In the northern Provençal region of the Luberon, plane trees shade the highway in the long valley between Forcalquier and Céreste. A side road leads north to a prominent hill, where on Sunday mornings valley residents gather in the ancient village of Reillanne. Local traders lay out their wares in the square beside the Church of the Assumption. From open lorries, carts, barrows, tables and boxes, they display fresh fruit, vegetables, sausages, hams, cheese, wine, honey, kitchenware, handmade toys, flowers and second-hand books. I can obtain all my week’s necessities within an hour. Of course, I take longer. Why rush?
Reillanne is a place I expected to meet Pierre Magnan, the chronicler of Provençal life whose prize-winning mysteries, featuring the world-weary Commissaire Laviolette, rank with Georges Simenon’s as classics of the genre. Alas, the second world war résistant died in May last year, at the age of 89. But his people are here every Sunday, some direct from the pages of his 1988 book La Maison Assassinée (The Murdered House), full of knowledge of his folk and their connection to the land, reminiscent of Thomas Hardy and his Wessex natives.
The cast at Reillanne’s market comes straight from Magnan: men, women and children with ruddy peasant faces, an old man wielding a shepherd’s staff, a village burger reading on a bench, nubile waitresses carrying drinks across the road from the Café du Cours. Her customers are spectators, observing the market below as if it were a Roman arena.
British friends with houses nearby, as well as French neighbours, often turn up. It’s our weekly venue for the exchange of gossip. If I’m on my own, I settle in with Le Journal du Dimanche and a coffee or beer. It’s vital to get to the bakery before it closes at 12.30pm. The market shuts soon after, usually by 1pm, when the traders slowly pack up and head home for lunch. I drive back to the highway, where the Restaurant Les Granons’ wood-fired oven turns out the best pizza in the Luberon.
- EasyJet flies to Marseille (just over an hour’s drive from the Luberon) from £60 return. Direct Eurostar trains from London to Avignon, on the edge of the Luberon, run during the summer (May to end of August) and take just over seven hours, with returns from £109 through Rail Europe . For gîtes in the Luberon, see theluberon.com. Auberge de Reillanne , a traditional French house up a long tree-lined drive, has six huge bedrooms and excellent set dinners.
Charles Glass lives part of the year in Provence. His latest book, Deserter: The Last Untold Story of the Second World War (Harper Collins, £25), is published on 28 March.