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The regions of Provence and the Luberon

Arles

In the beautiful town of Arles, the remnants of the Roman Empire mix with the customs of Provence. This region's beauty inspired the impressionists and invites tourists to experience its history and culture. Arles is a wonderful place to eat, to shop and to wander. Take a short drive from Arles and you can soak in the beauty of Provence and the charming hilltop towns of the Luberon. Plan to spend a few days here and learn why so many people want to move to the south of France.

Arles is a convenient place from which to visit the regions of the Luberon and Provence. The town is conveniently located near the estuary where the Rhone spills into the Mediterranean. From here, you can take short day trips to the Pont du Gard and the quaint villages of Rousillon and Gordes. It is not much more than an hour to the city of Orange with its fascinating Roman theater.

In the center of Arles, you'll find a Roman amphitheater that is still used for modern festivals. Arles is one of the few places in France to watch a bullfight and it is from the rocky seats of the amphitheater that you view the spectacle. We arrived in Arles on a Friday afternoon as final preparations for a regional parade and festival were being made. As the sun set on a July evening, groups of people, dressed in the traditional garb of their village and accompanied by musicians similarly attired, made their way through the main street and into the amphitheater. For more than an hour, clusters of people, most with children dressed as their great-great-great grandparents would have been dressed for a festival, strolled through town toward the festival. There were antique buggies filled with infants; there were horses wearing the tack and saddlery that looked as old as the building in town. It seemed as all the citizens of the Luberon and Provence were making their appearance in Arles, proudly adorned in the clothing of their distant progenitors. Once in the amphitheater, each group displayed their traditional dances and feats upon horseback and then made way for the next arriving group. We watched for more than five hours and finally succumbed to exhaustion before the event came to a close. It was one of the most memorable nights of a trip filled with so many unforgetable events.

Arles' Saturday market is one of the largest in the area. During the growing season, local farmers bring their fresh fruits and vegetables,. Other stalls have pastries, cheeses, olives and meats, providing a great opportunity to assemble lunch and dinner.

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Avignon

The beauty of southern France, and a dispute between factions of the Catholic Church, explain why the center of the Catholic Church was briefly located in Avignon. Though Avignon is a large city tourists head to the walled village with its impressive buildings. The ramparts, chapels and homes seem to be in near perfect condition though it has been more than 600 years since anyone claiming the papacy has lived within its walls.

Pont du Gard

This aqueduct stands as a monument to Roman engineering and hard work. The three layers of arches were critical to the delivery of water from the nearby hills to the town of Nimes. During the day, you can cross the bridge and swim in the warm waters of the Gard River and at night, you can enjoy the dramatic light show that bounces of the ancient stonework.

Pont du Gard and the nearby town of Uzes are great places to camp. Just south of the Roman aqueduct there are a few clean basic campgrounds. In town there are a variety of hotels that provide lodging to tourists.

Isle de Sorgue

North of Arles is the charming town of Isle sur Sorgue. As the Sorgue River runs through the area, it created a small island that became the center of town. It now hosts a pleasant farmer's market. Continue on to the small village of Fontaine du Vacluse where a large stream springs from a massive limestone cave and was the source of waterpower for a local mill. The rushing stream cools the city on warm summer days. Above the town sits castle ruins while a monument in the center of the village honors the poet Petrarch.

Rousillon, La Coste and Gordes

Most travellers look for hilltop towns in Tuscany but the Luberon has some stunning villages perched atop its hills. In a busy afternoon you can make it to most of those towns by car. You could have a wonderful week reaching the top of those villages by bike.

Rousillon is the source of ochre dyes for artists and manufactures. The houses of Rousillon glow on sunny days with their brightly painted exteriors. It is a spot where you are certain to fill a memory card if the lighting is good.

Gordes is equally stunning though it does so with buildings that are white. Many affluent Parisians make this town a summer retreat.

My husband's favorite spot in the Luberon is the town of Lacoste where the castle of the Maquis de Sade is crumbling above the village. Though still popular, Lacoste has fewer visitors than Rousillon and Gordes but its narrow streets make a pleasant stroll and the view of other villages from the crumbling castle is worth the hike.

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