Vaucluse (84800) Population: 580 Altitude: 80 m
Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is a medieval village tucked in a "closed valley" at the southwestern corner of the mountainous Plateau de Vaucluse, 25 km east of Avignon. We have some complaints about the village being touristic, but it is ancient, it's interesting, and it's worth a visit. A key feature of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is the truly amazing and unique sight of a river gushing up out of the ground.
The heart of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse village is centered around a beautiful greenish-blue pool of the newly born Sorgue river (top photo). There's also a true village square, Place de la Colonne (photo, left), with its namesake Petrarch Column and the Town Hall (Mairie).
Petrarch. The tall, marble column was erected in 1804, in honor of the 14th-century Italian poet Petrarch. Among his many achievements, Petrarch discovered a collection of Cicero's letters, and is said to be the "first tourist". His family moved to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse when he was nine; he lived here, sometimes off and on, for fifteen years. One of his works is an account of his recreational climb of Mont Ventoux. Petrarch spent a lot of time in
Avignon, and studied law at the University of Montpellier.
At the base of high, rocky cliffs, a deep pool of seemingly still water is actually a full-fledged river gushing up out of the depths. A few meters from this pool, the white water rapids crash down over black rocks, giving away the truth of the "still waters" of the source of the Sorgue river. Below the rapids, the river settles down to a wide expanse in front of dams and waterwheels, passing under the bridge at the center of the village, and then flowing on downstream as a lovely river (photo above).
The source pool is fed by collective rainfall in the Plateau de Vaucluse. If the season is dry, there won't be much water, but at a maximum this source produces water at an amazing 200 cubic meters a second, making it one of the most powerful resurgent springs in the world! Speleologists have searched, futilely for the source of the spring. In 1878 a descent of 23 m was made into the pool. As late as 1985, a small robot submarine went down 315 m, and still no bottom. Most recently, colored dye has been used to prove that the source originates somewhere high up on the Plateau de Vaucluse, flowing 20-30 km thorough rocky underground passages before it arrives at the still-looking pool.
Dragon of the Pool
Long before the speleologists could venture into the pool, there resided a Coulobre, a fantastic creature like a Drac or Dragon, that haunted the pool. In the 6th century, Saint Véran, then the Bishop of Cavaillon, chased away the creature, which flew up over the Alps, crashing to its death at the village of St Véran. There, an stone image of the creature supports a pillar at the front of the St Véran village church.
One of the attractions in the village is a paper mill. Now a site for tourists to visit, this was a driving industrial force here from the 15th century.
The banks of the river are lined with overhanging trees, parks, houses with lovely gardens, a few old factories and mills, and usually a scattering of fishermen. Just downstream from the village is the high, multi-arched 19th-century Aqueduct de Galas.
We found the many souvenir shops gave the village too much on the touristic feeling, but we recognize that the shops are a welcome source of presents for many visitors.
A comment from Beyond reader Marylin is: For shoppers keen for original souvenirs or presents, in the little boutiques lining the river and the covered long arcade "Vallis Clausa" which many tourists don't even realize is there, there is plenty of variety on which to feast the eye.
There are a lot of restaurants and cafés in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, many with terraces beside the beautiful green-blue river flowing past. True, most are of the "tourist class", but prices are reasonable and the quality is generally very good.
Continuing Beyond reader Marylin's comments: or gourmets, in the core centre of Fontaine whilst maintaining their essentially Provençale nature there are restaurants to appeal to every taste even fast foods if such be the choice.
We dislike having to pay to park anywhere in or near a Provencal village, and that's the case here . All parking, anywhere, including the dirt lots on the roads out of town, cost you. It's one of the very few places in France where you can't even stop without paying (another is the very popular village of Roussillon).
As much as we dislike this "feature", there are arguments for having pay-parking in the summer. Whether the arguments are reasons or excuses depends on your point of view. In any case, the cost isn't great, and you (now) know what to expect.
Another downside to this popular village is that, in the summer, it's packed with wall-to-wall visitors. This is an unfortunate, but understandable, result of its popularity.
History of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
First record, 1034: Vallis Clausa (for "closed valley")
Named Vaucluse-la-Fontaine until 1946
Prehistoric: there are still signs of prehistoric occupation.
Gallo-Roman: the old canal you can see along the left bank of the river, just below the rapids, was built by Constantine in the 4th century. Many Roman artifacts still remain, including columns. The castle ruins lurking on the rocks above the river are on the site of a 7th-century-BC oppidum; it was fortified and used during the late Roman period.
Medieval: the commune belonged to the fief of the Counts of Toulouse. The village was pillaged and abandoned in the 14th century.
Tel : 04 90 20 32 22; Fax: 04 90 20 21 37
Market day: Thur.
Mar (Easter Mon) - Easter Fête
May (Pentecôte Mon) - Pentecost Fête
July (Last 3 weeks) - Festival de la Sorgue: last three weeks of July
• GPS: 43.921708, 5.126204
The GR6, GR91 and GR97 (Grande Randonnée) trails pass through or beside Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
• To the south, the GR97-6 goes through forested hills between Lagnes and Cahrières-de-Avignon, crosses the farmlands of the Calavon river valley, and joins the many trails in the Luberon mountains.
• North out of the village, the GR91 crosses over the western end of the Plateau de Vaucluse, passing a maze of local hiking trails, and follows the edge of the plateau up past Venasque and Methamis before splitting into branches that go into the Gorges de la Nesque or the Ventoux mountains.
• To access the GR97-6 (GR6) that goes northeast onto the Plateau de Vaucluse and then east past Gordes, Roussillon and St. Saturnin-lès-Apt, follow the little D100a road south (direction Lagnes), about 300 m past the cemetery. There's an area to park, past the Auberge de Jeunesse, on your left. (This is also the start of the 4-hr loop hike, below.)
• Mur de la Peste (4 hr). For a nice 4-hr loop hike, follow the GR6 up the Vallon de la Font de l'Oule to the top (615 m), follow the dirt road alongside the Mur de la Peste south to the citerne #122 (water storage), turn right and follow the GR6 back down a wooded river valley to the road, and follow the road back down to your starting point. The hike up is long and exposed, so not great for a July-August mid-day start. At the top, you can hike along side a couple of km of the 18th-century Mur de la Peste. On the way back down, there's a wooden information board with map beside the citerne. The wooden map isn't clear, and the GR6 northwest isn't marked very well. Turn right (with the citerne on your left) and follow the trail down the narrow valley back to the road; it's a beautiful part of the hike.
There are seven museums in the village. Reader Marilyn tells us:
most of which are extremely original & in many cases, it would be hard to find anything at all similar elsewhere. Students of history, literature, folklore, geology & early technology will all find something of interest.
Cristallerie des Papes
- Usine des Prés
- Tel: (33) 04 90 20 32 52; Fax: (33) 04 90 20 20 16
- Glass-blowing: mouth blown crystal (cristal soufflé bouche), workshop and museum - you can watch them work. Factory shop on the premises.
- Email: email@example.com
- Web: perso.libertysurf.fr/cristallerie-des-papes
- The history museum, on the walk between the village and the source, displays French and local history from the war years of 1939-1945.
- Le Monde Souterrain de Norber Casteret (The Underground World of...), is in an underground gallery on the walk between the village and the source. It has displays of speleology, caves and caverns, including information on the underground expeditions made looking for the source of the river Sorgue.
- This museum in the center of the village is for the 14th-century Italian poet Francesco de Petrarca (1304-74), who lived in a house at this same site.
Historical Justice and Punishment Museum (closed)
- The "Musée Historique de la Justice et des Châtiments" exhibits implements of "justice", including a genuine Guillotine.
- We're told this museum is now closed. It was dedicated to the history of torture and execution, established by a village resident who is the last surviving French Guillotinist. One of his three parrots (Marilyn tells us), chants the Marseillaise and the Red Flag, and shouts out execution orders.
Santon Museum - Le Musée du Santon
- Over 2000 santons on display, in provencal villages, and 39 of them in walnut shells.
- Location: Place de la colonne
- Open: Daily, 10h-18h
- Tel: 0490 202 083; Fax: 0490 22 36 62
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web: www.musee-du-santon.org
Avignon - Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Bus 6
- Vaucluse bus line connects Avignon, Morières, Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne, Le Thor, L'Isle-sur-La-Sorgue.
A more limited service is also provided between L'Isle-sur-La-Sorgue, Saumane-de-Vaucluse, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Lagnes, and Coustellet.
The trip between Avignon and L'Isle-sur-La-Sorgue is about 50 minutes.
See Beyond's Bus Schedules Page 02: Vaucluse Department for downloading Vaucluse bus-lines map and schedules (link for PDF files).
Department 84, Vaucluse Buses
- See Beyond's Bus Schedules Page 2: Vaucluse Department for downloading Vaucluse bus-lines map [Plan global des lignes] and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).
• Avignon has train or bus connections to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nîmes, Saint Remy-de-Provence, Paris.
• Cavaillon has bus connections to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Saint Remy-de-Provence.
• Pertuis has bus connections to Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.