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Vaison-la-Romaine
50km (31 miles) NE of Avignon

Part medieval village, part Roman ruins, and all crowned by a 13th-century castle, Vaison-la-Romaine sits in the fertile northern reaches of Provence. Well off this region’s traditional tourist trail, the combination of history and low-key allure makes for an exquisite escape. To the east of Vaison-la-Romaine towers Mont Ventoux, a monolith of a mountain (1,900m/6,300 ft.) famed for its bogeyman role in the annual Tour de France cycle race.

Frequent trains (trip time: 20 min.; www.oui.sncf; tel. 36-35 at .40€/min.); 6.40€ one-way) connect Avignon and Orange. From Orange, hop aboard bus no. 4 (www.vaucluse.fr; trip time: 45 min.; 2,50€ one-way). If you’re driving from Avignon, take A7 north, veering northeast onto D977. 

The Office de Tourisme is at place du Chanoine Sauté (www.vaison-ventoux-tourisme.com; tel. 04-90-36-02-11).

Exploring Vaison-la-Romaine & Around

Ancient capital to the Voconce people, Vaison-la-Romaine is home to two important archaeological sites, Puymin and La Vilasse (www.provenceromaine.com; tel. 04-90-36-50-48). Both are peppered with ancient Roman residences, the remains of thermal baths, statues, and mosaics. The sites are open daily November, December, and February 10am to noon and 2 to 5pm; March and October 10am to 12:30pm and 2 to 5:30pm; April and May 9:30am to 6pm; and June to September 9:30am to 6:30pm. From January to early February both sites are closed. Admission (which includes a free audioguide and is valid for 24 hr.) is 9€ adults, 4€ students and children 12 to 18, and free for children 11 and under.

For more detailed information about Vaison-la-Romaine’s history, visit the Musée Archéologique Théo Desplans, located within Puymin (entrance valid with same ticket, same opening hours), which focuses on local and regional discoveries.

The oldest part of Vaison-la-Romaine itself—the Cité Médiévale—is a medieval wonderland, crisscrossed by winding alleyways and splashed with pretty squares. To the south sits its Roman bridge, dating from the 1st century A.D., which spans the Ouvèze River. If possible, time your visit to coincide with the town’s superb regional market (Tues, 8am–1pm, held around town).

Every three years, Vaison-la-Romaine holds the 10-day Chorales, or Choral Festival, in August (www.choralies.fr, next edition 2019). Visitors also descend on the town annually for Vaison Dances (www.vaison-danses.com), a prestigious dance festival held every July.

Where to Eat

Head to Restaurant le Bateleur, pl. Théodore Subpanel (www.restaurant-lebateleur.com; tel. 04-90-36-28-04; Wed–Sun lunch 12:15pm or dinner 7:30pm; during high season, also Sun and Tues lunch and Tues dinner) for one of their seasonal lunchtime menus (two courses for 19€). The cuisine makes the most of local ingredients, from wild mushrooms and Mediterranean bonito to free-range chicken from nearby Monteux and heirloom tomatoes.

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
23km (14 miles) E of Avignon

The picturesque Provençal town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue spills over a cluster of verdant islands. Each one is splashed by the River Sorgue and crisscrossed by its canals. Terraced bars and restaurants overlook the waterways. However, the village is best known for its weekly brocante and antiques market, which draws crowds of buyers and browsers from across the entire South of France.

Trains (trip time: 25 min.; 4.90€ one-way) connect Avignon and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Alternatively, hop aboard bus nr. 6 (www.vaucluse.fr; trip time: 1 hr.; 2€ one-way) from Avignon’s Gare Routière to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. If you’re driving from Avignon, take D901 east. Try for a parking space in the Parking Portalet or Parking Allée des Muriers (both free). Isle-sur-la-Sorgue's Office de Tourisme is located at place de la Liberté (www.oti-delasorgue.fr; tel. 04-90-38-04-78).

Exploring L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

During the 19th-century, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was a thriving hub for textile production. Remnants of this industrious past are still visible in the nine mossy, tumbling waterwheels scattered across the town center. Stop by the Office de Tourisme to pick up a free map, detailed with walking routes and the locations of each the remaining wheels.

Most visitors make their way to this unique town for L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue’s renowned Déballage Brocante. It’s held on Sundays; the activity starts at 9am and finishes around 6pm. From 8am to 2pm, there’s also a Provençal food market, where you can pick up delicious picnic fodder, from crushed olives with garlic to fennel-infused salami. Antiques are concentrated in the southern part of town, where you’ll find warehouses (open all week, regular business hours, as well as Sunday), filled with dealers and treasures. During the weekly market, around 300 small stalls selling both brocante and antiques are also dotted throughout the pedestrianized town center.
 
For out of the ordinary, more contemporary souvenirs, pop into Carton Noir, 17 bis rue Théophile Jean (www.carton-noir.com; tel. 06-21-61-81-56). Here, Cécile Chappuis purveys her one-of-a-kind cardboard and mirror creations.

If you’re keen to explore the area further, head over to avenue Charmasson, where Club de Canoë Kayak Islois (canoesurlasorgue.free.fr; tel. 06-11-72-02-17), offers 2 1/2 hour canoe trips into the surrounding countryside along the River Sorgue (19€, 13€ children 12 and under). Alternatively, the nearby town of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse (www.oti-delasorgue.fr) is equally charming. The source of the River Sorgue gushes up for the earth just east of the pretty village center.

Tucked within the town’s leafy L’Ile aux Brocantes, home to around 40 antiques dealers, La Marmite Bouillonnante, 7 ave. des Quatres Otages, Passage du Pont (www.lileauxbrocantes.com; tel. 04-90-38-51-05), serves up local, mostly organic lunches on a terrace overlooking the River Sorgue. During the afternoon, the venue is transformed into a tearoom, and purveys superb homemade pastries. Note that La Marmite is only open Saturday to Monday.

Epicureans seeking a spot that tends more toward the gourmet are advised to try Le Vivier, 800 cours Fernande Peyre (www.levivier-restaurant.com; tel. 04-90-38-52-80). Here chef Ludovic Dziewulski’s contemporary spin on classic Provençal cuisine may include red mullet and Mediterranean octopus, served with goji berries and green asparagus, or sautéed Jerusalem artichokes teamed with chestnut mousse, poached egg, truffles, and lardo di Colonnata. The daily Menu du Marché is priced at 32€.
 
Pont du Gard
26km (16 miles) W of Avignon

The tallest Roman aqueduct in the world (at 49m, or 160ft), Pont du Gard bridges the tumbling Gardon River. It was constructed during the first century AD, and is a world-renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bus nr. A15 (www.edgard-transport.fr; trip time: 45 min.; 1.50€ one-way) connects Avignon’s Gare Routière and Pont du Gard (descend at Rond Point Pont du Gard). If you’re driving from Avignon, take D6100 west. There is on-site parking, included in the site’s entrance fee. Pont du Gard’s Information Office is located on the site, at 400 Route du Pont du Gard, Vers-Pont-du-Gard (www.pontdugard.fr; tel. 04-66-37-50-99).

Exploring Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard site spills over both banks of the Gardon River. Like Paris, for orientation these two areas are referred to as the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and the Rive Droite (Right Bank). The entrance to the site, museum, Ludo Children’s Center, cinema, Expo temporary exhibitions space, and various shops sit on the Rive Gauche. Various refreshments, including Café du Pont du Gard, Le Snack, Le Vieux Moulin, Les Croisées Bistrot (open high season only), and La Crêperie are also located on this bank. On the Rive Droite, Les Terrasses restaurant overlooks the Pont du Gard.

Pont du Gard's Museum makes for a concise introduction to this ancient Roman site. Multimedia exhibits assist in demonstrating how the aqueduct (originally 50km, or 31 miles long), sourced water from Eure, near Uzés, and transported it to the nearby town of Nîmes. The water was then used for gardens, fountains, and baths, pressurized and gushing out of indoor taps, all utterly futuristic amenities 2,000 years ago! The nearby Cinema plays the short fictionalized documentary, “Un Pont Traverse le Temps” (A Bridge Across the Ages).

For kids, the Ludo Children's Center offers a range of themed activities for 5 to 12 year-olds, from insight into life as a Gallic-Roman student or market trader to an introduction to archaeology.

The Rive Gauche is connected to the Rive Droite by the Pont du Gard itself. The aqueduct is made up of three levels of limestone arches. Stroll across the lowest one to explore both of the site’s banks. Alternatively, loop underneath for sublime photo opportunities, or to splash around in the River Gardon.
If you're looking to explore the site further, the hour-and-a-half walking trail Mémoires de Garrigue focuses on the indigenous plants found in the region, including rock roses, honeysuckle, mulberry trees, and juniper. The walk also crosses additional ruins of the ancient aqueduct, as well as demonstrating human impact on this countryside throughout the 19th century.

The Pont du Gard site is open daily May to September 7:30am to midnight, April and October 8am to 8pm, and November to January 8:30am to 7pm. Cultural activities (such as the museum and the Ludo Children’s Center, as well as all shops) are open daily July and August 9am to 8pm, June and September 9am to 7pm, March to May and October 9am to 6pm, and November to February 9am to 5pm.

Admission to the site is 18€ for one vehicle, including up to five visitors; 12€ for one motorbike, including up to two visitors; 10€ per person on foot or by bike, or alternatively, 15€ for up to five visitors on foot or by bike; or 10€ for one vehicle, including up to five visitors, during evening hours (when on-site cultural areas are closed). Note that if you arrive from Avignon by bus, Edgard Transport (www.edgard-transport.fr; (tel. 08-10-33-42-73) offers a combination bus day pass and Pont du Gard entry ticket for 10€ per person, or 20€ per family (three to five visitors, of which one must be an adult).

The Rive Droite's Les Terrasses restaurant (tel. 04-66-63-91-37) occupies a mid-19th-century inn. At lunchtime, the two-course fixed-price menu costs 18€, and may include pork in a mustard marinade with thyme-infused potato gratin, sweet pea velouté, or candied vegetables with Parmesan shavings. As implied by the name, there’s a large outdoor seating area with sublime views over Pont du Gard itself.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.