Monday, September 5, 2016

Vaison-la-Romaine, a Tale of Two Towns

You are probably not aware but this past July, we had the pleasure of a visit from daughter Tricia, her husband Alvin and two of our wonderful grandchildren; Avery and Caedon. We have talked and planned for this visit for a long time. We knew that we had to plan things to keep the little ones entertained. We had a visit to the castle in upper Vaison-la-Romaine on our list because we knew they would burn lots of energy getting there and they would enjoy seeing an old castle.

We go often to Vaison-la-Romaine, sometimes it seems almost every day. We go for Tuesday morning market, buy basic household supplies at Intermarché, pick up cheese at Lou Canesteou owned by Meilleur Ouvrier de France Josiane Deal, visit friends, or simply pass through on the way to Nyons and other destinations in the Drôme Provençale.

As we near Vaison-la-Romaine, we see the castle of the Counts of Toulouse sitting on a cliff above the town inviting passersbys to come and visit. Although we see the Castle all the time from the car, we have only walked through the upper town to see the Castle two times.

Belfry tower with its 18th century wrought-iron bell cage

Vaison-la-Romaine is a short (6 mile) drive from Sablet along a winding road and then across the Pont Neuf (new bridge) over the Ouvèze River; farther up the river, there is a bridge which dates from Roman times. 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.

Medieval upper town

One day after market, with our family in tow, we decided to 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.

Street performer in Medieval upper town

The entrance into the upper, heart of the Medieval town is through a deep, fortified gateway through the base of the belfry tower seen below. The lower part of this tower was built in the 14th century. The upper part and the ornate wrought-iron campanile were added in the 18th century.

14th century belfry tower with the 18th century wrought-iron campanile

Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption de Vaison-la-Romaine

The Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption de Vaison-la-Romaine, also known as the Cathedral of the Upper Town sits on the site of a church built in the 12th century. A new church was started in 1464 and was modified over the years up into the 18th century.

Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption de Vaison-la-Romaine

Daughter Tricia pauses near an Iron Cross

Daughter Tricia hung back with me as I made my way through the village taking pictures along the way.

A tiny door in the upper Medieval town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Daughter Tricia sits on a pretty fountain in the Medieval upper town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Stone archway in garden in upper town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Stone archway over walkway through upper town

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 by order of Bishop Bérenger de Reilhane 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

View from the back side of the 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

Lower Roman and modern town of Vaison-la-Romaine

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

Shirley stands by vaulted arch over path up to castle

Pretty house in upper town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Stone flower planters in Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Stone house in Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Vaison-la-Romaine upper town gift shop

Me taking a momentary pause on one of the upper town fountains

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.

Stone laundry basin in Medieval Vaison-la-Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Random flower in Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Fountain in old town

Grand old door in Vaison-la-Romaine

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. It is a classified historic monument and links the lower town center and the upper medieval old town. Until a footbridge was built in 1858, the Roman bridge was the only link between the two sides of the river.

Vaison-La-Romain had a disastrous flood in 1992 which swept away the new bridge and several houses and killed more than 30 people. Amazingly the Roman Bridge withstood the flood and is still in use today

Roman bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine

Happy to be able to post again "Our House in Provence" blog. Thank you for your patience. I will try to keep future posts coming more regularly. A bientot.


  1. Hi Michel: Oh so glad I stopped by here this evening! We leave on the 21st for Vaison...and again, thank you for that list of many restaurants in the area. We are counting the days until our arrival and this post made it all come alive again!!! And yes, glad to see you back posting: so much valuable information here!

    1. Thanks for stopping in Libby. I am very happy you find my posts helpful and inspiring for your trips to Provence. Have a great time. We arrive on the 5th, maybe our paths will cross.

  2. After a lovely stay in Vaison-la-Romaine in 2009, I found an even better place at your house in Sablet. When I stay there, I make the same frequent runs to Vaison, usually to the Super U where you can buy some tasty pizza from the vendor near the front door (found this on advice from a french friend whose sister lives nearby). I never miss the market day, each year buying a new pair of shoes from the guy who makes them himself. But Lou Canesteou is an absolute must. What Josianne and her staff don't know about cheese, does not exist. I am patient for your posts as no matter when they arrive they are wonderful.

    1. You are too sweet. We are so happy you love our house and the village of Sablet. We hope you will return soon. Josianne is a genius with cheese.

  3. PS..bravo to the family for making it to the top of the castle. I've never had the courage.

    1. It's not as bad as it looks, especially to the area just below the castle. The streets/paths have a relatively gradual incline.