We set off from Avignon on January morning and found ourselves in the tiny French village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, which is tucked in a Vaucluse or “closed valley” at the source of the River Sorgue. This is one of the most visited places in the Vaucluse and in the Summer the village of just 600 inhabitants is said to be overrun with tourists. Luckily, we were visiting in the off-season, so that wasn’t a problem for us.

Wow! Just wow. The French village of Gordes is a truly stunning town and one of the jewels of the Luberon region of Southern France, which is a considerable compliment given the competition. One can’t help but use the word citadel to describe the city of rock built on – perched on – this mountainside. It runs in terraces down the slope of the hill and seems to keep vigil on the fields and farms stretched out below us. 

The French Village of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is absolutely enchanting. Not only is it considered ‘The Provençal Venice’, but it’s also the antiques capital of Provence. Crystal-clear, emerald water that flows through this compact medieval town. Narrow footbridges cross five branches of the Sorgue river. Ducks and the occasional swan doze on the banks. Water wheels are still seen throughout the city with quiet, mossy blades delicately tracing out time in the old city, relicts from silk and paper manufacturing ages ago. 

As we walk down the Rue de la République toward the Avignon Central Train station, the air is cool and crisp. We snuggle into our winter coats to keep warm. Christmas lights are strung over the road and as we pass several bakeries the smell is intoxicating. The early morning sky is lit with red and orange as we stand on the platform where we will catch the shuttle train to the TGV station on the outskirts of town, where our rental car waits. The ride from the central station to the TGV is quick – 10 minutes at most. Outside the front of the shining post-modern train station are several rental car companies. We’ve arranged a car with Europcar today – a cute little Renault Twingo. We’re excited to visit 4 of the most beautiful villages in Provence.

No visit to Avignon is complete without a walk on the Pont Saint-Bénézet, also known as the Pont d’Avignon. So, on a beautifully warm and sunny December day we made our visit. It was interesting to stand on this iconic landmark and the subject of the famous French song and nursery rhyme, Sur le pont d’Avignon. One can’t help but sing the words that date from the 16th century when you look out over the Rhône River. Like so many times during this trip, it felt like we were making a connection to history, however small and however brief those moments might be.

Standing in the courtyard in front of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon (Palais des Papes), it’s not hard to sense the power and influence that this building was meant to symbolize for the Catholic church. Its grand and imposing architecture spans 15,000 square meters and stands 50 meters high. Soaring into the blue Avignon sky, one wonders if its meant to give the impression that it’s reaching for heaven.

Medieval Carcassonne has been considered a strategic location since Neolithic times. Its first settlement dates to about 3500 BC. This ancient rocky hilltop is steeped in history and lore. The Romans were the first to build ramparts around the cité (walled town) in the 1st Century BC. The prime hilltop location made it easy to defend, and its strategic position between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea, as well as between the Massif Central and the Pyrénées made it an important trading place as early as the 6th century BC.