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Gems of Paris by French Moments

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is a charming village lying on the bank of the Sorgue River. The locality was built around its source in a dead-end valley at the feet of the Vaucluse plateau. Named after the famous and abundant water source nearby, it is surrounded by chalky hills 230 to 240 metres high. The village is located near the hilltop villages of the Luberon, which makes it a prime tourist destination.

Watch this short video on the Luberon!

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Pierre at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

We visited Fontaine-de-Vaucluse on a beautiful sunny day in May. Our visit lasted half a day. However, we could have spent a whole day there if we had had time to go up to the castle and spend more time visiting the museums and paper-making workshops.

I strongly recommend that you avoid the peak season if possible (July-August). It is better to visit the village on a nice weekday in spring or autumn. There will be far fewer people and you can enjoy the site peacefully (and park your car easily!)

Plan your trip

The name of a French département

The village used to be called Vaucluse, from the Latin “Vallis Clausa”, aka the remote valley. It gave its name to the département of Vaucluse. Until 1946, it was known as Vaucluse-la-Fontaine but changed its name to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in reference to the water source nearby.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The central square of the village © French Moments

The legend of the fountain's secret

This legend written by Frédéric Mistral tells the story of a minstrel, Basile, who was asleep on the way to the fountain when he saw a nymph appear.

The old minstrel Basile, who had gone off to make the girls of Isle sur Sorgue dance, fell asleep in the shade one hot day on the Vaucluse pathway. A nymph appeared, who, as beautiful as the clear wave, took the sleeper's hand and led him to the edge of the basin where the Sorgue flowed.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse by Paul Huet circa 1839

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse by Paul Huet circa 1839

Before them the water opened up and let them descend between two walls of crystal liquid to the bottom of the abyss.

After a long subterranean race, the nymph, in the middle of a smiling meadow sown with supernatural flowers, stopped the minstrel in front of seven large diamonds. Lifting one of them, she made a powerful jet of water gush out.

Here, she said, is the secret of the spring of which I am the guardian, to swell it, I remove the diamonds, at the seventh the water reaches 'the fig tree which only drinks once a year' and she disappeared, waking Basil...

What to see in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

The Romanesque church

The Church of Saint-Véran-Sainte-Marie occupies the site of a pagan temple dedicated to a water divinity.

Church of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Church of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

According to legend, Saint-Véran delivered the region from a fearsome monster, the Couloubre.

Saint-Véran and the Couloubre © French Moments

Saint-Véran and the Couloubre © French Moments

Born in Vaucluse, Véran was bishop of Cavaillon and died in 590 during the Council of Arles. The crypt houses the sarcophagus of the Saint.

Tomb of Saint-Véran © French Moments

The tomb of Saint-Véran © French Moments

The church is in the Provençal Romanesque style of the 11th century, and is one of the oldest in the diocese of Cavaillon.

It is a small Romanesque building, with a single nave covered by a semicircular vault with a cul-de-four apse.

The sanctuary is remarkable for its simplicity and hides many treasures, including a copy of a painting by Nicolas Mignard (1661) and an altar table carved from marble dating from Roman times.

Church of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The interior of the church © French Moments

Church of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Statues in the church © French Moments

In Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, one can find remains of the bishops of Cavaillon’s castle and a column from 1804, erected for Petrarch’s 600th birthday. From 1339, the Italian poet and humanist had made Fontaine-de-Vaucluse his favourite retreat.

Francesco Petrarca, known as Petrarch

Francesco Petrarca, known as Petrach (Pétrarque in French) was born on 20 July in Arezzo. He was the son of Ser Petracco, a notary in Florence.

Petrarch

Petrarch

Petrarch lived the first seven years of his life in Tuscany but then followed his family to Avignon where his father had to leave.

Following his father's wishes, he studied law for four years in Montpellier and two years in Bologna.

In 1324, the death of his father freed him from this tedious obligation. Having befriended two members of the Roman Colonna family, he was introduced to the papal court in Avignon, where he met with great success due to his lively mind and his charm and beauty.

He settled in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse from 1337 to 1353, where he wrote his most beautiful sonnets.

The romance with Laura

History records that he met Laura of Noves for the first time on 6 April 1327 in the church of Sainte Claire in Avignon while attending the Good Friday service. Love at first sight was immediate but one-sided. Indeed, Laura was married to the Avignon gentleman Hugues de Sade and remained virtuous.

Laura

Laura

From then on and until his last breath, he would sing about her. His delicate verses of great elegance and modern intonation, love always being a universal and timeless theme, make him the ancestor of the Romantics as well as the heir of the Provençal singers of courtly love, the troubadours. Alas, in 1348, Laure died of the plague in Avignon.

A lover of Provence

Petrarch divided his time between worldly life and his pleasures at the Court of Avignon and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, where he had retired to find peace and quiet. He was aware to the charm of nature and the Sorgue, whose banks inspired a famous song.

In his letters, he also wrote about the life and nature of Provence, he spoke of the shepherds and fishermen of the Sorgue and recounted his ascent of Mount Ventoux with his brother Ghérardo in 1335.

Later life

Petrach left Fontaine-de-Vaucluse for good around 1353 for Italy and settled in Aquà Petrarca, near Padua (today twinned with Fontaine-de-Vaucluse).

He was found dead, with his head bent over a manuscript of Homer on 19 July 1374.

He was the first of the great humanists of the Renaissance, scholar, historian, tireless researcher of ancient manuscripts and of course poet ("Canzoniere" and "Triunfi").

The Museum-Library

The François-Pétrarque Museum-Library occupies a house which might have been built on the site of the house where the poet lived. The museum exhibits drawings and prints on the theme of Petrarch and Laura of Sade as well as old editions of the poet's works and those of his successors.

Place de la Colonne

The granite column that stands in the centre of the Place de la Colonne was built opposite the fountain's chasm in 1804 for the 5th centenary of Petrarch's birth.

Place de la colonne © French Moments

The pillar of Petrarch in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

In 1827, it was transferred to the centre of the village, to the Plantade area, which has since become the Place de la Colonne.

Place de la colonne © French Moments

Place de la colonne © French Moments

Also, the town-hall borders the square.

Town-hall of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The town-hall of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Climb the outside stairs to the first floor to enjoy a beautiful view of the shady square.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The view from the town-hall © French Moments

Next to the town hall is a drinking water fountain which was dedicated to a healing god.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse ! © French Moments

Aimée at a fountain in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse ! © French Moments

The bridge and the paddle wheel

The shady square of  Place de la Colonne is adjacent to the bridge over the Sorgue river. It offers one of the most beautiful views of Provence.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The bridge of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

On the bridge spanning the Sorgue © French Moments

Bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

The bridge of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The paddle wheels (roues à aubes) and chimneys of the old factories are witnesses to the industrial era of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Detail of the paddlewheel © French Moments

Paddle wheel near the bridge © French Moments

A paddle wheel near the bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

The paper mill

The paper mill (moulin à papier) still makes paper in the form of rag as it did in the 15th century. The Vallis Clausa gallery, which also contains numerous craft shops, is worth a visit.

Moulin à Papier © French Moments

Entering the paper mill © French Moments

aper factory © French Moments

Making old-style paper © French Moments

Paper factory © French Moments

The paper factory © French Moments

Paddle wheel at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The old paddle wheel of the Paper Factory © French Moments

The Right Bank of the Sorgue

On the other side of the bridge is a cluster of old houses with colourful facades. This area gives access to the Petrarch Museum and to the path that leads up to the castle.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The right bank of the village and its colourful façades © French Moments

The castle of the bishops of Cavaillon

The ruined castle overlooking Fontaine-de-Vaucluse belonged to the bishops of Cavaillon and dates from the beginning of the 13th century.

The castle of the bishops of Cavaillon © French Moments

A view of the castle from the Place de la Colonne © French Moments

The fortress is perched on the immense rocky outcrop that surrounds the Sorgue resurgence.

The castle dates back to the 1030s, but the present ruins date from the early 13th century. It was in this castle that Francesco Petrarca (aka Petrarch) visited his friend, Philippe de Cabassole, bishop of Cavaillon. This is why the castle is sometimes called Petrarch's castle.

Castle of Petrarch © Mathieu BROSSAIS - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The castle of the bishops of Cavaillon © Mathieu BROSSAIS - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Today, the ruins contribute to a most romantic picture in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

Sorgue river © French Moments

The Sorgue and the castle of Vaucluse © French Moments

The water spring of Fontaine de Vaucluse

A walk to the spring

A visit to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse cannot be done without a visit to the source of the Sorgue.

From the village, the round trip is about 2 km (1.2 miles) long.

This is a walk we did in May, when there were few people on the site.

You pass by the tourist shops and you can imagine that this place is very touristy in high season.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The tourist shops © French Moments

The path follows the course of the Sorgue upstream.

Sorgue river © French Moments

Along the Sorgue © French Moments

The walk took us to a haven of peace where everything was calm and peaceful.

Sorgue river © French Moments

The Sorgue River © French Moments

The forest by the water is made up of centuries-old trees: alder, ash, weeping willow and plane trees.

Sorgue river © French Moments

A walk by the Sorgue © French Moments

As for the water of the Sorgue, it was shallow, of a beautiful turquoise colour and of an incredible transparency.

We enjoyed a snack break by the turquoise waters of the Sorgue.

Sorgue river © French Moments

A little break by the Sorgue river © French Moments

Over the last 300 m, the slope becomes a little steeper and the pebbled path can make it difficult to pass with a pushchair.

Karst spring of Vaucluse © French Moments

The path leading to the Karst spring © French Moments

Arriving at the Karst spring

The spring is reached at the top of the slope.

Karst spring of Vaucluse © French Moments

At the Karst spring © French Moments

At the time of our visit (May), the spring was at a very low level.

Karst spring of Vaucluse © French Moments

The Karst spring in May © French Moments

In winter and early spring it can look like this:

Karst spring of Vaucluse © Vi..Cult... - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Fontaine de Vaucluse © Vi..Cult... - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

So, the time of year to admire it is winter, spring and autumn, of course after heavy rains!

The 'Fontaine de Vaucluse'

The resurgence was named "Fontaine de Vaucluse", like the village downstream (except without the dashes).

At the foot of an abrupt 230 metres cliff, the Fontaine de Vaucluse is the largest spring in France and the fifth largest in the world, with a flow of between 630 and 700 million cubic metres.

Karst spring of Vaucluse © French Moments

The cliffs above the Karst spring © French Moments

The site was a place of ritual offerings in ancient times. Over 1,600 coins from the first century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. were found on the site.

The well goes 305 metres underground and receives the water from Mount Ventoux, the Vaucluse plateau, the Albion plateau and the Lure Mountain. Interestingly, it excludes waters from the Byre Mountain north, the Luberon and the Synclinal of Apt in the south.

Sorgue river © French Moments

The young Sorgue River © French Moments

Find out more about Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

Holiday accommodation in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and surroundings have a high capacity for holiday accommodation. The commune has hotels, bed and breakfasts (covering all price ranges), estate agencies offering seasonal rentals and gîtes.

Click here to book your accommodation in the Luberon or browse the map below:

Booking.com

On the blog and other websites

Here are some pages from our blog and other websites to find out more about this Provencal destination.

What to do in the Luberon

Be inspired by a list of things to do in the Luberon:

Pin Fontaine-de-Vaucluse on Pinterest

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse Pinterest © French Moments

More photos of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

Here are some photos of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse taken during our last visit in May.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

On the right bank of the village © French Moments

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The tourist shops in the village © French Moments

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

A restaurant in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Place de la Colonne © French Moments

Bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

The view from the bridge © French Moments

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The Sorgue river © French Moments

Bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

On the bridge © French Moments

Bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

The bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

Bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

Floral display on the bridge © French Moments

Bridge on the Sorgue © French Moments

The Sorgue in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

Sorgue River © French Moments

The river Sorgue © French Moments

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse © French Moments

The formidable cliffs and caves above the village © French Moments

English-French vocabulary

(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs.

castle

cheese

church

cicada

countryside

to eat

garden

fountain

French Alps

French Riviera

hill

hilltop village

holiday

house

lavender

lavender field

market

Mediterranean Sea

mountain

olive oil

olive tree

perched village

Prealps

restaurant

square

stay

street

town-hall

villa

village

vineyard

to visit

to walk

wash house

château (m)

fromage (m)

église (f)

cigale (f)

campagne (f)

manger (v)

jardin (m)

fontaine (f)

Alpes françaises (f,p)

Côte d'Azur (f)

colline (f)

village perché (m)

vacances (f,p)

maison (f)

lavande (f)

champ de lavande (f)

marché (m)

Mer Méditerranée (f)

montagne (f)

huile d'olive (f)

olivier (m)

village perché (m)

Préalpes (f,p)

restaurant (m)

place (f)

séjour (m)

rue (f)

mairie (f)

villa (f)

village (m)

vignoble (m)

visiter (v)

marcher (v)

lavoir (m)

Gems of Paris by French Moments
About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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