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In Lubéron, the Rhône marries the Mediterranean
By William Echikson
It's easy to understand why the world loves Lubéron, the most perfumed part of Provence. This region, which takes its name from the Rhône Valley's southernmost mountain range, offers heart-stopping views of cypress trees, wildflowers and herbs. Life here continues to resemble a Marcel Pagnol period film, complete with cafés serving pastis to customers playing the popular card game of belote. Market stands groan under the weight of fresh vegetables and fruits, herbal vinegars and freshly pressed olive oils, trays of local goat cheeses and pâtés. This is ideal picnic country: Buy some olives, a sausage and a baguette and feast in the luxuriant countryside.
In recent years, though, the rich and famous have transformed Lubéron into a chic and prosperous getaway. Appealing, top-flight inns offer diners Michelin-starred meals in vaulted dining rooms or on splendid terraces under balmy night skies. Medieval hill towns such as Ménerbes, Bonnieux, Roussillon and Gordes are home to attractive art galleries and antiques shops. And innovative, California-style wineries are moving in. "This could become the Napa Valley of France," predicts Jean-Marie Guffens, an accomplished Burgundy grower and merchant who recently moved south to a château near Apt.
Unlike many other French wine regions, where most of the best cellars are closed to visitors, Lubéron is taking a modern approach to wine tourism. Most of the new facilities have tasting rooms designed to welcome wine lovers. Better yet, many of the best wines are affordable (often $10 or less per bottle, on-site) and available. The two best examples are Château la Verrerie and Domaine de la Citadelle.
Of course, this still is not Napa Valley, at least not yet. Wine-wise, the nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas have more to offer. Winemaking remains a minority affair and good vintners are spread out, requiring car travel. Some of the five wineries recommended here are at least a 20-minute drive apart. But don't let that keep you away. Here wine is like the icing on top of a delicious cake-a sweet extra that makes the dessert taste even better.
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