Market day: Friday
Another of the well-known villages of the Luberon, thriving Bonnieux has a long history as an important town. The site was a fortified settlement in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. During Roman times, the village was located at the foot of the current site, along the Via Domitia, a major road between northern Italy and Spain. Later, it belonged to the Popes for nearly 500 years beginning in 1312, and it was the seat of many bishops as well.
Bonnieux today curves down a hill from the old church, begun in the 12th century and finished in the 15th, to the "new" church, dating to 1870, at the bottom. In between are many fine residences built during the wealthy late papal period. It is easy to drive through town and easy to park, as the town is not pedestrianized. In the Luberon, I observed that the more you must walk, the more the character of the town seems to remain. By this measure, Bonnieux is not the equal of Roussillon, Joucas, or Oppède-le-Vieux. It’s still worth a stop, however.
The Vieille Eglise, also called the Eglise Haute (Old Church or High Church) sits at the very top of the village, up 86 stone steps, surrounded by the vestiges of the 10th century medieval ramparts and several cedar trees. From here you can look across the bowl of the valley north to the Monts du Vaucluse and pick out the distant villages of Gordes and Roussillon. In the rear of the church I found an interesting sculpture of a book open upon a tasseled stone pillow, engraved with faded Latin words. Strolling back down the hill, you’ll pass the large stone houses once occupied by the wealthy Renaissance householders, now occupied by wealthy modern householders. At the bottom of the village stands the blond Eglise Neuve (New Church) with its tall, pointed spire.
I wish I’d noted the name of the restaurant where I stopped for lunch so I could warn you off. Catching a whiff of something delicious, I seated myself on a restaurant terrace and ordered a meal. The first course consisted of four different vegetable salads, including one of beets, one of carrots, and one of corn. It certainly looked and smelled appetizing, but soon I discovered that it was over-salted and the vinaigrette was too sharp. Unfortunately, things didn’t improve when the main course arrived, a chicken with basquaise sauce which resembled nothing more than canned condensed tomato soup, slightly thinned. It’s a rare thing, a bad meal in France.