The Riverside Villages of Luberon in Provence
The Luberon (pronounced Loo-ba-hon) is a protected mountainous region in the south east of France, filled with charming villages, some on riversides and some on mountain tops.
The British author Peter Mayle made these villages of Luberon famous through his best sellers like "A Year in Provence”, “A Good Year”, and “Hotel Pastis”.
The Luberon villages are accessible from the cities of Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles easily by drive. Some of the villages however, are connected by bus and train.
A Provencal Market at L’Isle sur la Sorgue
L’Isle sur la Sorgue is arguably the most picturesque riverside village in the Luberon valley. As the name suggests, the village is an island on the river Sorgue after a fork, on its way from the spring at Fontaine du Vaucluse. The village is accessible from Avignon by bus and train. The bus takes about 45 minutes and they run once every hour, while the train takes about 30 minutes but is less frequent.
Numerous canals from the river Sorgue flow through the village, giving it the name “Venice of Provence”. While the sobriquet is undoubtedly overstated, the canals do give a unique charm to the village. There are three large water wheels on the canals surrounding the villages. These water wheels have been in existence for atleast 600 years according to the locals. This water system made this village a textile hub during Avignon’s flourishing periods.
This largely quiet village comes alive every Thursday and Sundays when the market is in full bloom. While the Sunday market can be a little touristy, the Thursday market is more local, more Provencal. Typically, the market features clothes from the local textile makers, crafts, antiques, art and produce.
The fresh produce on sale in the market is an absolutely fantastic assortment of fruits, vegetables, spices and wine. An olive stall featured in the photo below featured a range of varieties from fresh green and black olives to olives stuffed with pepper or garlic or other spices. Grab a packet of assorted olives and munch on them for a fresh, healthy and delicious evening snack.
Grabbing a crepe and a coffee in one of the many cafes by the canals is a great way watch the frenzy in the market and experience the Provencal life at its best. There is a lovely little park on the banks of one of the canals by the side of the village, which is great for picnics and one would find a lot of young people from the nearby villages who come to visit the market spend their afternoons relaxing by the water after a shopping session in the morning.
Fontaine du Vaucluse
A few kilometres north of L’Isle sur la Sorgue lies the source of the river Sorgue, in the village of Fontaine du Vaucluse. The buses from Avignon to L’Isle sur la Sorgue continue up to Fontaine du Vaucluse, which is the final destination on this route. However, this village is not connected by train.
About 5 minutes walk from the bus stop is the start of the short hike up to spring. This part of the village is the place supporting the local tourism industry. Filled with restaurants, cafes, ice cream vendors, and souvenir shops, it is inevitably teeming with tourists in the summer. A lazy lunch in one of these restaurants by the river is a refreshingly relaxing after a busy morning in the market at L’Isle sur la Sorgue.
The hike leading unto the spring in the hills where the river Sorgue originates, is reasonably light exercise that is easily accomplished by the laziest of tourists. The climb down from hills to the spring is a little more tricky that not everyone ventures down. But it is definitely worth the careful trek down, and one will find that closer to the spring, it is refreshingly cool, even on a hot summer day. On the way back from the spring to the bus stop, grab a scoop of local ice cream to feel a bit more special…
L’Isle sur la Sorgue and Fontaine du Vaucluse together make a great day trip from Avignon to the riverside Luberon villages on a summer market Thursday.