20 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in 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
Orange boasts some of the most impressive archaeological sites in France, most notably the UNESCO-listed Théâtre Antique (ancient Roman theater) that dates to the 1st century AD. The theater is incredibly well preserved, with rich decorations still intact on the back wall. The theater accommodates up to 7,000 people, evidence of the ancient city's size and the Romans' value of entertainment. Today, the Théâtre Antique continues to be used as an event venue. During the summer, music festival performances, called the Chorégies d'Orange (concerts and operas), are held at the ancient theater. Other exceptional classical-era monuments in Orange are the Arc de Triomphe, the 2nd-century triumphal arch dedicated to 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.
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 medieval fortress 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Orange
3 The Hilltop Village of Gordes
Listed as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" (Most Beautiful Villages of France), Gordes is a captivating hilltop village that looks like the scene of a postcard or painting. In fact, artists Victor Vasarély and Marc Chagall found inspiration for their art work here. Typical of an ancient "village perché" (perched village), Gordes stands dramatically on a steep slope that is difficult to access and provided protection from invasions during the Middle Ages. Dominating Gordes is the 16th-century Château de Gordes, which now 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.
Gordes is located 40 kilometers from Avignon, which takes about an hour by car. The best photo-op of Gordes is from the road leading up from Cavaillon. A few 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 the huts of herdsmen 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 Abbaye de Sénanque (five kilometers from the village of Gordes) is surrounded by fields of lavender flowers that become a profusion of vibrant purple when in full bloom, from July through the beginning of August. Founded in 1148 by the Cistercian monastery, the Abbey of Sénanque is still a working monastery for Cistercian monks. With its simple architecture, serene cloister, and exquisite gardens, the abbey was designed to promote the Cistercian concept of monastic living: seclusion, poverty and simplicity, prayer, and physical labor.
The abbey is open to the public but requires visitors to respect the quiet ambience of the place and abide by proper behavior and dress code. Visitors may walk around the abbey's exterior grounds, attend religious services, or participate in silent prayer at the church. To see the cloister, chapter hall, and dormitory rooms, visitors must take a guided tour (in French only; reservations are recommended).
Address: Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, 84220 Gordes
In a pastoral landscape at the foot of Mont Ventoux, Vaison-la-Romaine (30 kilometers from Orange) is distinguished as one of the "Plus Beaux Détours de France" ("Most Beautiful Detours in France). The town has a medieval section, with quaint cobblestone streets and old churches, but is most well known for its extensive ancient ruins, dating from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD, including two remarkable 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, an antiquities museum in the heart of the archaeological ruins that 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.
In the more "modern" area of town are the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Vaison-la-Romaine built between the 11th and 13th century, and the Jardin des Neuf Damoiselles (Garden of the Nine Damsels). Visitors can experience the local culture on Market Days held on Tuesday mornings on the main streets and squares of the town. 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. The ancient theater hosts large audiences for the Vaison Dance Festival in June and July and the Ancient Theater Week in July, as well as other concerts and entertaining shows throughout August. Les Floraisons Musicales music festival takes place in August at the Chapelle Saint-Quentin. The cultural events in Vaison-la-Romaine make it a worthy destination for at least a few nights.
Perched majestically on a hilltop, the hamlet of Grignan (34 kilometers from Vaison-la-Romaine and 37 kilometers from Orange )was founded in the 12th century as a small pastoral community. The fortified medieval village grew up around its castle, the Château de Grignan, which 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. Inspired by the acclaimed epistolary works of Madame de Sévigné, the Festival de la Correspondance (Festival of Letter Writing) takes place in July at the château and at other venues in Grignan. (In August, Les Soirées Musicales de Madame de Sévigné (musical festival) is held at an outdoor theater on the castle grounds.
The countryside around Grignan is a distinctly Mediterranean terrain of scrubland, oak trees, juniper, and lavender fields. Further afield, the woodlands in the foothills of the Alps provide a source of truffles, a sought-after delicacy used in the local cuisine. Also known as a "Village Botanique," Grignan is renowned for its rose gardens, planted along the castle walls and throughout the village (indicated by a series of signposts), that bloom in spring and summer with more than 150 different varieties of heirloom roses and English roses. On Tuesday mornings, Grignan has a traditional Provençal open-air market that draws many locals.
Nestled in the rolling hills of Vaucluse (16 kilometers away from Vaison-la-Romaine) in between the French Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, Nyons is listed as a "Plus Beaux Détours de France" (Most Beautiful Detours of France). Nyons is also classified as a "Site Remarquable du Goût" (Site Remarkable for Taste) because of its wonderful regional cuisine and Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (Appellation of Origin Controlled) olive oil produced from the "Tanche" black olive variety that grows in the local olive groves. Equally rich in history, Nyons 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 sensational views of the countryside.
Continue five 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 marché des producteurs (market of locally made products) held on Monday evenings from May through November. Another charming village near Nyons (14 kilometers to the south) is Saint-Romain-en-Viennois. This small medieval village stands on a promontory in the Côtes du Rhône's undulating landscape, 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.
A typical 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. Standing at the center of Carpentras is the Flamboyant Gothic Cathédrale Saint-Siffrein, built between 1406 and 1519. One of the cathedral's most unusual features is the South Doorway known as the Porte Juive (Jews' Gate), an ornate Gothic doorway designed as the entrance for Jews who wished to be baptized. Enter the cathedral to experience the breathtaking nave, a richly decorated sanctuary. Carpentras also has a historic synagogue (at the Place Maurice Charretier), the oldest Jewish house of worship in France that is still in use. Built in 1367 and restored in the 18th century, the synagogue features an ornate Baroque sanctuary, ritual baths (known as "mikvé"), and a kosher bakery. The synagogue is still in use today but is open to the public for visits Monday through Thursday and outside of Jewish holidays. In August, the synagogue hosts a Jewish Music Festival that attracts many locals and tourists.
Carpentras is also renowned 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. The Michelin-starred Restaurant le Saule Pleureur - Laurent Azoulay (145 Chemin de Beauregard) offers innovative gastronomic meals in the delightful 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. Annual Strawberry Festivals take place in Carpentras in early April and in the nearby village of Velleron (13 kilometers from Carpentras) in early May.
10 Medieval Venasque
The enchanting medieval perched village of Venasque (listed as one of France's "Most Beautiful Villages") is 11 kilometers southeast of Carpentras in the old "Comtat Venaissin" county, an especially scenic area of the Haut-Vaucluse countryside. The town's dramatic hilltop position proved to be virtually impregnable to invaders throughout the centuries. Today, the main draw of the location is the chance to admire superb views of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains and Mont Ventoux. In this awe-inspiring natural setting, the village is filled with fascinating religious buildings. The Baptistère has the distinction of being the oldest religious site in France. Built in the 6th century (and renovated in later centuries) on the site of an ancient Roman temple, the Baptistry is shaped like a Greek cross and decorated with arches featuring repurposed ancient columns. Also noteworthy is the 11th-century Eglise Notre-Dame de Venasque, a Romanesque church that possesses a celebrated Crucifixion painting that is considered a masterpiece. The work of an artist from the Ecole d'Avignon, the painting was restored in 1937 by workshops at the Louvre Museum.
The surrounding area of Mont Venasque is covered with endless cherry orchards. The particular variety of cherries that grows here, the "Monts de Venasque" has a registered trademark. The prized fruit is appreciated for its luscious, sweet flavor. Be sure to sample the cherry desserts when in season. One of the most enjoyable things to do while visiting Venasque is attend the Festival de la Cerise (cherry festival) that takes place in the town annually in June, featuring tastings, presentations of local products, culinary demonstrations, and a clafloutis (traditional cherry custard dessert) competition.
About 30 kilometers east of Avignon, in a lush valley, the little village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is well-known for its 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-Bibliothèque François Pétrarque 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. Another 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 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. There is a walking path leading up to the castle with sensational views from this vantage point. The panoramas sweep across the vine-covered hills to the Dentelles de Montmirail, a mountain range with jagged ridges. As a typical medieval perched village, Séguret has a distinctly old-world character. Visitors are delighted by the town's ancient Romanesque church, the old houses with Provençal red-tile roofs, and quiet squares adorned with fountains. Perfect for rest and relaxation, the village has atmospheric cobblestone streets with boutiques and art galleries. The town also has several excellent hotels, two restaurants, and a 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.
Other Interesting Places to Visit near the Haut-Vaucluse
The Haut-Vaucluse is an off-the-beaten-path corner of Provence, Southern France's most popular region. While many nearby towns in Provence (like Arles and Avignon) are packed with tourists during the high season, the Haut-Vaucluse is a peaceful countryside dotted with enchanting medieval villages that are relatively undiscovered. The Haut-Vaucluse is a landlocked region, but the Mediterranean Sea is within easy reach. It's a one-hour drive from Carpentras to the bustling seaside city of Marseilles, a 2.5-hour drive to the port town of Toulon, and just over a three-hour drive to the glamorous beach resort of Saint-Tropez. Also within two to three hours driving distance are many wonderful places in the French Alps, including the scenic lakeside town of Annecy with its fairy-tale ambience and the historic capital city of Grenoble, which is packed with cultural attractions. Farther north into the French Alps (a four-hour drive) is the iconic Mont Blanc, the highest mountain peak in Europe, and in its shadow, the traditional alpine village of Chamonix.