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Fontaine de Vaucluse

Vaucluse

43.923056,5.127778
43°55'23"N 5°7'40"E
Published: April 2010
last updated: March 2011
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The visit

This tiny riverside village is one of the rare places where you’ll see with your own eyes the birth of a river. Just a short walk from the main square will take you to the large basin in the rock, constantly fed by the Fontaine de Vaucluse underground sources, from which flows Sorgue – one of the most important rivers of Provence. The path to the fountain is full of temptations: souvenir shops, ice-cream and candy stands and the most irresistible - the frying pans of crêpe-makers and chichi masters. What you will see at the end of the way is the largest natural sweet water spring in France. In low-water season, when the spring turns into a calm, deep cave-lake, you will have an opportunity to descend underground and approach the edge of the water. In high-water season the water surges from its cave and immediately turns into a spectacular mountain stream.

It was not until the 1985 when the mystery of the spring was partially revealed. In fact, the fountain of Vaucluse is the only exit point of a subterranean basin of 1200m2 that collects water from different mountain chains of the region. Only speleological robots have managed to attain the fond of the basin that lays at -308m.

After taking a walk to the fountain, pay a visit to the village itself. Its historical monuments seem to be in perfect harmony with spectacular Fontaine de Vaucluse landscape surrounding it. From the ruins of the castle of archbishops of Cavaillon, built in XIV century, you will have a beautiful panorama of the village. Great advantage of Fontaine de Vaucluse is that everything is so close: around the main square you will find church Notre-Dame et Saint Veran dated XIth century, as well as the museum of santons – traditional figurines of Provence and the entry to the gallery of local craftsmen that leads up to the spring. In the gallery you can visit an ancient paper-mill now turned into tourist attraction, waffle museum and numerous craft-shops. Other interesting museums: speleological museum («Monde Souterrain de Norbert Casteret»), which explains the origins of river Sorgue and museum of French resistance in 1939-1945 (“Musée de l’Appel de la Liberté”). And finally don’t miss museum-library of Italian poet Francesco Petrarca, who lived in Fontaine de Vaucluse from 1339 to 1353.

Lovers of canoeing will find several campings and canoe-stations right outside the village.

History

Implanted between the river and the rock, Fontaine de Vaucluse has never grown beyond modest 700 inhabitants, even though it was inhabited from the early Neolithic age. Archeologists have found abundant evidence that Vallis Clausa (closed valley - so was called the village in antique period) was a sacred place of the ancient cult of water. In the Middle Age the town belonged to archbishops of Cavaillon. Thanks to geographic isolation Fontaine de Vaucluse has been preserved from territorial and religious wars ravaging Provence. The most interesting page of its history is connected to life of Francesco Petrarca. When Petrarca bought a house in Fontaine de Vaucluse he was already a great man, famous poet and desperate lover. Fontaine de Vaucluse was his refuge from the turmoils of Avignon, where he spent an important part of his life. From the XVth century the village lived principally from the paper-mill industry and was largely forgotten in the era of Industrial revolution. Interest to Fontaine de Vaucluse revived in the end of XIX century, when scientists got the means to explore the depths of the fountain. First attempt belongs to Nello Ottonelli, who in 1879 dived as deep as 23 meters. In 1946 and 1955 legendary researcher Jacques-Yves Cousteau managed to dive to 46, then 74 meters. then in 1983 another diver - Jochen Hasenmayer attained 205 meters - the limit of human capacities. Only robots were able to explore the real depths of the spring - 308 meters - attained by Spélénaute in 1989.

Practical information

Fountaine de Vaucluse is a small isolated town, which is connected with the rest of the world through the nearby cities: Cavaillon and l’Isle sur la Sorgue. To get there by car go to Cavaillon, from there take D2 in the direction Gordes and change to D901 in the direction l’Isle sur la Sorgue, you will have to change the road once again - to D186 and then follow the signs Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. Sounds complicated, by one of the most beautiful villages of Provence is well worth this trouble.

The airports Marseille-Provence and Avignon are not far away, just as TGV station of Aix-en-Provence, however you will need a car to get to the village.
The way by public transport will be long, but possible. From Avignon (gare TGV or Gare Routiere) take bus 6 (Avignon-L’Isle sur la Sorgue-Cavaillon), which passes by Fontaine de Vaucluse. The same bus-line makes connections Cavaillon - Fontaine de Vaucluse and L’Isle sur la Sorgue - Fontaine de Vaucluse. We advice you to study the schedule carefully.

Try to wear comfortable sports shoes and clothes, as the walk to the spring and down into the basin cave can be rather challenging. The riverbank is not secure, so do not let the children run and play without surveillance.

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