LANDSCAPE: From the city of Avignon to the peak of Mont Ventoux, through the Luberon hills, discover the lands of Vaucluse, the fields of lavender, and the Côtes du Rhône wines. The Vaucluse is a magical department of Provence where the light seems more intense, the sun seems more luminous, and the air is filled with the scent of eucalyptus and pine. The Vaucluse is the interior of Provence defined to the north by the famous Côte du Rhône vineyards and Dentelles de Montmirail - curious hills with sharp eroded peaks resembling lace. The valley of the Rhône river in the west provides the irrigation for this region of fruit, vegetables and famous vineyards. The Alps and Mt. Ventoux mark the eastern border, and dominate the landscape. To the south lie the Durance river and the wooded Luberon park which is sprinkled with charming little villages, including Gordes, Ménerbes, and Lourmarin. There are many interesting cultural and historical sites in the Vaucluse, including the theatre at Orange, the Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine, the 15th century Popes palace in Avignon, picturesque villages with fascinating châteaux, and many museums through the region.
PRIME ATTRACTIONS: Take a trip to the Roman archeological site at Vaison-la-Romaine, which include extensive residential areas with pavements, shopping arcades, houses, baths and a basilica. Orange also has fine Roman remains including the triumphal arch, and the well preserved 1st century Roman theatre. Plan a visit on Friday to take in the delightful market at Orange. Drive through the spectacular limestone hills of Les Dentelles and the picturesque wine-producing villages of Gigondas and Beaumes-de-Venise. Try the local full-bodied red wines at one of the many 'caves' on the main square of Gigondas. Explore the ancient city of Carpentras whose previous inhabitants include Celtic tribes, Greeks, and Romans. There is a lively, bustling market in Carpentras every Friday, which spreads through the town's narrow streets. Visit Apt on a Saturday when the lively market, complete with barrel organs, jazz bands, and stand-up comics, takes over the town's streets. Follow the lavender route through Sault, Monieux and Aurel and stop for fresh local produce from the market at Sault, which is patronized by locals from all over Provence. Look for local mushrooms, truffles, lavender honey and nougat. See the old ochre mines at Roussillon where the village homes radiate all the different shades of the 17 tints of ochre. Discover the ancient hilltop village of Gordes, whose houses cling to the hillside below the 12th century Château. Stroll through a sea of lavender to visit the Cistercian Abbaye de Sénanque. Don't miss the charming village of l'Isle sur la Sorgue, which is bursting with antique stalls every weekend.
FOOD & WINE: The Vaucluse produces exceptional quality and variety of colourful and flavourful fruits and vegetables found in the outdoor markets. The local produce is feature of classic 'cuisine du soleil' along with olive oil, herbs, tomatoes and garlic. Regional dishes include ratatouille and soup de pistou, with fresh basil and pine nuts; daube, marinated beef; and bouillabaisse, fish soup with garlic, olive oil and saffron. Sample the variety of regional olive oils and lavender honey.
Sample this regions famous wines - even the local 'vin ordinaire' is good. Sumptuous red wines are Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the aristocrat of reds. Refreshing white and rosé wines include Coteaux des Baux-en-Provence, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, Côtes du Luberon and Côtes du Ventoux. Beaumes-de-Venise Muscat is a luscious amber dessert wine - also sipped as an apéritif.
HISTORY: The Romans left the most lasting influence, such as the magnificent Pont du Gard aquaduct near Nimes, the theatre at Orange, the arena in Arles, and ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine. Avignon was the centre of the Roman church and the location of the 15th century Popes palace - definitely worth a visit.
LOCAL EVENTS: Enjoy 'Les Chorègis', the major music festival held in Orange during July. The program includes opera, oratorios and orchestral concerts. In early July, visit the Festival of Avignon (theatre, dance and music).
CLIMATE: Provence is renowned for its climate and light; almonds and mimosa blossom in February and the hot sun of summer lingers into warm autumn days. An occasional Mistral (October to April) sweeps away clouds and haze to create clear, brilliant blue skies and beautiful starry nights.
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