The Haut Vaucluse, the Upper Vaucluse stretches from the river Rhône near Orange in the west to the Pre-Alpes around Vasion la Romaine in the east. Often compared to the Napa Valley, it has consistently been rated as one of the top vacation areas, where nature, outdoor activities, history, gourmet food and excellent wines create a unique environment. You find a wide selection of hideway lodgings here, from simple to very luxurious. The numerous small villages and the ancient towns offer many attractions - historical sites, outdoor activities, gourmet restaurants and a lot of wine. This is the heart of the Southern Côte du Rhône wine region with famous wine villages like Châteauneuf du Pape, Cairanne, Rasteau, Roaix and Seguret.
Historically most of this region belonged to the Papal Territories in France for over 500 years until the French Revolution in 1791. Exception was the Principauté d'Orange, comprising the town of Orange and a swath of land stretching east to Mt.Ventoux including the villages of Gigondas and Beaumes de Venise. It was independent from France and ruled by a succession of noble families since the 12th century. The last ones were the Princes of Nassau-Dillenburg, who as Princes of Orange and later kings of Holland ruled the Principauté for 100 years until 1713 when it was incorporated by force into France.
Draw a line from the midpoint of Avignon - Orange east to Mont Ventoux. The part of the Vaucluse lying north of this line is the Haut Vaucluse. To the north it borders on the Drôme Provençale, a part of the Rhône-Alpes region. Separated by the Haut Vaucluse by just a couple of kilometres is the Enclave des Papes, a historic oddity but part of the Haut Vaucluse.
Here is a short description of the towns and villages we recommend in the area (in alphabetical order):
A small village, well known for its olive oil and muscat wine. The name "beaume" means cave and "venise" comes from Comtat Venaissin. The Caves of Venaissin - just in case you are curious about the village's name. Visit the wine cooperative (on Rt.D7) and the olive oil cooperative, la Balméenne (in the village center) with its old oil presses. Marvel at the monument on the roundabout in socialist realism style. The Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is one of the best natural sweet wines you will find, much appreciated in France and abroad. A little side trip on Rt.D90 takes you North to Lafare, a most picturesque trip to discover the Dentelles de Montmirail. Lots of marked hiking paths. The La Salle Gorge with its salt stream is 1 km North of Lafare (take the small road left in the village). Suzette is a tiny village, a major producer of apricots - a wonderful quiet location.
On your way to Vacqueyras you will see on the right side Chapelle Notre Dame d'Aubune, a Romanesque church from the 12th century with a notable collection of sarcophagi from early Christian times.
A busy town (pop 14.300) with lots of industry, shopping centers and public housing on the outskirts. The historic town center has a number of interesting buildings: Collégial St. Martin church, Place Reynaude de la Gardette with the 19th century Hotel de Ville (town hall). Overall not a place where you should look for hideaway lodgings, but good for shopping.
Bollène has one outstanding tourist attraction: Le Village Troglodyte du Barry, one of the best troglodyte villages in France. It is located 5km south of Bollène on a hill and was inhabited continuously from Neolithic times until the early 20th century. Definitely worth a visit!
Driving from Vaison la Romaine to Bollène you will pass by Buisson, a tiny village on a hill overlooking the Aigues river. The Knights Templars of Roaix built a Commanderie here in the 12th century. Buisson is nestled around the 17th century Eglise Notre-Dame and there are many neatly restored village houses, tiny alleys and fountains. There are a few remnants of the Knights Templar ramparts, the campanile with its papal coat of arms and a fortified gate.
Châteauneuf du Pape is best known for its outstanding red wine, the famous A.O.C. Châteauneuf du Pape. This is one of the few areas on the busy sector between Orange and Avignon which has retained its charm and tranquility. From the river Rhône endless vineyards stretch east over gently rolling hills. The Châteauneuf du Pape terroir ........ read more about it here.
Cairanne is a well known wine village of the Southern Côtes du Rhône just 15km southeast of Vaison la Romaine. What makes it really noteworthy is the Vieux Village, the old village on top of the hill, with well preserved Knights Hospitallers (Maltese Knights) fortifications dating back to the 12th century ....... read more about it here.
This is a tiny gem, virtually unknown, one of the most beautiful perched villages in the Provence. A veritable old stone village! Situated on the northern edge of the Dentelles de Montmirail it can only be explored by foot. Start from the top near the castle entrance ....... read more about it here.
This 8 km ridge at the Western foothills of Mt.Ventoux, its name (dentelles means "lace" and Montmirail is a small village at its foothills, close to Vacqueyras) refers to the dramatically jagged shape of the peaks, formed by horizontal strata of Jurassic limestone being folded and forced into a nearly upright position and subsequently eroded into sharp-edged ridges and spikes. The highest peak of the Dentelles is St.Amand, at 734 m (2,400 ft). The Dentelles de Montmirail are a paradise for hiking and rock climbing.
The Enclave of the Popes belongs to the Provence, albeit located in the Departement Drôme, separated from the Provence proper by roughly 2.5 km at the closest point. Its four towns have a rich history - we recommend to visit ....... read more about it here.
The name derives from the Latin "Intercallis" which simply means intersections, as several pathways and rivers (Ouvèze, Toulourenc, Aigue Marce) connect here. The landscape is a perfect transition between the plains and the Mt.Ventoux. This area has been inhabited since neolithic times. The castle was first property of the Counts of Toulouse, adversaries of the Bishop of Vaison la Romaine and later of the Pope. View three restored chapels dating from the 9th to 11th centuries and a bridge from the Romanesque era, nevertheless called Pont Roman by the locals. The village produces an excellent Côte du Ventoux.
Historic village (pop. 380), the name means "peregrine"; a favorite spot of vacationers and second home owners. It is in that small western part of Les Baronnies, which today belongs to the Vaucluse, a department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Region. Remnants of the old ramparts and lots of nice village houses on Rue du Portailand, Rue de la Pusterle and Place des Tilleuls. Why is it so popular? It is has a very well preserved medieval architecture, it's peaceful and has one of the best views to Mt.Ventoux. There is not a lot of infrastructure here, but you are quite close to Vaison la Romaine. During the summer there is a Provençal market every Wednesday and Saturday.
Tiny village between Ste.Cécile les Vignes and Uchaux, the ancient "Castrum Garde Pareoli", founded as an oupost of the Knights Templars from Richerenches. Located on a hill facing east with magnificent views over the Plan de Dieu vineyards with Mt.Ventox and the Dentelles de Montmirail as a backdrop. Immaculately restored stone village houses, the 17/18th century Église St. Antoine and the 19th century statue of Notre Dame de la Garde - a pleasant and tranquil place to spend a vacation. The Bois de la Montagne forest has botanical trails leading to the neighbouring Sérignan du Comtat and Uchaux.
Historic wine village on the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail. In terms of Southern Côtes du Rhône wine the undisputed No.2 after Châteauneuf du Pape. It was settled by the Romans over 2000 years ago. The name comes from "Jocunditas" which signifies joy and pleasure. This you will undoubtedly experience after tasting its wine and perhaps have a meal at l'Oustalet sitting under plane trees on the market square. Ste.Catherine d'Alexandrie, the village church, dates from the 11th century. Rebuilt in the beginning of the 19th century it has an elegant façade, an 18th century clock tower with the typical Provençal wrought iron cupola and an elaborate sundial. You will find many renovated stone village houses. Walk the narrow streets up to the ruins of the château. Before you reach the village entrance take the left road (the last part is unpaved) leading to the Western slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail. You will pass by the 11/12th century Chapelle Sts.Côme et Damien. The dirt road ends at the Col du Cayron, where 4 - 5 foot paths cross. Walk approx. 1.5 km on the forest road West to the Belvedere du Rocher du Midi (468m high). You will be rewarded with an outstanding panoramic view of the Rhône Valley, the Cevennes, Alpilles and Luberon. The area east of Gigondas is great for hiking. You can get a map of the numerous marked hiking paths at the tourist office in Gigondas.
The village, the northern gateway to Mt.Ventoux, is nestled in concentric rings around the old fortress, of which very little remains except for two gates, the Porte du Roux and the Porte Soubeyran. View also the clock tower (1539) and a traditional lavoir (public wash house) with an unusual round design. Remarkable is l'Eglise St.Michel et St.Pierre, constructed in the 14th century by orders of Pope Clement V. It was originally part of the ramparts defense hence the fortress like appearance. The church was enlarged in the 15th and 16th century, remodelled in the 18th century by the son of the painter Nicolas Mignard with the trompe d'oeil added in the 19th century. Inside is a beautiful gold gilded wooden organ and a carved pulpit. Malaucène's is easygoing, the plane shaded main street with its cafès and restaurants, the Boule games on the main square. From nearly everywhere in Malaucène you have panoramic views of Mt.Ventoux.
Orange, population 28.000, possesses what is probably the best preserved Roman theatre in Europe, and an imposing Roman triumphal arch, both built during the reign of Augustus. They were listed in 1981 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. There is a beautiful 19th century theatre .............. read more about it here
The village (pop.650), not far from Vaison la Romaine, is perched on a hill with the ruins of the château on top. It is surrounded by beautiful countryside, lavender fields, vineyards, olive trees and has great views to Mont Ventoux. Walk the narrow alleys and discover the belfry, the Sabrun gate and many beautiful old stone houses. There is some basic infrastructure in the lower village (bakery, grocery, café). A quiet village close to bustling Vaison la Romaine, a great place to stay and explore the Southern Côtes du Rhône wine villages to the West and the rugged Baronnies to the East.
A historic wine village producing a highly regarded Côte du Rhône Village. A specialty here are the Vin Doux Naturels (sweet red and white wines), which goes very well with melon and ham as well as desserts. The "Nuit du Vin Doux" on the night of August 14 brings together over 10.000 people every year. Park the car at the main square and walk up the hill, on narrow cobblestoned alleys until you reach the ruins of the château and the medieval Église de St.Didier. Walking back to the main square, take the alleys on the Western side and you will pass by a picturesque belfry.
Like Rasteau and Cairanne, its neighbors further southwest, Roaix offers splendid views over the Ouvèze Valley with Mt.Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail behind. The Knights Templar established a Commanderie here in the 12th century, albeit only a few remnants are left. The small château was built on the foundations of one of the Commanderie's buildings during the middle ages. It was owned by a succession local nobles, who were vassals of the Pope. After the revolution it fell into disrepair but was restored in the 1930's. In 1964 it was sold and now has an American proprietor. The main business in Roaix is wine, which carries the Côtes du Rhône Village Roaix label.
A nearly perfectly cone shaped village on a hill on the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail, with the church's clock tower at its highest point. Part of the ramparts have been restored and there are many neat stone village houses. There is an annual book festival at the end of July.
One of the most beautiful medieval villages in France, full of day tourists during the summer season. On top of the hill are the ruins of a 13th century château of the Popes in Avignon. Lots of art galleries, some souvenir shops and a few excellent restaurants. Park the car below the village entrance and walk up to the Porte Reynier, a 14th century belfry with its one handed clock from the 17th century. Going up the narrow cobblestoned alley you will reach the Fontaine à Mascarons (fountain with masks). A further attraction is the 10th century church of St.Denis with its Romanesque nave. During the summer time the church warden will give you a wonderful detailed tour of this little church (in French). Noteworthy also the Chapelle des Pénitents Ste.Thècle (18th century) and the Chapelle Notre Dame des Grâces (1636). Most of the houses in the old village are vacation properties owned by out-of-towners and a few local artists. During Christmas time the Cacho Fio ceremony takes place, a ritual lighting of the Christmas log.
The famous French botanist Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915) put Sérignan on the map for French school children and botanic aficionados. He moved here in 1879. His house "l'Harmas" is now a museum showing his drawings, books, herbs, minerals, insects and fossils. The botanical garden next to it has 800 different plant species. Sérignan is a charming village, old stone houses, 18th century Église St.Etienne with its Italianate Baroque façade and the elaborate village clock next to it. In front of the church the statue of Jean Henri Fabre, sitting there with his walking stick in his hand. This is a village which always has drawn artists. The German painter Werner Lichtner Aix (1939-87) lived here. His studio is now a museum exhibiting many of his works.
A lively village in the middle of Côtes du Rhône vineyards with an exceptionally nice Saturday morning market. More intimate than the ones in Vaison La Romaine or Carpentras and with lots of locals buying their victuals there. Sit in one of the cafés, do some people watching and enjoy life. The village's origin goes back to the 12th century. The rectangular Tour de l'Horloge (Clock Tower) dates from 1380. Visit the Cave Chantecôtes, the wine store of the local cooperative. The wine tasting takes place in a cellar dating from 1370! They have done a nice job renovating the plane tree shaded Cours du Portalet where the 19th century Ste.Cécile church stands.
Uchaux is an agglomeration of small hamlets surrounded by forests and vineyards. The hamlet of La Galle is the commercial center with shops and a restaurant. Le Castellas is the oldest part , with ruins of a château. A botanical nature trail leads to neighboring La Garde Paréol. A pleasant area to spend your vacation. The Château St.Estève d'Uchaux, originally a silkworm farm, ranks consistently amongst the top wine producers in the Southern Côtes du Rhône. They host the Liszt en Provence classical concert series in July each year.
Like Sablet a circular village grouped around the village church and the château. Walk through its narrow streets and take a look at the neatly restored village houses, the 14/16th century ramparts with six defensive towers and the 14th century château. Église St. Barthélemy, the village church, dates from 1650. A 12th century Knights Templar watch tower was transformed into an elegant bell tower. The village was the home of the 12th century troubadour and crusader Raimbaud de Vacqueyras, who had been all but forgotten until a sentimental novel was written in the 1920's fictionalizing him in a Provence version of Romeo and Julia. Vacqueyras produces excellent Southern Côtes du Rhône wines under the label A.O.C.Vacqueyras.
On the road to Sarrians is the Espace Botanique Coste de Coa, a local botanical garden. On 13ha (32acres) the typical vegetation of the Provence is shown. Guided tours are available, check with the garden for opening times (Tel: 04 90 12 39 02).
Vaison la Romaine is a must see town when visiting the Northern Provence. The Puymin and La Villasse archeological sites, right in the middle of the town, are one of the most important Roman heritage sites in France. Other notable sights are the Roman Bridge spanning the river Ouvèze, the medieval town and castle ruins on the cliffs of ........ read more about it here.
The name of this charming village probably comes from Roman agricultural estates called "villas" and ceremonies which took place in honor of their "deis" or gods. Hence the the name "Villa Dei". It is a bit off the beaten track which makes it especially worthwhile. The village was a Knights Templars settlement, similar to neighboring Buisson and Roaix. Walk the small alleys and visit the medieval ramparts, the belfry and the 12th century church.