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Thème : Visit - Auteur : Gerlinde (03/25/2023)
For your holidays in South of France, let's go and explore together the department of Vaucluse in the heart of Provence. Whether you are interested in history, a sportsman who likes an active holiday or a tourist looking for harmony and serenity, the Vaucluse offers a multitude of possibilities.
The towns and villages you can visit range from bustling places like Avignon, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue- especially on market day, the hill top village of Gordes to the small, quiet villages of the Luberon and the aptly named Vaison-la-Romaine. Be charmed by the varied landscapes dotted with medieval castles, lush vineyards and vast fields of lavender, which you can admire in July and August on the Plateau d'Albion or in the Enclave des Papes. Defy by bike the legendary Mont-Ventoux, 1910 m high, go kayaking on the Sorgue, discover the numerous wine cellars or stroll through the shady alleys of the picturesque villages in the area - there is no shortage to spend a wonderful holiday in one of the most beautiful departments in France.
Towns and villages which are worth a visit
Avignon, the city of the popes
Let’s start the visit with the famous pont d’Avignon, the Pont Saint Bénezet. This bridge no longer crosses totally the Rhône nor people don't often dance any more on it… as says the famous song, but from its outer end it offers a beautiful view of the city- it’s a must to take the souvenir photo here. The tour continues to the city's most monumental building, the famous Popes Palace, built in the 14th century. From the huge square that surrounds it, you can admire its imposing Gothic façade. Afterwards, you can take a break in the Jardin des Doms, a peaceful and refreshing place from which one can overlook the Rhone plain and see Mont-Ventoux in the background. The ancient town with its narrow streets that give the impression of a medieval village is also worth a visit.
The Popes Palace
Carpentras, the Comtat Venaissin and the surrounding area
Pursue north-east to Carpentras, the capital of the Comtat Venaissin, where you should go on Friday morning for its beautiful and lively market. This is also a central point for various excursions:
From there, I’d recommend the round trip around Mont-Ventoux across the typical villages as Crillon-le-Brave, Bédoin and Flassan, often hill top villages, and then take the winding road through the impressive gorges de la Nesque, a deep canyon, which will bring you to the Plateau de Sault. From here you can choose to head up to the summit of Mont-Ventoux or head north towards Montbrun-les-Bains in the Provençal Drôme, a beautiful medieval village that is one of the prettiest in France and has become a prestigious thermal spa resort. From there continue west to Malaucène. The charming road winds along the mountainside north of the Ventoux Mountain and you can catch a look of the high village of Brantes when passing aside. There you have the impression of living in another time. Then drive back to Carpentras via Malaucène and the small village of Le Barroux with its imposing medieval castle. Discovering all this would be a fantastic day trip.
Gorges de la Nesque
Another suggestion can take you south to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the Venice of Comtat, surrounded by canals forming a group of islands. Best is to come during the weekdays to explore at your leisure and stroll along the water, discovering the many antique shops and art galleries and taking advantage of the many restaurant terraces. On Sundays, the city then gets very busy and you should arrive quite early to find a parking space. This is a popular place for bargain hunters, as you will find bargains on the pavements and among the many flea market dealers who have their shops along the street. If you are not too tired yet, visit the village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, 15 minutes away to discover the gorge of the same name where the Sorgue is rising. From the village, it is a very pleasant walk alongside the river, especially in spring when there is plenty of water.
From Carpentras, I suggest to discover the touristic spot Vaison-la-Romaine along the wine route that passes across the vineyards of Beaumes-de-Venise, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Sablet, Séguret and Rasteau and runs along the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, a beautiful mountain massif sculpted by erosion, a paradise for hikers and climbers. To taste the famous Côtes-du-Rhône wines, unfortunately you can't stop at all the cellars as there are too many, but each wine-growing area has its own special features. Choose at least one per village and you will be amazed at the variety of wines and the aromas of the vintages.
The Dentelles of Montmirail
Vaison-la-Romaine and the Drôme provençale
This town hosts ancient Gallo-Roman sites, the symbol of which is the theatre with its 5000 seats. The ruins of the Roman city with its houses and cobbled streets can be visited in the open air, while the modern part of the city is crossed by the river Ouvèze, over which the picturesque Roman bridge leads to the imposing castle of the Counts of Toulouse, on the top of a steep cliff.
From Vaison, you can take a side-trip to the Baronnies Regional Nature Park in the Drôme Provençale, where deeply carved high valleys alternate with plateaus. Drive via Buis-les-Baronnies, Curnier and Nyons, capital of the black olive, a pretty little town you should definitely visit. Continue your journey via Valréas and the Enclave des Papes, where you can admire the lavender fields in bloom, should you be travelling in July/August. Continue to Grignan with its imposing castel, which at one time hosted the Marquise de Sévigné. Then head back to Vaison-la-Romaine via Suze-la-Rousse, whose fortress built on a rocky outcrop is worth some glances. This interesting tour of about 120 km can easily be done in a single day.
The castle of Grignan
Well known and very appreciated in the showbiz universe and by celebrities, the Luberon deserves more than a side trip. Its name is due to the mountain massif that stretches from west to east between the departments of Vaucluse and Alpes de Haute Provence, this area considered as being a regional nature park. The itinerary starts in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and heads east to Gordes, certainly the most emblematic and famous hill top village in this area. Make a small detour to the Abbaye de Sénanque, Cistercian abbey founded in 1150 and probably one of the most photographed monuments in Provence. Then continue to Roussillon and the nearby ochre pits, also called Colorado Provençal, which give the whole village its yellow and orange colours. An enchanting site. The tour continues to Apt, the capital of the Luberon and of candied fruits, rated as a "high place of delicacies ". The Saturday market there is one of the ancients and liveliest in Provence. Make a detour to Saignon, via the serpentine road from which you have a magnificent view of the village. It was built on a rocky outcrop that overlooks the entire valley. Then continue to Bonnieux, a pretty hilltop village with typical Provençal charm. From here, you can either head south through the Luberon massif to Lourmarin, one of the "Most Beautiful Villages in France", or continue to Lacoste, a very pretty hilltop village dominated by its castle. This castle was once the residence of the famous Marquis de Sade and then belonged to Pierre Cardin until he died. Your next stop is scheduled in the village of Ménerbes, which also belongs to the "Most Beautiful Villages of France". You have a wonderful view from here of the entire Luberon and the Monts de Vaucluse, but it is worth also to stroll through the charming alleys lined with beautiful old houses. The itinerary ends in Oppède and Oppède-le-Vieux, high villages accessible only on foot, and once there, you’ll be transported into another time.
Abbaye of Sénanque
We shall not disregard this town to the North of Avignon when talking about the department of Vaucluse, as its incredibly well-preserved ancient theatre is, along with the Arena of Arles, the most characteristic Roman monument in Provence. Music lovers and tourists from all over the world know that this place is relevant for hosting concerts and cultural events such as the Chorégies d'Orange. The well-preserved Arc de Triomphe is also one of the treasures of Roman architecture that you should definitely see.
Roman triumphal arch
This big mountain, 25 km long and 15 km wide at an altitude of 1910 m, is a real grail for cyclists worldwide and is also called the "Giant of Provence". It is characterised by its pale scree slopes at the summit, which sometimes look like snow from a distance because of the white limestone colour. The temperature differences between the plain and its summit are very great, especially when there is blowing the mistral, the famous stormy wind, which is so strong there that you can hardly stand on your feet when you are at the summit. On a clear day, you’ll have a majestic 360° view from the Alps to the Mediterranean. It is a paradise for hikers and, as already mentioned, for very sporty cyclists who try to match the champions of the Tour de France as they pedal the 1600 metres of altitude and 21 km from the village of Bédoin to the summit, with gradients of 9%, and no flat sections to ease their efforts. The Ventoux offers still further advantages, namely its fauna and flora, which are so varied depending on altitude that Unesco has declared it a "biosphere reserve".
The department of Vaucluse is undoubtedly a blessed place. Due to the diversity and beauty of its landscapes, the authenticity of its villages and medieval buildings, its special light, its gastronomy and its cultural richness, your holiday will be far too short to savour everything which is on offer. So, a good reason to come back.