The Vaucluse is a department in South Eastern France. It is in the North West of Provence and includes the Luberon Regional Park, gorges, attractive towns, villages perched on hilltops and the Vaucluse's greatest landmark, Mont Ventoux.
The Vaucluse has had an eventful history with invaders, popes and princes figuring large. It only became fully part of France in the 1800s and there is still a Provençal language spoken by a few inhabitants.
Average temperature in the Vaucluse
Many of the tourist attractions in the Vaucluse are natural. Mont Ventoux, the greatest land-mark in the department, is a huge pyramid of rock rising 1900m above sea-level and affording magnificent views. There are said to be over one thousand plant varieties on its slopes. The Luberon Regional Park is a wild mountainous region of crags, gorges and villages perched precariously on its hilltops. The HQ of the park at Apt provides information. The dramatic Nesques Gorges run for 12 miles between Villes-sur-Auzon and Monieux – not recommended for vertigo sufferers! If you prefer towns to mountains you must visit Orange and Avignon. The Roman Theatre at Orange is one of the best preserved in Europe. Avignon is an attractive town with its old bridge and medieval Palais des Papes (Papal Palace). One of the most impressive monasteries complete with beautiful gardens and chapel can be found at Chartreuse du Val-de-Benediction in Avignon's Rue de la Republique.
The Roman Theatre at Orange offers treasure hunts for 7 to 12 year olds which are great fun. If your children are animal lovers they will enjoy seeing the llamas at Le Barroux. A two hour guided visit, video and weaving workshop is included in the admission price. For something a little more active try a donkey hike at Monts-de-Vaucluse for half a day right up to two days. Maps are provided or you can take a guided hike. If your children are the sporty types they will enjoy ice-skating in Avignon, quad-biking at Crillon-le-Brave or the treetop trails at Ventoux Aventure in Mormoiron.
Museums, galleries and culture
There are four particularly good collections in Avignon. The Musée Calvet is one of the best in France with artefacts from ancient Greece right up to current day. For art lovers the Musée Angladon-Dubrujeaud includes works by the Impressionists, the Collection Lambert has an impressive display of contemporary art and the Musée de Petit Palais is renowned for its medieval and Renaissance art.
The red wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is famous worldwide and can be tasted at Domaine de Beaurenard in Route de Sorgues, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Another excellent winery which welcomes visitors is Château La Nerthe which also has fascinating ancient cellars. Around the town of Apt are the vineyards which produce the Côtes du Luberon. On the main road between Apt and Bonnieux is the Château de L'Isolette, an estate which has won many medals for its reds. Lesser-known are the Côtes du Ventoux wines, similar to the Côtes du Rhône. One of the best estates is the Domaine des Anges on the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux.
A good range of shops is available in the larger towns such as Avignon but if you are looking for something different there are many smaller shops in the Vaucluse. Les Olivades in Avignon sells exquisite materials and table linen in traditional Provençal prints. Edith Mezard at Notre-Dame-des-Lumieres near Goult sells beautifully embroidered clothes and household linen. If you are keen on antiques you must not miss L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue where there are more than 200 antique shops. If it is edible shopping that interests you, you should try the chocolate at Chocolaterie Castelain in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the crystallized fruit at Confiserie Artisanale Denis Ceccon in Apt and the nougat and honey at Silvain Frères in St Didier. No holiday in the Vaucluse would be complete, however, without shopping for some virgin olive oil to take home. Forget the stuff in the supermarket and go instead to Les Délices du Luberon at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a warehouse specialising in olives, olive oil and olive products like tapenade.
The Luberon is a stunning area in which to walk, as are the mountains, LesDentelles de Montmirail, particularly the walk up to St Armand, the highest point. If you are an expert walker looking for a challenging route, try the walk to the bottom of the Gorges de la Nesque.
There are six golf courses in the Vaucluse but not all are open to non-members. Of those that are, the Golf Grand Avignon is an 18 hole course set around five lakes, olive trees, lavender and cypresses looking out to Mont Ventoux. The Provençal Country Club at Pays des Sorgues is surrounded by wooded hills and the Luberon Mountains.
If you enjoy kayaking, the Sorgue River makes a beautiful environment in which to do it. There are many opportunities for horse riding in the Vaucluse but if you want a long trek there are 3 day and 6 day rides in the Luberon with Christian Tchechovitch at Le Griffon, St Martin de Castillon. The Luberon also makes excellent mountain biking terrain and bikes can be hired from a number of outlets.
Food and drink
The Vaucluse's cuisine is possibly the least fussy of all French cooking, depending on the quality of its fresh local ingredients rather than elaborate sauces. One of the most famous regional dishes is ratatouille made from local olive oil, aubergines, tomatoes, garlic and courgettes. Other local vegetable dishes include tian, a casserole of rice, vegetables and grated cheese cooked in the oven, stuffed courgettes, and mesclun, a salad of dandelion and other leaves. A favourite hors d'ouevre is tapenade, a mixture of olives, anchovies, olive oil and capers spread on toast. The most common meat in the Vaucluse is lamb which has grazed on herbs giving it a delicious flavour. Many of the local cheeses are made from goat's or sheep's milk including the Tomme Arlesienne and Banon.
Ease of access
Avignon is around 650 miles from Calais and the fastest autoroute takes about 9 hours. Going on smaller roads will take around 15 hours. Bearing in mind the costs involved it may be cheaper to fly and hire a car. There are airports at Nice and more conveniently for the department, Marseilles. However, the budget airlines fly to Nimes which is very handy for the Vaucluse. If you prefer to take the train there is a weekly Eurostar in the summer to Avignon or you can use the high-speed train from Paris.
Value for money
Like the whole of Provence, the Vaucluse is not a cheap destination. Travel costs can be reduced by booking early on one of the budget airlines. During July and August prices for everything rocket so consider visiting out of high season.
The Vaucluse is a great place for lovers of the outdoors and for those interested in wine and good food, with Avignon also providing plenty of cultural interest.