, out past the Notre-Dame des Grace church.
Other well-known artists who lived in Ménerbes include Joe Downing (Franco-American painter), François Nourissier (French writer), Jean-François Ganas (painter), Raymond Mason (English sculptor).
Peter Mayle (English writer) who popularized Provence for the English speaking world, bought a house in Ménerbes as his first residence in Provence. He later moved to a farmhouse near Lourmarin, on the south side of the Luberon mountains, and finally to the little village of Vaugines just east of Lourmarin.
The Pichone Dolmen (not this photo) is one of only three dolmens the Vaucluse departement. The Pichone Dolmen is located about 2 km east of Ménerbes, just beside the D103 road (GPS 43.8268, 5.229167), 100 m past the farmhouse along the north side of the road). If you're driving by, it looks like a culvert beside the road. Looking down, you'll see the ring of upright stones with the large stone-capped cover. The site was apparently at the base of the hill which has, over the centuries, half-covered the site. The built-up roadway also helped diminish the impact of the location, but the mystique remains.
A second Vaucluse dolmen is about 4 km northeast of Ménerbes (GPS 43.85638, 5.23160), in the commune of Goult. It's called the Dolmen de l'Ubac, which means shady-side of the slope. This is a striking dolmen, set in the center of a stone-paved tumulus.
A third Vaucluse dolmen was discovered in 1995, located 2.5 km northeast of Sault (GPS 44.106111, 5.428889.
There's a mushroom "farm" just out of the village (about a km to the east on the D3), using caves deep in the side of the solid-rock hillside.