Sablet, Provence, France
Avignon (40 minutes) is snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River; the area’s largest city famed for its Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace) and Pont St. Bénezet (the bridge made famous in the ditty “Sur le Pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse…”). The city boasts quiet streets, secluded courtyards and secret gardens and cozy pavement cafés.
Pont Du Gard (48 minutes) is a Roman aqueduct across the Gardon River built around the year 19 B.C. to supply Nîmes with water; it is part of a nearly 31 km aqueduct that delivered 20,000 cubic meters of water daily. It consists of three tiers of arches and is 900 feet long and 160 feet high. It was constructed entirely without mortar, the aqueduct’s stones – some of which weigh up to 6 tons – are held together with iron clamps. The masonry was lifted into place by block and tackle with a massive human-powered treadmill providing the power of the winch.
Rasteau (8 minutes) is perched on a mound between plains and forests. The houses spread out at the foot of a beautiful 12th century Romanesque church and the ruins of a 12th century chateau which overlook the village. Village life revolves around a huge square – the place de l’Apparent. Rasteau is its own appellation for vins doux natural (sweet wines) but a Côtes du Rhône Village for the dry wines (red, white and rosé).
Sénanque Abbey (45 kms) is a Cistercian abbey near the village of Gordes founded in the 12th century. Stretching out from the abbey buildings is a valley of lavender fields which are in full flower and fragrance during the summer and harvested late June – July. Only guided visits are allowed through the Abbey.
The great diversity of landscapes is one of the first things that strike visitors to Vaucluse. From the peak of Mont Ventoux to the Luberon range, the high plateau around Sault and the rolling hills of the Monts de Vaucluse, all contribute to creating a big playground for those who want to hike, climb or cycle in Vaucluse.
Arles (1 hour 27 minutes) is a city and municipality in Provence. Arles sits on a low hill on the east bank of the Rhône river, which just south of the city branches into two rivers, the Grand Rhône and Petit Rhône, that together encircle the marshlands and lagoons of the Camargue region home to Gypsies and Camargue cowboys. Today the ferias or bull runs and bull fights are held in the very same arena (12,000 seats) that was the scene of the Roman games in the first century. The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from 1888 to 1889 and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there.
Ansouis (1 hour 20 minutes) is perched on a low hill with a restored chateau in the southeast corner of Vaucluse. During the middle ages, this village was situated at an ideal place to control the road between Aix-en-Provence and Apt. The village is full of tiny streets dotted with boutiques and artists’ workshops.
Somewhere in Vaucluse, every morning of the week, in every kind of weather, there is a market day. Our favorite is the Tuesday morning market in Vaison la Romaine. Take a large, flexible but strong basket – you never know what you will find.
Almost every town has at least one market day a week. Markets normally spread throughout the center of town, often in the middle of streets. Markets typically start at 8:00 am and end around noon or 1:00 pm.
The following is a list of the larger markets held weekly in Vaucluse. (www.marches-provence.com).
Hiking: 4000 kms of marked hiking trails and paths crisscross the Vaucluse. Hiking trails are known as Grande Randonnée (GR for short). Tourist offices will have information on the local GRs. Maps for ten routes suggested by the Vaucluse Tourism Board can be downloaded at www.provenceguide.com/Portals/114/Media/PDF/LPA2007-rando.pdf
Dentelles De Montmirail (9 kms) are short, steep mountains with a distinctive rocky ridge, extending west from the western foothills of Mont Ventoux; it is named after the lace (dentelles) it's thought to resemble. The highest peak of the Dentelles is St. Amand at 734 m (2,400 ft). There is a pretty drive that circles the Dentelles past hill towns, beautiful views, and ancient vineyards. A number of hiking trails climb up the Dentelles from the surrounding villages.
Les Baux (1 hour 6 minutes) is located in the heart of the Alpilles on a high rocky plateau. You get a brilliant view of Arles, the Camargue and the Alpilles from the look-out points. The village is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Its cultural heritage is exceptionally rich, with 22 architectural treasures classified as “Historic Monuments.”
Seven of the villages in Vaucluse have been classified as among the most beautiful villages in France (www.les-plus-beaux-villages-de-france.org)
Cycling: France is renowned among cyclists as the destination of choice. It offers small quiet roads, pretty villages, major historic sites, diverse scenery and of course legendary food and wine. There are many bike routes through the Haut Vaucluse; maps for ten of these routes can be downloaded at www.hautvaucluse.com.
Climbing: Jagged limestone outcrops and cliff faces make up the majority of the region’s impressive climbing sites. The Calanques, the Gorges du Verdon, the Dentelles de Montmirail, Buoux in the Luberon and the Vallée des Merveilles all have classified routes, some with bolted climbs.
Uzès (59 minutes) is a town and commune in the Gard department, located about 15 miles north-northeast of Nîmes. The town lies at the source of the Eure, from where a Roman aqueduct was built in the first century B.C. to supply water to the city of Nîmes. One of the best markets in France is held in the town on Saturday mornings.
Carpentras (24 minutes) located in the heart of the fertile plains of Comtat, is a treasure for lovers of history and architecture. There is the Porte d’Orange, ruins of the old fortress, the Episcopal palace, St. Siffrein Cathedral, and the Hotel Dieu. The Roman arch is the sole remaining vestige of the Roman era. The town has a wonderful market on Friday mornings.
Venasque (38 minutes) is perched at the summit of a rocky outcrop. Charmingly untouched by civilization, this village is tucked in a dense forest cupped between two steep hills and notable for its 6th century Église de Notre Dame and the 17th century Chapelle Notre Dame de Vie. The town comes to life during the summer when it’s the market center for the region’s cherry crop.
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Lourmarin (1 hour 9 minutes) sits in the middle of vineyards, olive groves and almond trees. A bustling village especially in summer due to its numerous cafés, restaurants and boutiques; there are winding narrow streets, lovely old restored houses and well shaded public squares where you can immerse yourself in the gentile ambience of Provence.
Aix-En-Provence (1 hour 17 minutes) is birthplace of painter Paul Cezanne, whose life-long passion for nearby Mount Saint-Victoire is reflected in many of his paintings. Cours Mirabeau shines as one of France’s most elegant boulevards, with its giant elms, venerable cafés, and 18th century fountains.
“A day without wine is like a day without sun” goes an old saying. There is no risk of that in Vaucluse which has an abundance of both. From the banks of the Rhône to the slopes of the Luberon and Mont Ventoux, the history of wine is on rich, colorful display (www.vins-rhone.com). Travel time from Sablet is shown in parentheses to some of the best known wine villages.
Vaucluse is the region which embodies most of what is associated with Provence – from the lavender fields, sunflowers, olive trees and vineyards to the perched villages of the Luberon and Haut Vaucluse to the majestic summit of Mont Ventoux. Vaucluse is one of the top producers of grapes, melons, and cherries in France. It is the number one producer of truffles. Life in Vaucluse has been shaped by centuries of history; the Romans in Orange and Vaison la Romaine, the Popes in Avignon; all left behind a rich heritage.
Séguret (3 minutes) is located in northern Vaucluse within sight of Sablet. Séguret lies at a foot of a hill topped by the ruins of its feudal château. Everything here is beautiful and well maintained, and has been tastefully restored.
Vacqueyras (8 minutes) encircles its church similar to Sablet. The streets are for pedestrians only and lead to the ancient walls of the church and castle. As you wander around the village, you will see fountains, old age-worn doors, windows overflowing with flowers, and beautiful old houses looking onto the little streets.
Beaumes-De-Venise (13 minutes) sits at the foot of the Courens plateau, and owes its name to the numerous caves (or baumes) on the hill. Its location at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail offers a natural shield against the Mistral winds. You can stroll through pretty flower-lined streets and alleyways, climb up a short stairway to discover old houses with beautifully restored doors. You can also continue up to the ruins of the 12th century feudal château at the highest point of the village. The village is known for its muscat wine.
Cairanne (10 minutes) is located in upper Vaucluse, a stone’s throw away from the “Enclaves des Papes” and close to the border of the Drôme department. What makes it worthwhile is the Vieux Village (“old village”) which sits on a low hilltop that commands a magnificent view out across the landscape of fields and vineyards with views of other tiny villages scattered out in the distance.
Châteauneuf-Du-Pape (28 minutes) sits on the Rhone River's east bank just north of Avignon and spreads out at the foot of the ruins of its fortress castle and looks over the plain of Comtat and the surrounding vineyards. In the 14th Century Pope Jean XXII chose Châteauneuf as the location for the Pope’s summer residence, and planted vines on the stony land which surrounded their landholdings. The hilltop village is charming as can be, with its shuttered medieval houses, narrow lanes and tasting rooms at every turn.
Marseille (1 hour 34 minutes) is France's oldest and the second largest after Paris, the biggest Mediterranean port and the economic hub of the region, it has much to offer, from ancient history and cultural diversity to gorgeous seaside scenery. Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is a church with a breathtaking hilltop location, on the summit of Marseille as its most important landmark, visible from afar. The Vieux Port (translated "old port") is the birthplace of Marseilles. This is where the city began as a Greek port around 600 BC.
Gordes (53 minutes) is perched on the southern edge of the high Plateau de Vaucluse. The obviously strategic site has been occupied since prehistoric times. The stone buildings spiral up a white rock overlooking the Luberon's patches of farmland. Nearby is the Village des Bories, a small settlement of drystone dwellings dating from the 17th century. Gordes is the Luberon's number 1 tourist site.
Le Crestet (17 minutes) is a gem, one of the most beautiful perched villages in Provence. A veritable stone village; situated on the northern edge of the Dentelles de Montmirail. There's the 11th century church of St.-Sauveur to peek in, as well as the ruins of a 12th century castle atop the hill.
Cassis (1 hour 38 minutes) is a small quiet resort town located on the Mediterranean Sea. With its narrow streets, pastel colored houses and Provençal street names, the city is like something straight out of a Marcel Pagnol novel. The local author penned best sellers such as La Gloire de Mon Père, Le Château de Ma Mère and most famously, Fanny. Cassis first became famous for its limestone cliffs of calanque which were used for the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Mont Ventoux (43 kms) is 1910 m (6,266 ft) high, a conical cone visible from far across the surrounding countryside. With its altitude and cooling Mistral from the north, it’s snow-capped at least half the year. It’s a hiker’s paradise. Trails run in all directions, following ridges and valleys and crossing through innumerable forests. Now and again, the road is included in the Tour de France bicycle race.
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L'Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue (38 minutes) is a medieval mill town in Vaucluse built on islands dotting five branches of the River Sorgue. France’s second largest antique market (after Paris), the town spreads out on weekends along the river banks, while six antique malls are open daily around town.
Vaison La Romaine (12 minutes) is a must to visit in the Haut Vaucluse. On the right bank of the River Ouvèze are two different quarters: the site of the ancient Roman colony and the modern town. On the left bank on top of a rocky spur is the Haute-Ville, originating in the 13th century. The two parts of Vaison la Romaine are joined together by a unique single-arched Roman bridge over the river still in use after 2000 years. There is a great Provençal market in Vaison la Romaine not to be missed on Tuesday mornings.
Roussillon (1 hour 3 minutes), with its vibrant red-ocher color against the dark green hills, is so striking, perched on the edge of a dramatically red canyon. This village sits in the heart of one of the world’s biggest ocher deposits, where 17 shades of soil--violet, blood red, orange, yellow, and everything in between were once worked. The incredible beauty still draws hordes of artists and visitors.
Orange (22 minutes), home to Europe’s best preserved Roman theater, it looms over Orange’s old town, a monumental reminder of the Roman colony founded here in 35 B.C. A splendid Arch of Triumph, plus plenty of statues, mosaics and pottery are other souvenirs of those early residents. While Orange is today a fairly large, busy city, its historic core is charming to explore.
Ménerbes (55 minutes) stretches out along a rocky outcrop, dominating a vast agricultural area. At each extremity of the ridge sits a fortress; an ancient small castle and the 13th century citadel. Ménerbes played an important role during the War of Religions; one of the last holdouts of the Huguenots, who surrendered in 1578 after a 15 month siege. The village became known to the English speaking world through the author Peter Mayle who lived here from 1986 to 1993 and wrote about it in A Year in Provence.
Gigondas (4 minutes) sits at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail rising up from the surrounding vineyards, past ancient houses to the 11th century Ste. Catherine’s church. The ruins of the ancient fortifications extend up from the rocky ridge high above the village, and most of the old defensive wall still runs down from the top along the east edge of the village. High to the right, the ruins of the castle of the Princes of Orange still stand guard over the village and vineyards below.