Even after having been subjected to wars and upheaval over the centuries, up to the “Mayle invasion” at the end of the 1990s, Ménerbes has remained marvellously intact and preserved!
Follow the villagers' advice and come to Ménerbes from the north. You will see the village rise up from the landscape like a big ship drifting on a sea of vineyards and orchards, as Nostradamus described it.
Perched on a long mountain crest in the Luberon, the old château is situated at the western end of the village, the church to the east and, in the middle right at the top of the village, the town hall rises up with its 18th century belfry, a wrought-iron campanile. And around it all are the former ramparts.
All in stone, Ménerbes is very pretty with beautiful old houses and narrow streets winding through the village, from the bottom, where you will find the shops and restaurants, to the top and the tranquil square that seems out of time. All around, breathtaking views dance before your eyes.
Now that all the Year in Provence madness has calmed down and the coachloads full of tourists and autograph-hunters are less numerous, the village has regained its peaceful atmosphere and typically Provençal art de vivre. You will easily understand why the village has attracted from around the world its “pacifist migrants”, an attitude that seems to be shared by its small population of 1000 people. With the sunshine and the mild climate, the cafés spill out onto the pavement and terraces and a few card players are always to be seen somewhere. If they are not enjoying a game of boules...
Inhabited since the Neolithic, Ménerbes really took shape as a market town starting in the Middle Ages with the Saint-Sauveur and Notre-Dame town gates, the imposing citadel built in the 12th century and the underground passageways.
In the middle of the 13th century, the Carmelites coming from Palestine built a convent.
Integrated into the Comtat Venaissin until this latter became part of France after the French Revolution, the commune was under the dominion of Queen Jeanne in the 14th century.
Ménerbe, with its fortifications, was reputed to be impregnable in the 16th century. But in 1573 during the wars of religion, the Huguenots, using a ploy and the betrayal of the priest, seized the village and occupied it for 5 years. But these were not a peaceful five years. Become a centre for Protestantism, the Catholic armies of the Pope and the king laid siege to it for 15 months. On December 10, 1578, having used up their water reserve putting out fires, the Protestant occupiers left, holding their heads and their banners high.
It's maybe thanks to the patronage of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and the arts, that in the present day it is mostly artists who occupy Ménerbes. Take for example Dora Maar, French photographer and painter and also Picasso's “muse”. Picasso bought her a house here that today hosts workshops and artists in residence. Nicolas de Staël, French painter of Russian origins, chose the Castelet for his home. Also, Clovis Hugues, poet and politician, Peter Mayle, the English writer, and finally Yves Rousset-Rouard, film producer (Emmanuelle...).
Rousset-Rouard was elected mayor in 1995 and served until 2014. He undertook the restoration of an old town mansion to create the House of Truffles and Wine of the Luberon . Giving himself over to his passion – corkscrews! - he also started a museum, a Mecca for "helixophiles". The museum can be found in a vineyard, the Domaine de la Citadelle, 2 kilometres from the village.
In the area around Ménerbes:
- The Saint-Hilaire Abbey, situated in a verdant setting on the D109 between Ménerbes and Lacoste, on the northern side of the Luberon.
- Apt, the candied fruit capital
La Camejane, a private mansion in Ménerbes
Ménerbes perched on its rocky outcrop
Remains of the ramparts and view over the Luberon
The Campanile of Ménerbes and 18th century belfry
The Saint-Luc Church in Ménerbes
The Saint-Hilaire Abbey in Ménerbes