A Little Guide to Menerbes
Menerbes (fr: Ménerbes) is a commune situated in the Vaucluse area of Southern France in the Provence-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur region and within the Luberon Regional Natural Park. Its position is on top of a small hill, a rocky spur of the Luberon range, above a plain giving it a vantage point for views towards the hills of the surrounding region as well as assuming a raised position over the nearby land.
It is known for its beauty and construction which is typical to the region. The town sits atop a hill with roads leading amid the slopes creating a warren of narrow streets between stone buildings which offer varying degrees of light and shadow during the day. The overall effect is very picturesque.
There is a certain peacefulness about the region's highlights that focus on the attributes of the area. There are a number of niche stores for visitors to peruse with traditional goods and wines on sale, as well as specialist museums to visit. For art enthusiasts, Galerie Pascal Lainé shows examples of contemporary art and the Jane Eakin museum seasonally displays exhibits from this artist's life and work. The Musée de Tire-Bouchon has displays of corkscrews over the ages.
The Vaucluse region is known for its natural beauty and stone rural architecture which was utilised by the mainly farming community of the region over a long period of time. As an idyllic and previously remote area, it has been associated with film and literature in stories and experiences that tell often the tale of combining the challenges of human nature with the beauty of the countryside environment.
Earlier settlement is evidenced by architecture including megalithic structures found in the area. There are signs of hunting going back to the prehistoric era as well as architectural finds of settlement including funerary 'dolmen'.
In more recent times the town has seen a number of famous residents mostly from the art and literature world, including Pablo Picasso and his partner Dora Maar as well as many other creative personalities.
These days the town is well connected by roads and on popular tourist routes being situated within the Luberon Natural Park region and accessible via Cavaillon from a junction of the Autoroute du Soleil, the main motorway between Marseille in the South of France and Lyon in the north of the region.
The town is now a popular tourist destination particularly in the summer and attracts and accommodates a number of visitors both national and international who wish to view and experience a part of life in the Luberon.
The History and Inhabitants of Menerbes
The region shows signs of habitation for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of hunting from the upper palaeolithic period which covers a time from 40,000 BC and up to around 10,000 BC when anatomically modern men arrived in Europe with their dogs and survived by hunting.
Situated in the area is the Dolmen of the Pichoune, one of two Dolmen or funerary chambers in the Vaucluse and dating back to the later (upper) megalithic period (circa 10,000 BC), shows that Menerbes has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The word 'megalithic' relates to the large stones used in its construction. In fact there is a local rural tale attached to its discovery, in that it was said to have been discovered by a farmer in the 19th century who at first used it to store his potatoes until the parish priest of the village and archaeologist, identified this discovery and referred it to the archaeological society of France. Researchers were since able to search for and find at various times artefacts and remnants including bones and fragments of pottery.
The name Menerbes (fr: Ménerbes) is supposed to have developed from the Roman goddess Minerva. Vestiges of Roman villas have been unearthed at the foot of elevations. Following Roman times the Germans, Vandals and Ostrogoth tribes were known to frequent the region. A monastery at Saint Hilaire drew in crusaders including Saint Louis who visited on his return through France in the middle ages. In 1215 Simon de Montfort had some jurisdiction over the region which included the already fortified town of Menerbes. The town became part of State Administration by the catholic church in the thirteenth century. Another religious group of Carmelites from an order of hermits formed a community in the fourteenth century.
In Menerbes architecture from the middle ages includes citadel buildings and church architecture in the town. A religious community was established at the Abbey of Saint Hilaire within the Menerbes district and a short distance from the centre of the town. Menerbes town was the site of a famous siege when it was taken by surprise by the Huguenots in the sixteenth century at a time of religious conflict.
In later times Menerbes has attracted many famous artists to the area and is known for its 'peaceful migrants' not only from the region but from around the world. Some of the famous inhabitants include:
1. Clovis Hugues (1852 to 1907) A poet and politician born in Menerbes and after whom the town's primary school is named.
2. Pablo Picasso (1881 to 1973) considered one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. He bought a house there for his partner Dora Maar.
3. Joe Downing (1925 to 2007) a Franco American painter originally from Kentucky who settled in France in the 1950s and worked between Paris and Menerbes.
4. Jane Eakin (1919 to 2002) was an artist and friend of Joe Downing and fell in love with Menerbes once when she visited, subsequently buying a house there.
5. Nicholas de Staël was an abstract and figurative artist who moved to Menerbes in the 1950s. His home is still in the de Staël family.
6. Peter Mayle is an English writer who lived here at one time and wrote the inspirational 'A Year in Provence' published in 1989. He has written further works including 'A Good Year' which was dramatised in a film by Ridley Scott.
7. Yves Rousset-Rouard is a movie producer with international success, a French MP for the Vaucluse at one time and also mayor of the town from 1995 to 2014.
Dolmen of the Pichoune
Location of Menerbes
Visiting the South of France
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Things to Do in Menerbes
There are many pleasing strolls around the town with a small castle. Although not open to the public, it is possible to appreciate the architecture while wandering the narrow streets. There are also interesting sights just outside the town centre.
The 'Musée de Tire Bouchon' (literally corkscrew museum) and accompanying La Citadel vineyard present an opportunity to find out about the devices used to open wine bottles and to purchase local wine. Sometimes there is an art exhibition on display.
The 'Maison de La Truffe et du Vin' (the house of truffles and wine) in the main square sells local truffle and wine products including fresh truffles in season, a type of mushroom which is sought after in fine dining. There are also sometimes wine tastings held there.
For fans of art, Galerie Pascal Lainé is an institution which provides the opportunity to showcase contemporary art. The Jane Eakin house museum can be visited during the tourist season at weekends and by appointment during the week. This friend of Joe Downing the American painter came to Menerbes and ended up teaching in a regional art college when she stayed, getting a house near her friend Joe.
The Abbey of Saint Hilaire outside of Menerbes town centre was a Carmelite friary which has been in private ownership for some time. It is possible to visit and there are guides on the building and grounds.
The Dolmen of the Pichoune (meaning little girl) is a megalithic funerary chamber with a stone slab over the top reputed to weigh several tons. It is located just off the D3.
There are a number of niche stores to browse as well as restaurants and cafes, some of which have views over the surrounding countryside.
Mont Ventoux and Lavender
More about the Vaucluse Region
Vaucluse is a department in France named after a spring, the Fontaine de Vaucluse. The river Rhône is found to the west and the Durance to the south. Most of the East is taken up by mountains including the well known Mont Ventoux dominating the skyline which is also called the 'Bald Mountain' and the 'Beast of Provence'. To the west is Avignon and to the North the Rhone valley. The southernmost area comprises the Luberon Regional Natural Park, an area of beautiful countryside and geological features with hilltop villages such as Gordes and Roussillon built in the typical stone of the area, and like Menerbes create their own mazes of light and shade.
The region is known for its gastronomy, its landscapes, its culture, the geology, and the agriculture, including the lavender fields and wine production.
The region is also popular with cyclists and there are some defined routes, both medium and long distance.
Cavaillon located to the west of Menerbes has a tourist information point for the Luberon region as well as its own attractions and facilities which are useful to locals and visitors alike. Cavaillon is reachable from a junction of the main Autoroute du Soleil, which provides a route between Marseille in the South of France and Lyon further North.