Surrounding Carpentras, the whole of Provence and the Vaucluse is delightful, and no tyro of France and the French way of life could ever progress in their learning without a visit here, or, for that matter, several visits.
But it is Carpentras (population, 24,000+) and the surrounding countryside of the Vaucluse that holds especial appeal, and is promoted as the ‘Porte de Ventoux’. Carpantras is one of the most historic towns of the Midi, cradled in a natural amphitheatre between the Ventoux Plain, Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail. This was once the capital of Comtat Venaissin, and as such, it was frequently the residence of the Avignon popes; the Papal States retained possession of the Venaissin until the French Revolution.
This is the land of lavender, wine and gourmandise, with weekly markets somewhere on every day of the week selling fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, olive oil, honey, clothes and fabrics, the largest, arguably in Vaison-la-Romaine. Few of the towns and villages don’t have a market at all, that at Sault boasts a market dating from 1515, and the whole mildly chaotic caravan of consumables is supported by town-edge supermarkets.
The town is famous for the truffle market that takes place every Friday morning during the winter months. For the sweet-toothed, its traditional confectionery is the berlingot, a small hard candy with thin white stripes, originally made from the syrup left over from conservation of fruits.
The centre has wide squares, shops, restaurants and much activity. The St Siffrein cathedral, the Roman Arc de Triomphe, the ‘halls’ and a fine old covered passage, with high domed-class roof, are all here. The surrounding part of the old town is residential; the narrow streets and old buildings are well maintained.
The 14th-century Porte d'Orange is a massive fortified gateway at the north side of the old town. This is all that's left of Pope Innocent VI's protective wall with 32 towers and four gates. The ancient fountain is on boulevard du Nord, across the street from the Porte d'Orange.
The Cathedral St Pierre and St Siffrein is right in the centre. The cathedral was started, by Pope Benedict XIII of Avignon, in 1404 and finished early in the 16th century.
The Roman Arc de Triomphe is on Place d'Inguimbert, in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice, tucked down at the side of the cathedral. It was moved here during the Middle Ages, probably from the main cardo leading out of town. It became the porch of the bishop's palace, converted into the Palais de Justice during the Revolution.
The 13th-century Château des Comtes de Toulouse, in the centre, has a fabulous 1576 campanile representing the universe. You'll have to wander around some, though, to get a view of it between the buildings. The 15th-century Synagogue in the centre is a rather plain-looking building, but it's famous for being the oldest in France. Carpentras (along with Avignon, Cavaillon and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue) had a Jewish ghetto until the Revolution.
A predominance of upland and mountains, steep sided and cloaked in trees, means that most settlements are shoe-horned into river valleys, although a few villages perchés do occupy isolated hill tops, notably Venasques and Gordes, and less well known along the Toulourenc valley on the north-eastern side of Mont Ventoux.
97 Place du 25
Août 1944, 84200 Carpentras
Tel: 04 90 63 00 78