Monday, September 29, 2014

Vaison-la-Romaine, a Tale of Two Unique Towns

We go often to Vaison-la-Romaine, sometimes it seems almost every day. We go for Tuesday morning market, basic household supplies at Intermarché, cheese at fabulous Lou Canesteou run by Josiane Deal, meet friends at Festival Café, or simply pass through on the way to Nyons and other destinations in the Drôme Provençale.

As we near Vaison-la-Romaine, the Castle of the Counts of Toulouse reigns on a cliff above the town like a beacon beckoning us to come up and visit. Although we see the Castle all the time, we have only walked up through the upper town to the Castle one time.

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse

Vaison-la-Romaine is a short (6 mile) drive from Sablet along a winding road and across the Ouvèze River on the Pont Neuf (new bridge); farther up the river, there is a Roman bridge too. Vaison la Romaine is divided into two parts by the Ouvèze River; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank on top of a rocky spur is the old medieval town.

The bridge in the picture below was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, with a single arch spanning 56 feet. It was built of large course masonry, resting directly upon the rock. Until a footbridge was built in 1858, the Roman bridge was the only link between the two sides of the river.

Vaison-la-Romaine Roman Bridge

When the causeway had to be repaired after World War II (the bridge was hit by a German bomb but was only superficially damaged), grooves meant to guide carts and chariots in narrow and dangerous passages appeared, a good indication of what traffic was like on the bridge.

View south to the Roman Bridge

One day after market last spring, we decided we would visit the old upper town and walk up to the castle. The entry street is lined with a few tourist shops and cafes. As you continue on up into the heart of the old town, the shops disappear and there's a sense of quiet, and of entering into the Medieval past.

The entrance into the heart of the Medieval upper town is through a deep, fortified gateway through the base of the tower. The Belfry, was protected by a barbican, a moat with a drawbridge, a portcullis and a gate. The base of the tower dates from the 14th century and the wrought-iron campanile were added in the 18th century.

Stone walkway into Medieval upper town

Stone alter

Vaulted arch walkway to home

In the 18th century, most of the fountains were erected. They are composed of a central column from which water springs, their top is rounded and decorated with a sculptured pine cone.

Fountain in old town

The heart of the Medieval upper town is quite large with long, narrow streets traversing the hillside east-west, between nicely renovated but ancient buildings, even narrower little streets connect the traversing streets, many with vaulted arch supports.

Narrow stone street with 2 vaulted arch supports

The narrow streets of the upper town are lined with old houses, picturesque old doorways, little squares with small fountains, and old churches.

Stone house with fortified cross street

Fountain in old town

Stone street traverses the hillside town

Thick stone walls with pretty window

Stone wall encloses garden

Fountain at intersection of streets

View over the roof tops

Narrow stone passageway

Vaulted arch over path up to castle

The view from near the castle over the lower Roman town is worth all the energy you expended to get up there; trust me!

Lower Roman and modern town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Around 1180, the men of the Count of Toulouse built a wooden tower strengthened by palissages (trellises) on the top of this hill to impose the image of the Count’s power on the citizenry. This was pulled down on Bishop Bérenger de Reilhane’s order and replaced in 1195 by Raymond V, Count of Toulouse and Marquis of Provence. Later, two buildings were added. The castle has been modified along the centuries.

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse in Vaison-la-Romaine

Pretty tourist shop

We got back down to the belfry tower and gateway to the lower town.

Inner side of the belfry tower

Belfry tower, entry to upper town of Vaison-la-Romaine

If you go to Vaison-la-Romaine on Tuesday for the market and want to tour the Roman ruins and climb up to the castle, you will have a full days worth of activities. So plan accordingly.

Have a great week. Chat soon.


  1. From a previous post: "I get a huge kick when people tell me they planned their trips to Provence based on my blog or went to a village or tried a restaurant because of it." Well, you can count us among that number. We are just back from our second long trip to Provence, once again using your consistently interesting blog as an electronic travel guide. Thanks for all the help. Cheers, Elaine & Allan, Cumberland, BC.

    1. Hello Elaine and Allan. Thank you so much for letting me know that you have found my posts to be interesting and helpful to you as you have traveled around Provence. This pleases me greatly. I hope you will check in from time to time.