Lacoste is not only a brand of sports paraphernalia and it has nothing to do with crocodiles. It is a village in the South of France!
A View to Die For
There may come a time during your stay on this planet when you find yourself driving carefully, weaving in and out on a bicycle or plain staggering, up the only road to the hilltop village of Lacoste. If that happens, as you enter the village, at the first junction you will find a small café and hotel, opposite the mairie (the town hall). Book in for the night1, ensuring that you get one of the east-facing rooms. It is an absolute imperative to set your alarm for that quiet hour before dawn. When the alarm wakes you, dress warmly, go to the full-length window and open both it and the wooden shutters outside (do this carefully; it's a long drop). If you are very lucky, and it's the start of a quiet summer's day, you will be able to watch the sun rise slowly from the far north western edge of a vast valley, Le Plateau de Vaucluse, watched over, from the north, by a brooding mountain - Mont Ventoux. The morning mists may be pierced by distant lines of poplars and the silence broken by an occasional cockerel, but, if the day is right it will be an immense panorama of peace, of quiet, a time when you see with your own eyes something of what the Impressionist painters who worked hereabouts were trying to convey. You will be glad to be alive.
On other days, you may open the shutters to the harsh roar of the mistral; a sweeping northerly wind that can be far more vicious than is justified in this part of the world. In which case, shut the window and return to bed, quickly!
Looking out from the hotel's terrace as you sip your café au lait, you will see to the south east, across a small side valley, another hillside village, somewhat larger than Lacoste. This is Bonnieux, a place immortalised, much to the chagrin of the locals, by Peter Mayle in his Toujours Provence series of books. However good your French, the phrase, 'Is this Peter Mayle country?' is likely to be met with a stony, a downright surly, silence.
Les Villages Perchés
Lacoste, Bonnieux, Ménerbes (perhaps the best known) and a series of other villages are charmingly perched, in a rather odd way, on the descending crests and slopes along the northern slopes of the Luberon, the small mountain range to the south and west of Lacoste. These hill villages were once fortified, and they protected the population who would daily tend and till the fertile soil below. They remain, most of them, small communities, with a few galleries and postcard shops in the winding narrow streets as a sop to the Parisians and other infernal foreigners who come this way in the summer. The remains of castles crown several of the villages.
The castle at Lacoste has a claim to fame, and this may account for the unending trail of visitors to this pretty, but essentially unremarkable village. It was once the home of the Marquis de Sade. He has been described as a sexual dilettante and although historians disagree on the extent of his sexual 'crimes', it is certain that the books for which he is famous are only the most respectable face of his activities.
Round and About
Before leaving this quiet corner of Provence, you may like to don hiking boots or hire a mountain bike - there is a marked cycle trail all along the mountains - and explore the parched mountains of the Luberon, or search out the gastronomic delights that await you in its villages or the wines of its many vineries. The extremely old hill village of Oppede Le Vieux nestles high above Lacoste, and is well worth a visit unless you have children. Not only are the residents reputed to be bonkers, but the streets, alleys and terraces are precipitous and unfenced.
If you cross the Luberon along a valley that separates the Petit Luberon from the Grand Luberon through which threads the road from Bonnieux, you will arrive at Lourmarin. Here the diners have a distinct 'Notting Hill' flavour2.
Or, you can travel west and visit, on a Sunday, the frighteningly huge sprawling antique, flea and food markets at nearby L'Isle sur la Sorgue on your way to find the famous half bridge at Avignon, on which you can dance to your heart's delight.
Sur le pont d'Avignon
On y danse, on y danse...