Vaucluse (84600) Population: 9,771 Altitude: 276 m
This is an ancient walled town in the northern "bubble" (the Pope's Enclave) of Beyond's Vaucluse, with two concentric circles of protective buildings. The outer "walls" of Valréas are circled by the roads, allowing you to drive completely around the town, with historic fortified gateways leading into the center of the the old town. An inner ring of circling streets, mainly the Grande Rue, is centered on the Tour Ripart, beside the Place Pie and the imposing Notre-Dame-de-Nazereth church.
Valréas is a great town for visiting, with a large number of picturesque medieval-narrow streets for wandering and many wonderful sites and things to discover. Magnificent church, medieval towers, buildings and walls, of course, but also low-arched vaulted passages, stone step-streets, and some lovely old doorways of carved stone.
Valréas is located on a low hill overlooking the valley of the Coronne, but it's not high enough to afford a view of the surrounding countryside.
Town of Walls
The town center, with the Chateau Ripert (now just the Tour Ripert) and the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs was inside the original walled enclosure. Only about 90 meters in diameter, this first wall was earth with a wooden palisade.
In the 12th century, a new, much-larger, protective wall was built. About 200 m diameter, this walled enclosure included the chateau and the church, and is marked today by the Grande Rue, and Rue Louis Pasteur and the Place Aristide Briand. There were five fortified doorways through the circling walls, the remains of some shown in our Beyond photos.
Over the following centuries a town built up outside the walls, and in the 14th century, on the orders of Pope Innocent VI, a new protective wall was started. This outer wall is marked today by the ring of walled houses circled by the ring road around Valréas. The new wall was 1400 m long, and pierced by six ports and 13 towers. The walled town at this time included Valréas' Chateau Ripert, Chateau Dauphin and Chateau Saint-Jean. It wasn't a fast construction job, taking until 1620 to complete the walls and towers.
After two and a half centuries of progressive construction, the walls were relevant for less than one century. In 1835, most of the walls and towers were torn down and sold off piece by piece, with only the Tour Tivoli remaining of the guard towers. And, in spite of the fine construction, the walls didn't prevent the town from being pillaged a few times, and ravaged by the Wars of Religion.
The 12th-century église Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth is quite spectacular. Beyond especially liked the complex roofs and facades. Inside is an organ from 1506.
The Chateau de Simiane, built in 1446, now serves as Valréas' town hall (l'hôtel de ville), exhibition center, and houses a fabulous collection of rare books. Beyond's photo of the Chateau de Simiane shows it with Cesar's "puce" on display.
The Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, built in 1585, has a richly decorated interior, including some trompe l'oeil paintings.
The 14th-century Couvent des Cordeliers is dominated by a tall, square tower with a large sundial (cadran solaire) on each side, facing the cardinal directions. Nice idea, but it's hard to see how the north-side sundial could ever be useful. The Couvent is just inside the northern edge of the the old town, out the Rue du Berteuil.
Nothing left today of the Chateau des Ripert except the 11th-century Tour de l'Horloge. From the terrace of the tour you'll have a nice view of the village rooftops.
• GPS: 44.384466, 4.983502
IGN (1/25,000) #3039 E "Valréas, Grignan (3039 ET)"
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.