Come to Viens! There are many reasons why you should.
Located on a rocky hilltop, Viens is a beautiful medieval village in the Luberon. I have always loved Viens and its neighbouring villages: St Martin de Castillon and Caseneuve. They are all about 10 miles from our family home outside Apt in the Luberon valley. All perched on south-facing hills, they offer a prime view of the eastern slopes of the Luberon mountain itself. Viens sits between the Vaucluse range and the Alpes de Haute-Provence. You can almost see the divide between the Provençal countryside on the south side of the village and the more alpine vegetation and landscape on the north side of Viens.
Remains of medieval fortifications and beautiful old homes surround the village and are a testimony to Viens' glorious past. During the Renaissance, the economy flourished there, with over 1,300 inhabitants (more than double today's total) employed among its many bakeries, butchers, stone cutters, blacksmiths, hosted fairs and markets. Local farms were producing cereals, almonds, olives and wine. The Renaissance castle at the top of the village is majestic and seems to dominate the Oppedette and Lure valleys at the northern side . It's amazing to see it's been restored and kept in great condition. There's a great picnic spot next with a view that is simply stunning.
Viens hasn't changed much from how I've always remembered it. I very much like that. I love wandering its streets looking at its beautiful, old medieval buildings, squeezing through some of its tiny alleys overlooked by quaint square balconies and arches. Time seems to have stopped there, and it feels peaceful and tranquil.
Sadly, the shopping experience is not what it once was during the Renaissance! You have a boulangerie, a little epicerie and a very cute bistrot restaurant called "Le Petit Jardin". My great-grandmother was very fond of this restaurant - which has changed ownership and management several times since we used to eat there regularly over over 30 years ago.
Going out for dinner with my great-grandmother Jeanne and the rest of the family was a memorable experience. Jeanne was a strong and temperamental woman for her generation. She used to own a bar in Apt from the '50s until the '70s. Running the comptoir required a firm hand from a lady back then. Because of her former job I suppose, she became a very demanding customer wherever she went to dine (and that's putting it lightly!). Every time we'd go out to a restaurant, she'd embarrass us by complaining about the food, the service or both. Waiters were terrified of this little woman, even the chefs too! Dinners with her would always end up with some drama. That was entertaining for me as a child because dinners could be unbearably long. We came several times to this restaurant in Viens and, all drama aside, I loved coming there for dinner on a hot summer day. I'm not sure how good the food was, but I remember the village square being quiet and peaceful, the restaurant garden cool and pretty with old festoon lights. Every time I come to Viens, I remember these evenings and the dinners there.
Another interesting feature in the village is its petanque pitch behind the epicerie and next to the town hall. It's expansive and lies in the shade of a few towering trees. We sometimes come there to play a game or two and then stop at the bistrot for a pastis or two!
We'd recommend visiting the villages in Haute-Provence between Apt, Céreste, Forcalquier and the Lure mountain. The villages are authentic and unspoiled by crowds of tourists; the countryside is beautiful and rugged. Viens is just one name in a list that includes St Matrin de Castillon, Oppedette, Simiane, Vachères, Reillane, Banon... and many more!