20 Top Tourist Attractions of the Haut-Vaucluse, Provence
In the heart of the Provençal countryside, the Haut-Vaucluse is a gorgeous sun-drenched landscape that beguiled Impressionist painters Paul Cézanne and Marc Chagall. This vibrant patchwork of farmlands, olive groves, orchards, and lavender fields inspired many paintings. The Haut-Vaucluse area of Provence begins around Orange and spreads out east of Avignon, south to the Luberon Mountain, and north to Mont Ventoux. At the crossroads of the Alps and the Rhône Valley, the varied terrain includes chalky limestone mountains, green rolling hills, and fertile plains.
Ancient Gallo-Roman cities and medieval perched villages are scattered throughout the Haut-Vaucluse. Most of these small, remote towns are delightfully undiscovered but require a driving itinerary. Tourists can indulge in the local pastime of relaxing at a café terrace on sultry afternoons and evenings. Savoring the delicious Mediterranean cuisine adds to the experience; regional specialties are based on fresh vegetables, herbs, olives, and sometimes feature the prized black truffle.
1 Mont Ventoux: A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
A UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve, this iconic mountain is the most famous nature site in the Haut-Vaucluse. Mont Ventoux means "windy mountain" because of the strong winds and violent storms that occur here. Rising east of the Rhône River above the Ouvèze Valley, Mont Ventoux towers in impressive isolation over the surrounding countryside. According to local legend, on April 24, 1336, the poet Francesco Petrarch climbed Mont Ventoux for religious and spiritual inspiration. This was the first ascent of a mountain for its own sake.
A typical starting-point to explore Mont Ventoux is from Vaison-la-Romaine. Follow the D938 road to Malaucène, then turn left on the D974. This stretch traverses beautiful scenery with magnificent views and climbs steeply through coniferous forests. About 16 kilometers beyond Malaucène, a narrow road leads to the viewpoint of Le Contrat then continues winding upwards for six kilometers to the Col des Tempêtes viewpoint. From here, the outlook extends over the Valley of the Toulourenc. On the summit of Mont Ventoux, visitors will find an observatory and observation platform with views of the Montagne du Lubéron. Above 1,500 meters, Mont Ventoux offers extensive ski slopes.
Mont Ventoux is also famous as a land of black truffles, the prized culinary ingredient of the region. From November through March, restaurants in the area serve delicious dishes made with this delicacy. One recommended restaurant is Le Gajuléa in the village of Le Barroux (seven kilometers from Malaucène) in a lovely setting at the base of Mont Ventoux. This restaurant serves seasonal Provençal cuisine throughout the year and features truffle meals in January and February. Le Gajuléa also offers Provençal cooking classes.
2 Roman Ruins in Orange
Discover the world of classical antiquity in Orange, a city that boasts some of the most impressive archaeological sites in France. A remarkable sight is the UNESCO-listed Théâtre Antique (ancient Roman theater) that dates to the 1st century AD and is incredibly well preserved. A rarity for an ancient ruin, the theater's back wall is intact with the rich decorations still visible. The theater accommodates up to 7,000 people, evidence of the ancient city's size and the Romans' value of entertainment. The Théâtre Antique continues to be used as an event venue. During the summer, the city of Orange hosts music festival performances called the Chorégies d'Orange (concerts and operas) at the ancient theater. Other exceptional attractions are the Arc de Triomphe, the 2nd-century triumphal arch dedicated to ancient Rome's Emperor Tiberius and the Temple et l'Hémicycle, ruins of a Roman temple adjoining the Roman theater. The Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, housed in a 17th-century hôtel particulier (mansion), displays archaeological finds and art from prehistory to the 18th century. The collection of antiquities is superb and includes the Mosaïque des Centaures, an impressive mosaic that was discovered in the Théâtre Antique.
A worthwhile detour 20 kilometers from Orange is the Château de Suze-la-Rousse, which was the hunting lodge of the Princes of Orange. The château was built in the 12th century and enhanced in the 16th century. Surrounded by vine-covered rolling hills, this château is a peaceful getaway in the Provençal countryside. For visitors staying overnight, there is a charming bed & breakfast in the village called Les Aiguières. This quaint hotel occupies an 18th-century house with beautiful gardens, and the restaurant offers authentic regional cuisine including truffle dinners from December through March.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Orange
3 The Hilltop Village of Gordes
Gordes is listed as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" (Most Beautiful Villages of France). This lovely little hilltop village looks like the scene of a postcard or painting. In fact, artists Victor Vasarély and Marc Chagall found inspiration for their paintings here. An ancient "village perché" (perched village), Gordes has a dramatic setting. The village (40 kilometers from Avignon) stands on a steep slope descending from the Plateau de Vaucluse to the Coulon Valley. The perched location provided protection from invasions during the Middle Ages.
Dominating Gordes is the 16th-century Château de Gordes, a fortified castle with medieval corner towers and a grand doorway. The château's Great Hall boasts a monumental Renaissance fireplace, one of the finest in France. The château houses the Pol Mara Museum dedicated to the Flemish painter's masterpieces. To reach the museum, visitors must climb the château's impressive spiraling Renaissance staircase up to the exhibition rooms on the top floor. At the center of Gordes, the Place du Château de Gordes is a lively town square with many cafés, restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops. The best photo-op of Gordes is from the road leading up from Cavaillon.
About two kilometers south of Gordes is the Village des Bories. The "Bories" houses are made of flat stones without mortar and usually without windows. For nearly 3,000 years (since the Bronze Age until the 18th century) this type of structure was common for building herdsmen's huts and sometimes to build entire settlements.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Gordes
4 Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
One of the most scenic abbeys in France, the peaceful Abbaye de Sénanque sits in a picturesque valley (five kilometers from the historic village of Gordes) on the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse. Surrounded by fields of lavender flowers, the scene is a profusion of vibrant purple when in full bloom from July through the beginning of August. The Abbey of Sénanque was founded in 1148 by the Cistercian monastery at Mazan, near Carpentras, and became one of the most important Cistercian monasteries in Provence.
The Abbey of Sénanque represents a realization of the Cistercian concept of monastic living: seclusion, poverty and simplicity, prayer, and physical labor. The interior features an exquisite barrel-vaulted cloister and lovely arcades leading to the gardens. The pillars on the arcades are noteworthy for their beautifully crafted decorations of palm-leaves, petals, and water lilies.
The abbey is still a working monastery and requires visitors to respect the silent ambience of the place. To see the cloister and other rooms of the monastery, visitors must take a guided tour (reservations are recommended). Otherwise, visitors are only allowed to see the exterior of the Abbey.
Address: Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, 84220 Gordes
A charming Provençal hilltop town, Vaison-la-Romaine is renowned for its extensive ancient ruins dating from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD. The town boasts two remarkable Roman excavation sites. The Quartier de Puymin archaeological site is a gently sloping hillside laid out like a park with oak and cypress trees. The foundations of ancient Roman houses, the House of the Messii and the Portico of Pompey were uncovered here, along with the remains of an ancient Temple and the 1st-century Roman theater (now used as an open-air performance venue). The statues seen on this site are copies of the originals, which are in the Musée Théo Desplans, in the heart of the archaeological ruins. This antiquities museum displays the objects from the Roman dwellings and Gallo-Roman pottery. In the Quartier de la Villasse archaeological site, visitors can see a carefully paved Roman street featuring gutters. In some places mosaic floors are visible under a protective covering.
After visiting the ruins, head to the more "modern" area of town. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Vaison-la-Romaine dates back to Merovingian times, but the present building was constructed between the 11th and 13th century. The town has other lovely medieval churches and a gorgeous park, the Jardin des Neuf Damoiselles (Garden of the Nine Damsels). Visitors can experience the local culture on Market Days held on Tuesdays at the Place Montfort and La Grand Rue. This bustling weekly event draws crowds who shop for everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to goat cheese and spices, even live poultry. Tourists will appreciate the Provençal linens, kitchenware, and handmade leather shoes. During summer, the town comes alive with events and festivals. Vaison Dance Festival and the Ancient Theater Week are held at the ancient theater in July. Throughout August are concerts and entertaining shows at the ancient theater, and Les Floraisons Musicales music festival also takes place in August. Vaison-la-Romaine lies about 30 kilometers from Orange at the foot of Mont Ventoux.
A charming medieval hilltop village, Grignan is surrounded by a beautiful landscape of scrubland, oak trees, juniper, and lavender. Further afield, the area also has woodlands in the foothills of the Alps and is blessed with sought-after truffles, a local culinary delicacy. This gorgeous Provençal countryside is full of vibrant colors and fragrant scents that are unique to the region. Visitors are immersed in a place of beauty and transported back in time to the ambience of a fortified medieval village. The hamlet of Grignan was founded around 1105 as a small pastoral community. The village grew up around its château, flourishing in the 13th and 14th centuries and expanding beyond the defensive walls in the 15th century. The Collégiale Saint-Sauveur, the town's church, was built between 1535 and 1542. In the 16th century, the Château de Grignan was enhanced and became the most glorious Renaissance château in Southeastern France. Later, the château almost fell into ruin but was saved by the literary accomplishments of Madame de Sévigné, who lived here in the 17th century.
Summer is a wonderful time to visit Grignan when the flowers are in full bloom. The village is famous for its ancient varieties of roses, more than 150 different types, that are planted at the foot of the castle's stone walls. Grignan lies 34 kilometers from Vaison-la-Romaine and 37 kilometers from Orange. On Tuesday mornings, Grignan has a traditional Provençal open-air market that draws many locals.
The medieval village of Nyons is nestled amidst the rolling hills of Vaucluse (about 16 kilometers away from Vaison-la-Romaine) in a countryside covered with olive groves. This area is appreciated for its natural beauty and Mediterranean climate offering plenty of sunshine. Nyons is listed as a "Plus Beaux Détours de France" (Most Beautiful Detours of France) between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea. Famous for its olives, Nyons is classified as a "Site Remarquable du Goût" (Site Remarkable for Taste). The town is renowned for its regional cuisine and Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (Appellation of Origin Controlled) olive oil.
Nyon has retained its medieval ramparts and vestiges of a castle built during the Crusade period. Much of the village was built for the pilgrims. The 16th-century Eglise Saint-Vincent contains a precious Virgin statue and a nativity painting attributed to Ribera. The 13th-century Chapel Notre-Dame de Bon Secours at Place de la Chapelle offers breathtaking views of the countryside.
Continue six kilometers from Nyons to the village of Les Pilles, registered as a "Bâtiment de France" because of its old 16th-century houses with unique facades and doors. The village also has a traditional Provençal market. During the summer, the village hosts lively festivals and cultural events.
Another charming village near Nyons is Saint-Romain-en-Viennois. This small medieval village stands on a promontory in a landscape of the Côtes du Rhône's green rolling hills with Mont Ventoux as the backdrop. Saint-Romain-en-Viennois is still encircled by ancient ramparts and has retained the tower of its 16th-century castle.
8 Pernes-les-Fontaines and the 40 Fountains
A quintessential sun-drenched Provençal town, Pernes-les-Fontaines has a relaxing ambience thanks to its many ancient fountains. The town's 40 fountains are decorative monuments that provide fresh drinking water, drawing from the abundant local source of spring water. Founded in the Gallo-Roman era, Pernes-les-Fontaines became a capital of the "Comtat Venaissin" during the Middle Ages and later was ruled by the Counts of Toulouse and the Popes of Avignon. Old stone houses, cobblestone streets, and medieval town gates give Pernes-les-Fontaines its distinctive Old World charm.
The Porte Notre-Dame, the most spectacular gate in the ramparts, leads to the Eglise Notre-Dame de Nazareth outside the city walls. Admire the facade featuring Romanesque columns with capitals of acanthus leaves. Take a look inside to see the beautifully decorated nave with a frieze depicting biblical scenes and the impressive organ. Also be sure to see the elegant 17th-century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), the 12th-century Tour de l'Horloge, which was the keep (dungeon) of the château and the Tour Ferrande, which has a famous 13th-century painting on the third floor. The Halle Couverte built in the 17th century served as the town's marketplace for fishmongers and farmers selling fruits and vegetables.
In the heart of Haut-Vaucluse along the Alzon River, Carpentras was the capital of the Comtat Venaissin and has a fascinating heritage. Standing at the center of Carpentras is the Cathédrale Saint-Siffrein. This Flamboyant Gothic cathedral was built between 1406 and 1519. One of the cathedral's most unusual features is the South Doorway known as the Porte Juive (Jews' Gate). This ornate Gothic doorway was designed as the entrance for Jews who wished to be baptized. Enter the cathedral to experience the awe-inspiring nave, a richly decorated sanctuary. Near the cathedral are the remains of a 1st-century Roman triumphal arch. Carpentras has a historic Synagogue (at the Place de la Mairie), one of the oldest remaining synagogues in France and still in use today. This building is testimony to the town's ancient Jewish community, which was protected by the Papacy during an era of persecution in France. The synagogue was built in 1367 and restored in the 18th century. The sanctuary exemplifies ornate Baroque style. The ritual baths (known as "mikvé") are found on the ground floor; the original bathing pool dates from the 14th century. A kosher bakery is also on site. In July, the synagogue hosts a Jewish Music Festival.
Carpentras is also known for its excellent cuisine and desserts. The Maison Jouvaud (40 Rue de l'Évêché) is considered the top pâtisserie shop in Carpentras and one of the best in Provence. Confiserie Bono (280 Avenue Jean-Jaurès) makes enticing candied fruit ("fruits confits") and fruit jellies ("pâtes de fruits"). For a refined gastronomic meal, make a reservation at the Michelin-star restaurant Le Saule Pleureur - Laurent Azoulay (145 Chemin de Beauregard) to enjoy innovative cuisine in the beautiful setting of a Provençal villa and gardens. The area around Carpentras grows delicious strawberries, definitely worth trying at the peak of the season in springtime. In the nearby village of Velleron (13 kilometers from Carpentras) is a Strawberry Festival on May 8th every year.
10 Medieval Venasque
The medieval hilltop village of Venasque lies 11 kilometers southeast of Carpentras in the old "Comtat Venaissin" county, an especially picturesque area of the Haut-Vaucluse countryside. The location provided protection through the centuries, as the hilltop position proved to be virtually impregnable to invaders. Testimony to Venasque's ancient past are the Tours Romaines, towers built to defend against the invasions of the Saracens, placed in the one area where the town was vulnerable. From the Esplanade in front of the towers are splendid views of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains and Mont Ventoux. The town's serene, historical ambience offers a delightful escape for visitors. Discover the Baptistère, a somber religious building dating from the 13th century. This place of worship is shaped like a Greek cross and decorated with arches featuring repurposed ancient columns. Another noteworthy monument is the 13th-century Eglise Notre-Dame, a Romanesque church, which possesses a celebrated Crucifixion painting by an artist of the Ecole d'Avignon. This masterpiece was restored in 1937 by workshops at the Louvre Museum.
The surrounding area of Mont Venasque is covered with endless cherry orchards. Les Monts de Venasque cherries are renowned for their luscious, sweet flavor. Be sure to sample the cherry desserts when in season.
About 30 kilometers east of Avignon in a picturesque valley, the little village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is well-known for its beautiful natural springs. Another claim to fame: the 14th-century Italian poet and humanist Petrarch lived here. Petrarch was born in Arezzo, Italy but took up residence in Avignon and later withdrew to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse to focus on his literary pursuits. The Musée Francesco Petrarca educates visitors about the life and literary works of Petrarch, known as the "Prince of Poets." The museum contains rare editions of manuscripts and a section devoted to poet René Char, also from Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. The other venerated local figure is Saint Véran, who was Bishop of Cavaillon in the 6th century. The 12th-century Romanesque church is devoted to Saint Véran, and the crypt houses the Saint's tomb. The town is also a vibrant community with a lively Provençal market held every Tuesday.
The Fontaine de Vaucluse is a resurgent spring at the foot of a limestone rock wall, with its source at the Sorgue River. The fresh-water spring is most impressive around April and May when melted snow increases water levels. Across from the river on a hilltop are the ruins of the château built by the Bishops of Cavaillon. Upwards into the narrowing valley, the river is fringed with ancient plane trees and rushes down in foaming cascades. Above a small spring is a tablet memorializing Petrarch and his beloved Laura, who features in many of his poems.
12 Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: The Venice of Provence
The calm, quiet atmosphere of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue comes as a welcome relief to tourists seeking relaxation. Originally a fishing village, the town sits on several canals of the Sorgue River and has an ambience reminiscent of Venice. Visitors enjoy wandering around the ancient winding streets and picturesque canals. Several historic mills are still seen along the canals, including those on the Avenue des 4 Otages, Place E. Char, and Place V. Hugo. The town's 17th-century church, the Collégiale Notre Dame des Anges, has a richly decorated interior and one of the finest Baroque art collections in Provence. Other noteworthy buildings are the 18th-century Hôtel Donadeë de Campredon on Rue Doctor Tallet and the Hôtel-Dieu (Hospital) on Place des Fr. Bruns with its lovely wrought-iron gate, gardens, chapel, and wood-paneled apothecary.
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is an appealing place for lovers of art, culture, and cuisine. The town has a traditional Provençal market on Thursdays and Sundays, and there are many top-notch antique shops (more than 300 antique specialists work here). Visitors should also savor the local gastronomy. For a truly gourmet meal, try the Michelin-star restaurant Le Vivier (800 Cours Fernande-Peyre), which overlooks the verdant Sorgue River banks. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is 17 kilometers from Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
A characteristic "village perché," Saumane-de-Vaucluse stands on a rocky hilltop at the entrance of the Monts de Vaucluse mountains. This typical Provençal village has a small Romanesque church, old stone buildings, fountains, and atmospheric cobblestone streets. Saumane is in the historic Comtat Venaissin, a county under the jurisdiction of the Counts of Toulouse until the 13th century, and later was under Papal rule. The grandiose 14th-century Château de Saumane was the palace of the cardinal and is a spectacular example of fortified architecture. From the vantage point of the village, the breathtaking views extend from the Sorgue Valley to the edge of the Vaucluse Plateau. The surrounding countryside is filled with oak trees, olive orchards, and aromatic "garigue" plants (Mediterranean scrubland). The prized truffle is also found in this landscape. Many hiking and jogging trails are in the area, and some pass by the quaint little hamlet of Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne.
Beaumes-de-Venise is a charming village (eight kilometers from Carpentras) that attracts many visitors during summer as well as winter because of its mild climate. Tourists will enjoy exploring the historic center of the village, with its église paroissiale, a beautiful 16th-century parish church, and typical Mediterranean red-tile roofed houses. The peaceful natural setting of Beaumes-de-Venise is another draw. Orchards and olive groves flourish in this sun-soaked landscape. There are many hiking trails for nature enthusiasts to take in the scenery.
Less than seven kilometers away from Beaumes-de-Venise is the tiny village of Suzette, which faces the Dentelles de Montmirail ("Mountains of Lace") and the foot of Saint-Amand Mountain. Nestled in this gorgeous countryside, Suzette offers amazing views of the Mont Ventoux, the Dentelles, and the plain of Vaison in Vaucluse.
The quaint hilltop village of Monieux stands amid the serenity of the Gorges de la Nesque. This wild landscape is distinguished by its dramatic rocky gorges, vine-covered hillsides, and fields that bloom with red poppies from April through June. Because Monieux lies on the southeastern side of Mont Ventoux facing east, the village enjoys beautiful sunrises. Below the village, the tranquil Nesque River meanders around the countryside before eventually rushing through the ravines of limestone rocks.
Tourists delight in strolling leisurely through the historic village with its winding lanes and picturesque 16th-century to 17th-century houses. Getting lost in the maze of old streets is a pleasant experience. Along the way, discover the medieval ramparts, the 12th-century Chapelle Saint-Roch, and the Eglise Saint-Pierre, a splendid 12th-century Romanesque church. There is even a museum dedicated to the regional truffles (Musée de la Truffe du Ventoux) that focuses on the cultural heritage and culinary art of this delicacy. Monieux also has interesting artistic shops and artisan boutiques. On the first Sunday of September, the village hosts an annual Fête Médiévale (Medieval Festival) honoring the town's medieval heritage.
16 Picturesque Valréas
An important city of the Papal states, Valréas has a rich heritage going back 1,000 years. Be sure to see the Eglise Notre-Dame de Nazareth, the 12th-century church which towers over the town. The picturesque village is listed as a "Ville Fleurie" ("Flowering Village") and is known as a "green" vacation destination because of the pristine nature sites nearby, including areas for hiking and fishing.
Less than six kilometers from Valréas is the village of Grillon, which was formerly part of the Papal territory of Avignon's Popes. The ancient feudal town is encircled by medieval ramparts, which feature two imposing towers. The village grew up around its château, which was built in the 12th century, and has an interesting church with a wrought-iron campanile and an octagonal stone spire.
17 The Hilltop Hamlet of Crillon le Brave
This tiny hilltop hamlet lies in the heart of Haut-Vaucluse about 35 miles from Avignon. Crillon le Brave has all the charm of a typical Provençal village perché, with vestiges of 16th-century ramparts and a château of medieval origin (updated in the 18th century). The Eglise Saint-Romain, a Romanesque church, and the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Conception in the château are also worth visiting. The main tourist draw of the Crillon le Brave is the idyllic village ambience and countryside setting.
Visitors will enjoy the gorgeous scenery while taking a stroll through the village or walking along the nature paths just outside of town. Cycling is another popular pastime in this area, the country roads offer the perfect backdrop for an invigorating ride. The village has a luxurious Relais & Châteaux property, the Hotel Crillon le Brave, with a style described as "rustic charm."
18 Panoramic Mountain Views from Séguret
In a picturesque setting about ten kilometers from Vaison-la-Romaine, this tiny town is listed as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" (Most Beautiful Villages of France). Séguret was built on the slopes of a hill, and the historic town is dominated by the ruins of its ancient château. Take the walking path leading up to the castle and enjoy the views from this vantage point. The panoramas sweep across the verdant vine-covered hills to the Dentelles de Montmirail, a mountain range with jagged ridges. Take time to explore the charming village, which has retained its medieval character. Wander the cobblestone streets and discover peaceful squares adorned with fountains. Admire the old houses with their typical Provençal red-tile roofs. Perfect for rest and relaxation, the village has several restaurants, three hotels, a bakery, café, and tea room.
19 Visan: Medieval Town of the Popes
Visan is another interesting historic town close to Vaison-la-Romaine, about 17 kilometers away. The territory of the Popes of Avignon in the 14th century, Visan is found in a beautiful setting of rolling hills overlooking a peaceful plain. The medieval town is characterized by winding streets from the medieval era as well as elegant mansions built from the Renaissance period to the late 18th century. The 14th-century parish church is dedicated to Saint Peter. Inside the church is the exquisite painting Our Lady of Sorrows by Nicolas Mignard in 1659. Visitors can see ruins of the village's old château sitting at a high point in town. From here, tourists will enjoy wonderful views of the surrounding countryside and nearby villages.
20 Luberon Natural Regional Park (Parc Naturel Régional du Lubéron)
A gorgeous piece of rural landscape in the Haut-Vaucluse, the Parc Naturel Régional du Lubéron is a UNESCO-listed nature reserve. The Lubéron is a rugged mountainous area based around the Montagne du Lubéron. The 120,000-hectare nature reserve encompasses mountains, green rolling hills, peaceful valleys, extensive farmlands, and orchards. The Lubéron is dotted with many medieval hilltop villages and historic towns, which are some of Provence's most charming, unspoiled tourist destinations. Scattered throughout the Lubéron are ancient "bories" huts. The centuries-old herdsmen's buildings were constructed from boulders without mortar.