Gîtes are the ultimate visitor experience in Provence. A gîte is where you can indulge in the Provencal lifestyle, taking your leisure in the shade of olive trees or at poolside, and grazing on a fresh vegetable-garlic-olive oil-based cuisine. Neither an unstructured peripatetic tourist nor an agoraphobe, you are a transitory participant in a sensual mode of living. And you’re lov’n it.
A gîte is a generic term for any kind of self-catering weekly or monthly rental, usually a standalone structure or an apartment in a Bastide. Gîtes are fully furnished and most have sheets and bedding. Most have a pool or access to a shared pool.
As you are renting space on a private property, your experience may be colored by the personality and tastes of your landlord-landowner. Some are gregarious and helpful, even generous with their time, while others hand you the key on Saturday and disappear for a week.
Luxury apartments and rooms can be found in a Bastide, a Provencal manor house. Here in the ambiance of a country hotel you are pampered, yet you may pay more for a week than the rental of a gîte where the bond to the countryside is palpable.
The amount of space (square footage) that owners can rent on their properties is established by each village / commune, thus there is usually only one gite per landowner.
The gites are booked from Saturday to Saturday. Travelers from the U.S. prefer to arrive on a Friday with a booking at a local hotel to allow for a day to adjust to jet lag and to assure a timely arrival at their accommodations.
Reservations / Financials
Reserve early – January and February. Upon making a reservation, a deposit (called an “arrhes”) is required. As most gîtes are the only rental on the owner’s property you may be requested to pay the full amount within a month or two of arrival date. Additional charges may include a commune tax (taxe de séjour) of about 80 cents to 1 euro per day per person, and a cleaning fee.
Think Local in Your Search and Look at Exterior
In addition to the websites referenced below, the sites of some city halls (google “Mairie” + village) or of the tourist bureau (google ‘bureau de tourisme + village) contain vacation rentals of gites, houses and apartments. The village of Gordes has numerous rural gites and numerous houses listed on its website.
If you connect with an owner by phone and wish to exchange emails for pictures and information, the term in french for @ is not ‘at’ but ‘aerobase’ (air-ro-bas).
When you are inspecting gîtes online, make sure to consider the exterior amenities such as a terrace or veranda, tables for dining, grill, lounge chairs, and a parasol.
“Provence” has more efficacy as a brand than a place these days and you will rarely if ever hear any locals say that they live in “provence.’ The word is heard frequently in its adjectival form: provencale.
As geography, the term “Provence” suffers abuse. The French consider contemporary ‘Provence’ to take in three administrative department: the Vaucluse, the Bouches-du-Rhône, and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
Within the Vaucluse, there are three regions to conduct your search for a gîte:
- The Comtat Venaissin, referred to as the “Comtat,” which is the western part of the Vaucluse stretching from the Durance river in the south to Mont Ventoux in the north, a wine-dominated region encompassing the AOC’s of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône-Villages and Ventoux. The name derives from when the Comtat was an enclave under Papal control within the Kingdom of France. The towns of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Pernes-les-Fontaines, Saint-Didier and Venasque are in close proximity to the Luberon either via L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue or from Venasque through a mountain gorge to Gordes.
- The Luberon/ Calavon Valley: the ‘heart of Provence,” a farmland-park cradled by rugged low lying mountains and sprinkled with the perched villages of Gordes, Menerbes, Lacoste, Roussillon and Bonnieux.
- Lourmarin and eastern Vaucluse: part of the Luberon region without the renowned perched villages
Mind The Routes
The heart of the Luberon is accessed primarily by a two-lane highway D900, which has a center line unlike most roads in the Luberon that have lines on their edges, running from Coustellet to Apt, and connecting to roads to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Avignon and Cavaillon. The Avignon TGV or Marseille airport serve for arrivals and rental car pickups.
In the Comtat and the northern Vaucluse all roads lead to Avignon, with efficient access to the Avignon TGV station, or to the Marseille airport ranging in time from 50 to 90 minutes depending upon location. In addition to reaching the Luberon via L’Isle-sur-La-Sorgue, there is a road through a mountain gorge from Venasque to Gordes used mainly by visitors in the summer as people living in the Luberon seem to be psychologically blocked from using this route frequently, preferring to travel via D900.
Lourmarin and its environs are accessed from Aix-en-Provence and the 35-minute trip has made Lourmarin a favorite of the BOBO’s of Aix. Avignon is 55 minutes in smooth traffic. Yet the AIX TGV station has no rental cars, therefore someone has to fetch you or you have to take the dedicated express bus service to Aix to rent a car, a time-burning excursion. There are rental facilities at the Avignon TGV and the Marseille airport. From Lourmarin, passage to the heart of the Luberon is through a mountain ravine to Bonnieux.
Restaurants / Wine
Inquire with your hosts about restaurants in the area. If you are planning on dining at a Michelin star establishment, book your table weeks in advance of your arrival. The local wine cooperatives offer good bargains on rose. Patronize the cellar of a winery near your gîte for dinner wines. At restaurants, try labels that you can not find at your wine shops or supermarkets in the U.K. or the U.S. such as those from the Ventoux and the Luberon.
The Vaucluse is a plentiful land, the soi-disant garden of France, and the most crowded space you will ever encounter there is in the aisle of a Farmers Market. Avoid visits to towns on market days unless you are going for the market. Local producers sell at “marchés paysans,” whereas other “marchés” such as those at Carpentras and L’Ilse-sur-la-Sorge have diverse products as well as produce. The Velleron market (pictured above) is open six evenings a week, closed Sunday.
For luxury rentals, try Just Provence.
Websites mentioned in an informal survey of gîte owners in the Vaucluse:
This website focuses on the Comtat: