The Romans called it Vasio urbs opulentissia, the richest city of all, when Vaison-la-Romaine was a summer watering hole for the powerful commanders of its legions. After a turbulent interlude as the stronghold of rebel Counts, Vaison has once again become a fashionable resort, ideal for visiting some of the highlights of upper Provence. Its sophisticated shopping centre in a pedestrian area with bustling bars and brasseries is supplemented spectacularly every Tuesday morning by a vast market that takes over much of the town. Street after street is filled with little stalls offering a huge range of local produce, or piled high with chic clothing at temptingly low prices and an inexhaustible range of bric-a-brac.
At night the Roman amphitheatre, with its towering rows of seats, provides the perfect setting each summer for Vaison’s increasingly popular and prestigious music festival. Across the Roman bridge, rising high above the River Ouvèze, the medieval quarter of cosy squares and cramped houses leads to a menacing ruined castle. Those who make the tortuous climb to the top are rewarded by fine views of Mont Ventoux, at nearly six thousand feet the tallest peak in France between the Alps and the Pyrénées. A finely engineered road makes it possible to reach the summit of Mont Ventoux, or ‘windy mountain’, from Vaison in less than an hour. On a clear day, the scenery is quite breathtaking, from the azure Mediterranean coastline to the snow-capped peak of Mont Blanc. On the way up perspiring hikers and bikers often take a break at Brantes, a hamlet that seems on the brink of slipping down the hillside. Its frenetic café has endless supplies of tisane au champagne, a deceptively innocent-looking drink made from local lime blossom. A series of twisting roads out of Vaison encircle the Dentelles of Montmirail, the fabulous foothills of the Ventoux range, forced upright by great volcanic convulsions in the mists of time and honed as though into delicate points of lace by the wind and the weather. The lanes link a series of remote and picturesque perched villages, none smaller than Le Crestet, whose claustrophobic alleyways open into a Lilliputian square with twelfth century church and fountain.
To the southwest lies Séguret, whose quaint little houses are seemingly hewn out of the rock face. Its cobbled streets and ruined castle tempt many an aspiring artist in summer. More tempting still is La Table du Comtat, among the best restaurants in Provence, located high on the hill with wonderful views from its luxurious fifteenth century setting across the vineyards of the Rhône valley.
The fine wines of those vineyards can be sampled at nearby Sablet, whose curious streets run in concentric rings beneath its crumbling church; and especially at Gigondas, where a glass of house red available in the host of cellars around the main square is almost as smooth as its far more famous rival, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It does not take long to be swallowed up in the time warp of the delightful Provençal countryside.
Puymin Roman site
Medieval castle in old part and Mont Ventoux
The old town
© OT Vaison-la-Romaine