French is the language of love, and picturesque French towns are truly romantic. My favorite Gallic go-to is Lacoste, set high on a plateau overlooking the Luberon valley. It’s idyllic, warm and welcoming — and southern France’s best-kept secret. When I first stepped onto Lacoste’s cobblestone streets, almost two decades ago, I knew in an instant this was the village I had been dreaming of forever. When you come — and you must — don’t miss my top twelve.
1. Lavender fields: Lacoste is surrounded by lavender. Rows and rows of farmland boast this vivid purple flower that transforms Provençal villages into fantasies. Wafting, fragrant breezes come from the Alps to suffuse the picture-book Luberon Valley. From Peter Mayle’s exquisite memoir A Year in Provence to the backdrop for Russell Crowe’s château in A Good Year, the Luberon’s lavender fields are a summer sensation. So, make your own movies — and memories — here. In the words of Claude Monet, “I must have flowers, forever and ever.”
2. Cherry orchard: Every spring, the cherry orchard in our Lacoste farm blossoms, petals bursting forth to flutter like snow across the valley floor. These fragile flowers continue to inspire today — think Damian Hirst’s riots of color across his new cherry blossom canvases, and in the evocative photos of cherry pickers in the valley by SCAD alum Chia Chong.
3. Portail de la garde: Step through this 14th-century Gothic arch onto Lacoste’s fabled cobblestone streets and you truly will transit in time and into the heart of the village. Protected by stalwart stone walls, the portail de la garde is the main entrance that welcomes visitors and warns foes. A medieval, walled village, Lacoste still has guard towers at both its front and back gates. Lacoste’s back gate is called the portail des chèvres — the “goat gate.”
4. 12th-century village church: An iconic example of Gothic architecture, the church of Saint-Trophime is open to the public. Renovated countless times over centuries, today the main entrance is a 17th-century addition. Lacoste historically was a Protestant town with a Rue de la Juterie.
5. Bell Tower: You won’t find Quasimodo atop Lacoste’s tower, but climb nine stone steps to the top of this historic campanile — crowned with a cast-iron bell — for stunning views of the village and valley below. The bell rings on the hour — and five minutes after… just in case. In fact, many clocks in France do the same. Known as Morbier clocks, in Lacoste the second tone hastens students who might be a few minutes late for class. The tower’s wrought-iron lace, suggestive of bells and fleurs-de-lis, withstands mistral winds that mayhap blow through.
6. Rue des Artistes: SCAD Lacoste’s Rue des Artistes is the creative epicenter of this charming Provençal village, welcoming visitors from all over the world into studios to discuss and collect works. Tourists love seeing artists at work, witnessing wondrous creations evolve before their very eyes.
7. shopSCAD: Spectacular shopSCAD offers a cornucopia of collectibles in every medium. Think Elizabeth Winnel’s seductive lips paintings, mixed media works by Katie Runnels, or a menagerie of stuffed animals by Marcus Kenney. Step into this chic gallery in the heart of history, and select artistic treasures to accompany you on your journey home.
8. View from Pfriem Terrace: With café tables and chairs, Pfriem Terrace offers spectacular sweeping views of the Luberon Valley’s patchwork terrain of lavender and sunflower fields, orchards, and vineyards. Exhale.
9. Purchased in 2001 by Pierre Cardin, then lovingly and sensitively restored, the Château du Marquis de Sade, perched atop the summit of Lacoste, is the former residence of its namesake, the libertine Donatien Alphonse François — better known as the Marquis de Sade. Today, thousands of guests trek to the summit of Lacoste to see the château and contemporary sculptures installed by Cardin. Each August, the Festival de Lacoste welcomes visitors for concerts, opera, ballet, and more.
10. Notre Ami, Pierre Cardin: Through October 2021, SCAD Lacoste’s Notre Ami, Pierre Cardin, rekindles the spirit of the late designer, who was the village’s most famous resident. Comprised of more than 20 of Cardin’s most renowned creations, from trapeze dresses to sequined jumpsuits, Notre Ami is a fitting tribute, tailored to enthrall everyone.
11. Retour en 1856: The furnished home of a 19th-century Lacoste family, Retour en 1856 invites you to step into a living history experience. This tiny dwelling exhibits the ingenuity of Lacostois who managed to include cooking, heating, lighting, sink, wine cellar, and livestock all within an abode of 786 square feet.
12. Chemin Parc: Maison Forte — a 13th-century fortified residence — is in Chemin Parc, along with a charming fountain and hammocks. Literature buffs take note: The home just above Chemin Parc was owned by English playwright Tom Stoppard. He settled in here to write his magnificent Shakespeare in Love.