Distance from Isle sur la Sorgue : 3 km
Close to the Lubéron, Saumane is a typical peaceful Provencal village situated between Isle sur la Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse, dominating the valley of the Sorgue and offering magnificent views over the plains. Travel through typical villages perched on colourful hills topped with keeps, fortresses and Provencal churches. Visit the Isle sur la Sorgue run through by channels, a small Venice in the South and the place for artists and poets attracted by the richness of its cultural heritage. A stronghold of junk and antique sellers, the Isle sur la Sorgue draws in art lovers, collectors and tourists from all over the world searching for incomparable decorative or second hand objects of art.
A colourful region full of discovery. Make sure you don’t miss:
-Saumane and its narrow streets, fountains, stone houses, keep, ramparts -The Sénanque Abbey, Isle sur la Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Gordes, Roussillon, Avignon, the Lubéron, ochre quarries, Cavaillon, Provencal markets, prestigious wine cellars such as : Beaumes de Venise, Gigondas, Chatêauneuf du Pape and Mount Ventoux which dominates the whole region… and the famous « santons de provence » (ornamental figures),
Isle Sur du Sorgue is situated at the bottom of a series of limestone hills. The great water run-off terminates in some five rivers running through and around town. It is like a mini French Venice – a series of narrow winding watery streets crossed by bridges at every turn. The area was, at one time, I read, a prime silk producing region and the rivers and roads are lined with mulberry trees (silk worm food) and the river are cut by grand water wheels, vertically rotating slowly as the water pours over their algae-covered paddles. The streets are lined with the classic mediterranean houses with carefully tended flower-filled windowboxes. Where streets intersect there are fountains.
The countryside where our "gite rural" is located seems so orderly. As my mother notes, "The French may not take their politics too seriously, but they take their agriculture VERY seriously." (Good priorities!) Flying into Marseille you could look down on the well-organized fields lined with cypress trees or other natural "fences". Acre after acre of olive trees, blocks of tidy vineyards, rows of almond trees all in their order. And the food in this world, mon dieu! Bread and cheese seemed to have been made minutes prior, the brined black olives – so garlic-y and salty. We walked along the streets looking in the windows and every type of produce we saw seems too beautiful to be real. Mom has stocked the kitchen in the gite and we take to cooking our own meals. The food is plentiful, inexpensive and wonderful and since eating out is outrageously expensive, ‘in’ is best!
The buildings are small, lightly painted, and although somewhat humble, they are beautiful. The window shutters are painted sweet muted tones that blend with the floral landscapes around them. The fabrics produced in the region are lovely, bright, primary bases (yellow, red, and blue) with wild brilliant decorative floral designs over them.
Anyway, today we are heading to Arles, the home for many years of both Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Any Van Gogh fan will tell you that much of his most well known works were painted in and around Arles. Besides the art history in Arles, it is also a city of Romans. On our route we stop in the little town of Chateaurenard (located on the banks of the Durance River) where we climbed any steps to the base of a 15th century feudal castle. As with most ruins, only a partially complete foundation and two towers remain. It was here, the legend goes, that the feudal lord who controlled the area and who had fallen on hard times, sold his daughter’s soul to the devil. Nice folks, those medieval men.
Thursday, April 27 – Fountaine de Vaucluse, Gordes, Roussillon…
After a delightful morning in the l’Isle Sur la Sorgue open air market (watching the women at the fish stand teasing the produce guy in the next stall, and ogling the honeys, herbs, and fresh fruit), we are off to the fountain (which is not really a fountain!). This is an amazing resurgent spring as the base (middle?) of the Vaucluse mountains north of the Luberon range (get out that Atlas). The guidebooks call it the most powerful resurgent spring in the world. One has written, "…the outlet of an important underground river fed by rainwater and draining through the Vaucluse Plateau pitted with numerous chasms, through which speleologists have searched in vain for the source [of the underground river]. Exploration began as early as the 19th c. and continues today." Apparently even Jacques Cousteau failed in his attempts to locate the source.
The other story surrounding Fountaine de Vaucluse is that of the famous poet, Petrarch. It was here, apparently, that he lived for many years suffering the unrequited love of the famous, ‘Laura’, who supposedly inspired much of his work.
We walk up a small hill to view this spring-fountain. It is amazing to me, the freedom with which the tourists (anyone, really) can literally dip a toe in the water. In the States something like this would have been fenced in and they’d charge a hefty fee to look and see – forget getting near it. When my folks were here a week ago, the pool was very low, relatively empty. After a week of rain however, the water reached the level of the fig trees growing in the rocks above the cave mouth before racing over the rocks in a green fury of foamy waters. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The water was so high that there was no cave visible. The eddies of water raced in almost flat circles and appeared to be churning magically out of the wall of rock. This is the water that we eventually see flowing over the big slow waterwheels in our own Isle Sur Sorgue.
Now we're getting some hills. After a breakfast of pastry from the local patisserie, we head east toward Fountaine du Vaucluse. This little town is noted for an enormous spring that gives rise to the river Sorgue. The spring pours out from the base of a tall cliff that marks the western edge of the Luberon plateau, one of the dominant landforms in Provence. The town is a frank tourist trap, rife with t-shirt shops and the like, but the natural setting is so beautiful all is forgiven. The walk to the spring is worth doing for the sight of a considerable volume of water appearing from nowhere. The first bit of the river is a steep torrent, and as a whitewater paddler, I was looking for routes in my minds eye. Leaving there in late morning we headed southeast into the Luberon country, beginning almost immediately with a very stiff climb. It got very steep near the top and actually reduced us to walking for a few yards at the end, more because I was concerned about my knee than anything else. A bit of rolling terrain brought us to a lovely little roadside picnic area with some nice views over the countryside. We enjoyed what was now becoming our standard picnic lunch of goat cheese, bread, fruit and olives. After lunch, on to Gordes. Arriving there after a long climb on a moderately busy road, we settled to a citron presse (lemonade) in the cafe in the square. Gordes fully deserves its reputation as one of the most picturesque of the Provencal hill towns.