There are numerous villages and towns in Provence worthy a visit. A visitor has many opportunities and not all are very different. It all depends on the time you have available. This post is about some villages and some towns we visited in our Provençal fortnight.
We visited five villages during our stay. They were Saint-Romain-en-Viennois, Crestet, Gigondas, Bonnieux and Roussillon. Contrary to what we had expected we did not encounter huge numbers of other tourists, with the exception of Roussillon. Instead we had some nice walks up and down the streets of these very fascinating small hilltop villages.
Saint-Romain-en-Viennois is shaped like a ring, forming a bulwark against intruders in the old days. We spent our first week in Provence nearby and walked into the village several times. It is not part of the typical tourist itineraries and seemed almost empty and void of human life. As such it was interesting.
Crestet, Gigondas and Bonnieux were all fascinating places to visit. La Crestet especially was a fascinating stone village and an almost hidden gem in the Provençal landscape. Bonnieux in the Luberon valley was actually a stronghold of the Knights Templars until the infamous Friday the 13th. Gigondas is second only to Châteauneuf du Pape in the famous wine district of Côtes-du-Rhône, and as the driver it was a shame I was not able to appreciate the opportunities of dégustation.
My guidebook states that the deep ochre coloured hillside near the village of Roussillon is fantastic. We knew, we had been there before, and just had to return. In fact, there are 17 nuances of ochre found here. The village itself is picturesque and receives many visitors, but the surrounding colourised area is nicer and so were other villages in Provence.
During our two weeks in Provence we visited four towns, apart from Nice where we stayed a night on arrival. The towns were Avignon, Vaison-la-Romaine, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Avignon is an important and large town in the western part of Vaucluse. It is well situated for visitors who are looking for a base camp for exploring the region of Provence. We were staying elsewhere and came day-tripping because the town is a must-see in Provence for two reasons: The Palace of the Popes and Le Pont.
The palace was built in the 14th century. At that time there was a dispute with Rome over Catholic popes. Seven French popes resided here, founding a miniature Vatican, and forming the basis for Avignon’s everlasting importance as a tourist magnet.
The Pont (bridge) from the late 12th century is not exactly a bridge anymore, more like a pier as it struts into the river of Rhône ending halfway. It is famous for being the pont in the song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”.
There are a handful of museums in town but travelling with small children we skipped them and went for the carousel in the central square of Place d’Horloge and ice-cream nearby. Avignon is over-rated but easily visited as the important sights are within walking distance inside the city walls.
Vaison-la-Romaine, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
We came to Vaison-la-Romaine for the Tuesday market. It has a reputation as one of the best in Provence, and the Provençal marchés are among the best in France. This market offers a vast array of farmers’ products but also a lot of those other things so popular among visitors and locals alike. I would like to recommend this market.
During our second week in Provence we visited Saint-Rémy-de-Provence a couple of times. We went to the Wednesday market and had an inspiring walk around in the market area. The one in Vaison was probably more interesting.
In L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue we missed out the market days on Thursdays and Sundays but found picturesque canals and very old water-wheels. It had a lazy and cosy city centre and was much to our liking.
This series has three articles.
(1) Provence – What is it? (more or less about the scenery)