L’Isle sur la Sorgue: Venice of the Vaucluse
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“Song of the Sorgue”
River rushing by so fast,
at full pelt on your own…
River where the lightening ends
and where my home begins…
A subterranean aquifer, the source of the Sorgue River, runs along the rim of a precipitously rugged outcropping high above the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse, its 7-kilometer flow enough to water this entire Provençal valley. Over centuries the rushing water had cascaded over boulders on its way to encircle an island above the marshes, creating what has become known as “the Venice of the Vaucluse.” Originally, in the 12th century, the island was constructed on a platform on stilts lifting it above the lowlands. Today with its avenue of plane trees and canal system, L’Isle sur la Sorgue has become one of the most invitingly picturesque villages in Provence. Wherever you go, you will come across the green waters of the Sorgue, flowing along streets, under bridges or churning one of its nine 19th century mill wheels. These creaking wheels covered in mossy, undulating mermaid’s hair, used to power the village’s silk, paper and crayfish industry, though now they are simply emblematic totems of this island’s history.
Francophiles with nothing but time to explore the streets that criss-cross over the encircling canals and branches of the Sorgue can idly meander to their hearts’ content. Attractive shops sell everything from Provençal linens to fresh lavender bouquets in July. Since 1596, the Thursday farmer’s market has been offering its local bounty from the fruit and vegetable basket of the Vaucluse: seductive dark purple figs, golden zucchini flowers, sun ripened tomatoes, sweet Cavaillon melons, honey and wine.
The Sunday antique market with over 300 dealers, brings people together from Avignon (20 miles west) and Paris (3 hours on the TGV). It is a paradise for serious collectors and flea market bargain hunters alike. On Assumption Day, August 15th (Easter Sunday) this unique market swells to more than 500 participants, their wares flowing into the streets from old warehouses, mansions and rose-scented courtyards.
Almost all of the charcuteries, patisseries and cafés are open on Sunday, as well. A pleasant hour can be spent sipping pastis or a cold glass of rosé under an umbrella of plane tree branches strung across the square. Cicadas sing incessantly in the background, their song mingling with the bells of the church of Notres-Dames-des-Anges which still ring every hour on the hour and half hour. Built in 1222, its masterful, Baroque interior will beckon those seeking refuge from the heat, which can be quite withering in July and August, sometimes climbing well over 100 degrees.
The next time I visit L’Isle sur la Sorgue I’m going to bring my picnic basket with me and purchase fresh delicacies from the open air market. I’ll spread my Provençal tablecloth on the grass at a park under the shade of a tree, next to the river and pull forth a slim volume of the poetry of René Char, one of France’s most revered poets and native of L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Popping the cork on a bottle of crisp, white wine, I’ll pour myself a glass, newly purchased from a brocante across the river and offer a toast to “la Provence profonde.” There’s room on my cloth, won’t you join me?
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