Provence is full of tiny villages so perfectly Provençal that they belong on a postcard with their stone buildings and their pastel blue shutters. But L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a bit different. It’s known as the Venice of Provence, with the Sorgue River hugging the city and its waterwheels rhythmically churning.
This “island city” is an antique lovers dream with more than 300 permanent antique shops and dealers. Some are obvious lining the canals the snake through the city; others are tucked away in courtyards that open up into long spaces with antique dealer after antique dealer. You quickly understand why L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is also known as the antiques capital of France.
If we didn’t have a compact rental car and our dog, Emma, with us, I would have totally been up for finding a lovely little jewelry stand. Several caught my eye, displayed outside on the sunny day.
But even if you’re not in to antiques, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is worth a visit. Especially on Thursdays and Sundays when it is home to one of the largest outdoor markets in Provence.
Brightly colored local produce spills out of bins and onto tables. Chickens roast on spits, their juices dripping to cook the most delicious potatoes below. Macarons in every color and flavor entice you with their delicious scents.
Nougat is a traditional Provençal treat, popular since at least the 17th century when almond trees were introduced to the region. It’s even one of the 13 desserts eaten at Christmastime – yes, thirteen! Of course, it’s no surprise to find the sweet made with almonds and Provençal honey at the market.
We weaved along the island’s tiny streets built on the five branches of the Sorgue River. Up and over bridges we went, by spice vendors selling Herbes de Provence and lavender and lingering near the moss-covered water wheels along the riverbed fed by the spring in nearby Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
When visiting a market this size, it’s easy to want just about everything in sight. There are typically more than one local producer selling most products, so walk through the entire thing first. You can get a feel for the prices and which vendors the locals are lining up to buy from.
Where to Stay
Grand Hôtel Henri is located in the heart of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. And grand it truly is with the building dating back to 1785. Even royalty has graced the halls and stayed in the chambers, such as Empress Eugénie in 1867 for the inauguration of the viaduct at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
The hotel is pet friendly and even Emma was treated like a princess with not just one, but two doggy beds to choose from in our suite. They also had an adorable food and water bowl set up on a place mat for her.
There’s also a gastronomic restaurant in the hotel, which is an excellent choice for dinner in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Chef Olivier Bouzon, along with the Michelin starred Chef Pascal Ginoux, change the menu as the Provençal produce and products change.
Know Before You Go
There is not a station in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, but it is served by the Line 18 bus from Avignon or the Line 46 bus from Cavaillon.
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