Vaison-la-Romaine is definitely a town you want to stay and enjoy for a while. Once you catch your breath from the steep 2 km+ climb up to the old city, you’re instantly captivated by the quiet charm of the narrow cobblestone streets. The old city is under the shadow of the ruins of the castle of the Counts of Toulouse and is filled with private residences, B&B’s and artist’s studios and several restaurants. It’s hard to imagine that this area was founded by the Celts in the 3rd century BC, long before the founding of the “newer” Roman city across the river! And how perfect is it that the two parts of Vaison-la-Romaine are connected by a 2,000 year-old Roman bridge, one of just 5 functional Roman bridges remaining in France?
At first appearance, the “newer” side of Vaison-la-Romaine appears similar to other charming, quaint, hill villages of Provence. But as you approach the Puymin and LaVillasse archeological sites right in the middle of town, you become aware that you are someplace very special. Vaison-la-Romaine is one of the most important Roman heritage sites in France, with more than 37 acres of excavated Roman ruins from the 1st and 2nd century. As amazing as this is, over 120 acres still lies buried beneath the current city!
Several hours isn’t nearly enough time to even begin exploring the extensive Roman sites. Already tired from a hard day of cycling with no food (the Monday lesson), we agreed that we would definitely return to Vaison-la-Romaine in the future, definitely for longer than one night! This town is a perfect base for cycling to the small medieval villages and hill towns in literally every direction. You can choose from a number of signposted cycling itineraries that depart from and return to the Office of Tourism in Vaison-la-Romaine. Most of the itineraries in this area are rated intermediate level, but if you are day traveling without luggage, the routes should be manageable to all but beginner level cyclists. And there’s always the option of renting an e-bike to explore the area’s cycle paths.
A big Vaison-la-Romaine attraction is the Tuesday market, one of the largest and most popular in the South of France, with a history going back to the 15th century. About the only way to get into town on market day is by bike. Most streets are closed off, everything’s gridlocked, and even if you make it into town, there’s no parking. During the busy spring and summer months, the crowds are so large, it’s difficult to even walk through the streets. Best solution: get up early and shop early, definitely before 10. If you’re staying in town for a couple of days, stock up on cheese, fruits, pate and other supplies for picnic lunches or dinners. Then sit back and watch the crowds while you enjoy a cappuccino and croissant from a cafe along the market.
Where to stay when you are visiting a 2,000+ year old city? My choice was a wonderful small B&B called L’Eveche located on a quiet street in the old city. Ivy covers the outside of the building, so much so that you can barely see the sign. The building that houses L’eveche is a maze of one charming room after another, typical of a house that is over 400 years old. Our room overlooked the mountains and the “new” town. I can’t imagine a lovelier place to stay when visiting Vaison-la-Romaine.
All too soon it’s time to leave this warm charming town. I’m not feeling well, I think I’m dehydrated. I don’t even spend a lot of time exploring the market, being more concerned about getting on the road, as we have a very challenging day ahead of us. While I am sad to leave, I know that this is definitely a town I’ll return to.