Saturday, April 28, 2012

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse

There’s always a street market going on somewhere in Provence, and we were told we should not miss the Sunday market at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a small, pleasant town that's surrounded by the Sorgue river.

Being there on Sunday was truly worthwhile. Besides the vibrant market, there are many waterside cafés and restaurants, and several picturesque water wheels (which were used as sources of energy for the milling, textile and paper-making industries). Walking along the canals and little bridges, you can’t help but notice how crystal clear the water is even as it runs through the town’s center.

We took a nice stroll through the town, but being Sunday we mostly took it easy. We sat in the Grand Café de la Sorgue, one of the nice outdoor cafés, soaking in the Provence atmosphere and listening to Joe Dassin songs playing nearby, and later shopped along the quays or just had fun trying on silly hats. What a beautiful and memorable day we had.

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue means the island on the river Sorgue. The river flows through and around the town. Its source is located in the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse, not far from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It's one of the largest springs on earth. Our last day in Provence we visited Fontaine de Vaucluse. The town has a pretty main square, and there's a medieval waterwheel that still works and is used to mill paper.

But its main attraction is the cave in the mountain where the spring is located. The crater is supposed to be more than 300 meters deep, although apparently no one knows for sure. What impresses are the beautiful aquamarine and emerald green colors of the still water that pools at the base of a rocky cliff. A few meters from this pool the water is actually gushing up from the source, then splashing down over the rocks until it settles down in the wide expanse as it passes through the village.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Aigues Mortes

The longest trip we did was to Aigues Mortes, a medieval town located in the Petite Camargue region, southwest of Arles. Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) rebuilt the port in the 13th century and it was the embarkation point of the Seventh and Eighth Crusades. The old city is completely walled and the medieval walls and battlements are well preserved.

We entered through Porte de la Gardette, on the north side, at one point the only access to the city, and landed in Place Anatole France, a long, welcoming square, and at the far end of the Place is the Constance Tower, built in 1242 by Saint Louis to protect the harbor and the city.

Plenty of little shops line Rue Jean Jaurès, the main street, named after the French Socialist leader, but it was nice to wander about, probably because there weren't too many tourists. We worked our way toward the center of the town and arrived in the sunny Place Saint Louis, which is adorned with his statue.

Also on the Place is the Notre Dame des Sablons church, built in Saint Louis' time. There's a plaque on the wall in memory of Saint Louis and his knights, who received the cross in this church for the Seventh Crusade in 1248 and the Eighth Crusade in 1270.

Near the Chapelle des Pénitents Gris, from the early 17th century, we saw the most bizarre two-dimensional trees.

From Aigues Mortes we did the quick, 15-minute drive to the beaches of Le Grau du Roi, on the Mediterranean. It was too windy and cold to get in the water, but we enjoyed a beautiful kite show.