The Vaucluse is the region which embodies most of what is associated with the Provence - from the lavender fields and vineyards to the majestic summit of Mont Ventoux, the mecca of cyclists with its back breaking climb of Tour de France fame. From Avignon with the Palace of the Popes to the perched villages of the Luberon and Haut Vaucluse. This is a prime area for outdoor activities, such as climbing, canoeing, swimming, spelunking, hang-gliding and ballooning.
But foremost this is hiking and cycling territory. There are over 3.500 km (2.200 miles) of marked hiking paths. The many small country roads with low traffic volume and the diversity of the geography offers something for every biker's skill level: flat country in the Rhône Valley, rolling hills further east and the steep climbs around the Dentelles de Montmirail and Mont Ventoux. After you have "roughed it out" during the day, you can relax in the evening, sitting outdoors under plane trees, a Provençal dinner on your table accompanied by a glass of excellent Côtes du Rhône.
The scenery is superb - ancient villages, vineyards, orchards, the Garrigue covered hills with their scent of juniper, sage, rosemary and wild thyme, the blue sky and the sweeping views over this lovely countryside. Above all the Vaucluse is fertile ground to find your dream hideaway lodgings, a wide array of self-catering vacation rentals is available as well as many B&Bs and country inns.
The name Vaucluse comes from the small village of Vaucluse, which today is called Fontaine de Vaucluse (east of Avignon). It is situated on the banks of the river Sorgue, the world's 5th most powerful spring. Vaucluse comes from the Latin vallis clausa (narrow valley). The Vaucluse was created in 1791 after the French Revolution, combining parts of the Bouches du Rhône to the south and the Drôme in the north and all of the Papal Territories as well as the Principauté de Orange lying in between these two. The Vaucluse has a population of roughly 530.000 constituting just 11% of the total population of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur Region. More than 50% of the population live in the Avignon metropolitan area and another 25% in and close to the towns of Orange, Carpentras, Cavaillon and Bollène. There is little industrial activity in the Vaucluse. Agriculture (fruit growing and wine), tourism and other service industries are predominant.
Here is a short overview of the different regions of the Vaucluse. For more detailed information click on the hyperlinks are take a look at the menu on the right column.
Avignon (pop. 290.000) is one of France's major tourist attractions and an important cultural center during the summer time, when the Festival d'Avignon draws thousands of visitors. The skyline is dominated by the magnificent Gothic Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes). The whole complex is quite impressive, the Rocher des Doms (Dome Rock), the Palais des Papes, Notre Dame des Doms (Dome Church), the St. Bénezet Bridge, the famous "Pont d'Avignon" and the ramparts. It has been recognized as a UNESCO "world heritage for humanity" site in the year 2000. Avignon is an easy place to visit as all tourist attractions are located "Intramuros", i.e. within the fortified medieval walls surrounding the old part of Avignon. Read more about it here.
East of Avignon lies one of the premier vacation areas in the Northern Provence, the Comtat Venaissin often referred to simply as the "Comtat". Together with Avignon the Comtat Venaissin constituted the Papal Territories in France. They were under Papal control long after the Popes had returned to Rome, over 500 years until the French Revolution in 1791. Highlights are the historic town of Carpentras, lovely l'Isle sur la Sorgue, the perched village of Venasque, Le Barroux on the southern slopes of Mt.Ventoux, the Nesque Gorges, the town of Sault and the many picturesque villages in between. You will find plenty of sunshine, clean air, blue skies, the scent of the Provençal garrigue and many hideaway type accommodations here.
The Haut Vaucluse, the Upper Vaucluse stretches from the river Rhône near Orange in the west to the Pre-Alpes around Vaison 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. Visit Vaison la Romaine with its Roman ruins, the medieval town and the lively Tuesday morning market. The wine villages of Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Cairanne and the perched villages of Séguret and Crestet. Hike or bike around the Dentelles de Montmirail and mighty Mt.Ventoux. To the north, separated from it, is the Enclave des Papes, the enclave of the popes, with its historic villages. Plenty to do here and lots of hideaway type lodgings.
The Luberon is France's answer to the Hamptons. A magnet for the café society and political and art-world scenesters who like to throw their money and celebrity around. But it is also the Provence of shrill cicadas, pulsing heat, friendly country folks and the Garrigue covered mountains of the Grand Luberon, the Petit Luberon and then Plateau de Vaucluse. A paradise for hikers, bikers and nature lovers. The land of the perched villages nestled on the hills of the Luberon and the Plateau du Vaucluse. Enjoy the clear blue skies, aromatic air and the wonderful Mediterranean flora and fauna. There are excellent hideaway lodgings here: B&Bs, country inns and many self-catering holiday rentals.
Orange 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. Not a place to look for hideaway type lodgings but a required stopover for the historically minded Provence aficionado and - during July and early August - for the opera buff.