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. Market day Thur.
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.