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A tour of Vaison la Romaine (NE of Avignon): a charming piece of Provence

April 19, 2012

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Looking north from the Haute Ville

Vaison La Romaine Will Hook You for Life

 

A medieval city can be an inanimate object.  Without people and lively commerce inside it has no life. However, Vaison La Romaine is a vibrant medieval town running on adrenaline, fine wine and plenty of eye candy.  A perfect French  Provence experience.  It could be the prototype for American dreamers, the quintessential French Provencal town, a Peter Mayle “Year In Provence” tempered with modern amenities – picturesque, dynamic, lively and interesting.  Did we remember to say what a great place it is? 

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The Ouveze River is in front of us in this photo, crossed by a bridge built 2000 years ago (and damaged by a flood in 1992).   A search on YOUTUBE for “vaison flood” will show some sad videos.   Here is a link

An ancient town that sits in a low basin along the Ouveze River, Vaison includes the mandatory Haute Ville, a vast collection of beautifully preserved Roman ruins along with an abundance of shops and cafes.  This is not a two-restaurant-one-souvenir-shop bump on the road.  It’s not Avignon with its Nike shoe stores and hordes of tourists.  Spend a  little time here and you’re hooked for life. 

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This photo shows Gordes, a small town about 30 minutes away from Vaison by car.  Nice to visit, but too quiet!  Vaison is the perfect mixture of culture, market day (TUESDAY) and restaurants.

There are two easily accessible parts to this town connected by a Roman bridge.  Follow the road up to the Haute Ville for a movie-set walk along cobblestone walkways so narrow cars can’t linger without permission and pedestrian have to dance sideways with each passing vehicle.  Lace-curtained windows lined with shutters tease our curiosity. Massive wood doorways, flower waterfalls streaming down building sides, stone and bronze fountains and artist galleries with fine works at fair prices distract us from the business of taking photos.

In the other direction are the newer sections of Vaison where strolling is serious business.  There’s an abundance of small shops and cafes where local residents still greet visitors with smiles and small talk.  A few streets are strictly for pedestrians but even streets with traffic are an easy maneuver.  The central plaza, lined with open cafes and more shops, has the added plus of free parking.  This is the heart of the town, the place where the huge Tuesday Market begins its winding journey along the side streets.

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There is a lovely spring called Fontaine de Vaucluse  LINK

 

Tuesday market day is huge in Vaison La Romaine, one of the best in this part of Provence.  If it’s French it’s probably here, from local crafts, soaps, herbs, spices to cheeses and fabrics.  It speaks well that there are as many locals as visitors exploring the goods.  Eight hours is barely enough time to experience the delicious food, touch the wood carvings, try on the artful clothing and question the antique dealers.  Happily, there’s no difficulty finding a place to sit and enjoy some wine while watching the action.

 

My husband and I have visited Vaison a half-dozen times.   The the family owned Hotel Beffoi in the center of the Haute Ville is a favorite of ours, consisting of two very elegantly appointed chateaus with spectacular views of the town below.  History and atmosphere with modern comforts makes it a special place. The main building of Hotel Beffoi is about 500 years old, the second about 200. There’s modern plumbing and mini-fridges plus satellite TV.  Surprisingly, there’s even a swimming pool hiding behind a stone wall hidden by huge wood doors that maintain the medieval theme.  The Beffoi restaurant is as good as it looks (3 & 4 star Michelin), with an impressive garden courtyard for warm weather dining.  Stars and candlelight are simply the icing to superbly prepared meals. 

 

But oh that breakfast!  It’s the stuff morning dreams in Provence are made of; a garden terrace with views of river and town, surrounded by greenery, echoing with songbirds and distant early morning village activity.  Delicious French breads and cereal, coffee and hot chocolate, and unobtrusive servers who leave you alone.  At about $18 the price is high so we didn’t eat here every day.  But no one pushes you out if you just want to sit, absorbing every sound and smell.   Then a ten minute walk leads to more economical breakfast fare.

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Weeds never looked so charming.  Another view of the “old town” or “high town” (haute ville)

You can learn more by going to the website for the preservation of the Haute Ville   aphv.fr

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Another advantage of Vaison is its drivable location.  Numerous historic cities, wineries and ruins are within 30 minutes by car.  Even before we’ve left the town limits, the countryside drive is a spectacular mix of colored quilts and stone buildings.  It’s impossible not to stop the car every few minutes for a quick leap out and photo. Local villages are friendly and it’s easy to find outdoor cafes featuring authentic Provence dishes along with delicious coffee. Avignon is less than 30 miles away, enchanting Gordes even closer.  Nearly every day in the summer season a different local village or town has its own public market.  We made a game of picking a-market-a-day as part of our holiday.  That is until we realized that Vaison had so much we no longer wanted to drive away, but rather just hang out, taking it all in and living the life most only read about in novels.  

 

For more photos of Vaison La Romaine go to www.JKMcCrea.net — and write to us at JKMcCrea@gmail.com.

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From → Europe, Uncategorized

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