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Friday, 01 May 2020

The Fifteen Best Villages, Cities & Towns in Provence

Written by Russ Firlik & Emily Firlik
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We lived in the village of Sablet for two months which turned out to be the best location for us to explore Provence and Languedoc in southern France. We visited 56 villages, cities & towns and these were our favorite places:

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Châteauneuf du Pape

The village, population 2,200, spreads down the hill from the 14th century chateau, along narrow streets lined with wine shops and cellars. A beautiful village center. All around are vineyards, many carpeted with large, round stones, found on the Rhone river beds. The stones soak up the sun during the day and reflect back at night to warm the vines of those grapes. We stopped for a cafe creme on the Place de la Fontaine, where there are a couple of cafes and boulangeries, before a short walk uphill to find the summer papal palace from the 1300's.

Although the winds were fierce (40-45 miles per hour at the top), the views from the chateau looking towards the city of Avignon were stunning, and one can see glimpses of the Rhone River in the far distance. It is these kinds of days that remind us how very fortunate we are to be able to experience this. We shall always be thankful for our good fortune, which, for us, is a combination of preparation meeting opportunities.

 

Monteux - Mazon- Beaumes de Venise

Monteux: The 60 km winds have calmed down and the sun is bright. Off to explore two 'unknown' non-tourist locations (Monteux and Mazon), and the very famous village of Beaumes de Venise. Sometimes we don’t actually have a defined destination, but have some idea what direction to head. Monteux, because it is near the large city of Carpentras (pop. 31,000) and has a castle, towers from the 1300’s, ramparts, and historic gates, sounded like a destination. It turned out that it was a very artsy town with many ateliers, art galleries and wonderful painted building walls! On the right side of the church was the dungeon of the Chateau de Monteux, erected in the 12th century. The major employment in Monteux is the manufacturing of fireworks – number one in all of France. A very pleasant square, meant really for small children, was artfully decorated.

Mazon: After a very tasty cafe creme, we set off some 15 km to the village of Mazan. This little town (pop. 5,200) is nestled at the foot of mont Ventoux. This town produces the famous Cotes du Mont Ventoux wine. Once again, these medieval towns/villages all have ramparts, castles and fortifications from that warrior-like era. They also all have Romanesque churches with massively thick walls, round arches, study pillars, barrel vaults and large towers. It is not true that once you have seen one Romanesque church, you have seen them all. There are always some variations in building materials, tower design, placements, window decorations, and some have stained glass windows while others don't.

Beaumes de Venise, pop. 2,200. This is on the “wine trail,” at the foot of the Dentelles Mountains. The village sits in the plateau and has numerous caves and a 400 year old fountain located on the Rue de la Republique. The parish church is from the 1500s, (the transition from Romanesque to Gothic) and the 9th century chapel is meshed into the plateau. We had a lovely lunch with “pub-like” food, but much better! Furthermore, the reason Beaumes de Venise is famous is for its fortified wine with worldwide reputation, Muscat. Its quality is due to its soil composition and protection from the mistral (winds), which is perfectly suitable to produce Muscat. It has terraced vineyards supported by the walls of the plateau. This wine is governed by the AOC regulations of at least 15% sugar and 5-10% alcohol. We tasted many varieties, and my wife Emily decided on the three she liked: one rose, one white and one black. The first of many tastings, and as you know, one can just spit the taste wine in a container so one can still drive safely.

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Gigonda

Gigonda is a small village of only 700 people. Not all villages have cafes located on their squares, if they even have a square, and you must search to find one. In Gigondas Place Gabriel Andeol there were three cafes and six restaurants around the Place Gabriel. The number of restaurants is due to its tourists and wine trade. Next to the 11th century St. Catherine’s Church there were 19 monumental sculptures – the work of contemporary artists. The village is renowned for its “cru” status red wines. Gigonda and Vacqueyras are the only “cru” status vineyards in this region. Although, Chateauneuf du Pape is regarded as being the best and oldest.

 

Vacqueyras

Not far from Gigonda is the village of Vacqueyras - pop. 1,200. The village center is smaller than the center village of Gigonda. Once again the “required” historical context is maintained: 12th century bell/watchtower, ageless doors/window frames, the Romanesque church of St. Barthelemy, and the fountains. However, this particular fountain has a unique history - the bust of the famous troubadour, Raimbaut (1180-1207), was born in Vacqueyras. A troubadour was a composer and performer of lyric poetry, ballads and songs during the High Middle Ages (1100-1300). Their social influence was unprecedented in the history of medieval poetry. Raimbaut's bust is represented with dignity and reverence. Here we also find a sundial, not with a one stroke indicator, but a two stroker, with the inscriptions half in Latin and half in Provencal writings.

Of course the views were spectacular. The old saying: “Once you have seen the geometric configured vineyards, the mountains, the cliffs, the Cypress trees, the array of wild floors colors, the villages built on cliffs, the church bell towers standing on top of the villages, and castle ruins on top of a cliff - they all look the same!”

This is not true that once you have seen one village or landscape view of Provence that you have seen them all!

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Last modified on Friday, 01 May 2020

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