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Tucked into the heart of Provence lies the antique shopper’s paradise, L’Isle sur la Sorgue. The main streets are lined with antique shops while riverside restaurants and cafés adorn the river banks of the Sorgue.
The ambiance of the ancient town center ebbs and flows across the year. When the bustle accompanying the frequent markets and exhibitions subsides, the town takes on the feel of a laidback village. You can schedule a visit to alternate between lazy afternoons nursing a chilled rosé along the river and combing the antique market with the throngs that visit the city in search of a treasure.
A short drive from Avignon, Isle sur la Sorgue is the perfect base from which to launch a visit to the hilltop towns of Provence to which Peter Mayle introduced his readers. The villages of Gordes and Menerbes are a short drive into the Luberon. When in season colorful fields of lavender and poppies await just beyond the town’s last house.
There is much to offer visitors seeking to slip into la vie Provençal without leaving L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Here are 9 reasons to allow yourself to settle in and discover the charm of L’Isle sur la Sorgue before venturing into the surrounding countryside.
Shop the Isle sur la Sorgue Market on Sundays
There’s been a market in L’Isle sur la Sorgue since the XII century. The Sunday morning market dominates the town. The orchards surrounding the town produce cherries, almonds and multiple varieties of strawberries. The spinach, coriander, and asparagus that fill shoppers’ baskets are grown nearby.
The market is lively, animated, and every visit enjoyable. We sometimes shop with plans for a picnic lunch on Monday. An assortment of cheeses and sausages is added to the fruits and vegetables in our shopping bags. Come morning, we pick up a fresh baguette and drop a bottle of wine into our bag, then set off for a picnic in one of the shaded spots we’ve discovered in our travels.
Browse the Isle sur la Sorgue Antique Shops
The only place in France you will find more antique dealers is Paris. The dealers’ stalls offer a bit of everything: high-end pieces that once graced a grand home in Provence; collections of antique postcards; ornate mirrors; and pots and pans from a grandma’s attic.
We’ve found that knocking around the antique shops after Sunday lunch just to have a look is a nice way to stretch our legs after a leisurely meal. If you find something you like, feel free to bargain on the price. If the treasure you purchase is too big to carry, shipping is easily arranged.
The dealers are open from Friday to Monday. The crowds have typically moved along on Monday making it a good day to peruse the stalls and shops. Here are three ideas to begin your exploration of L’Isle’s famous antiquaries.
Wander along the Waterwheel Tour
Water wheels along the river once powered the town’s silk and wool industries. There are 14 of these former workhorses scattered throughout the town. The Tourist Information Office will provide a map and you can walk the circuit.
Today, one factory continues to produce textiles that are shipped around the world. Brun de Vian-Tiran has been producing high-quality goods since 1808. There is a museum and a boutique at the factory located close to the train station.
Tour the Collégial Notre-Dame-des-Anges
A church has adorned the square now occupied by Notre-Dame-des-Anges since the 13th century. The Collégial, reconstructed between the 15th and 17th centuries, is in the center of town. The toll of the bells in the tower still clang to remind residents and visitors of the hour of the day.
The façade presents a bright contrast to the clear blue sky. Recently cleaned and refurbished the structure is imposing but not ornate, a stark contrast for those passing through the doors to take in the interior.
The colorful baroque décor adorns walls rising around 50 feet. Immense murals, large tapestries, and the usual compliment of statues grace the side altars. The bright gold trim brings out the ornate wooden carvings that decorate the main altar dominating the church. Within the church is a historic monument in the organ which dates from the 15th century.
The view is particularly enjoyable as night falls. Diners take their place at cafes and restaurants having the food fortune to rest in the church’s shadow. The illuminated façade provides a dramatic background as the light of day fades behind Notre-Dame-des-Anges.
Stroll and Shop
Browse the village shops. Many of our visitors leave wishing they had slowed down and explored the town, rather than dashing about the nearby sites of Provence every day. You’ll find numerous boutiques selling clothing, books, and knick-knacks along the rue Carnot. There’s even a small hardware store with an owner that happily directs customers needing repair or handyman advice.
Galleries, wine and cheese shops, and fashionable clothing stores line the rue de Republique. There are several candy stores, a boulangerie, and more small shops to keep you busy on your stroll.
You’ll have no trouble finding a shaded terrace on which to enjoy a long lunch. At the end of the day watch the world go by while sipping a glass of chilled rosé from a riverside café.
Experience The Campredon Centre D’Art
The Hotel Donadéi de Campredon is worth a visit simply to enjoy the building. Constructed in the 18th century as a family residence, the property is now owned by the city. Today it is home to the Campredon Centre D’Art which hosts exhibits on three levels.
A reasonable €6.20 – €5.20 for seniors – entitles you to roam the villa and to enjoy the garden. Three exhibits per year rotate through the galleries offering visitors the work of renowned artists. The garden is oft used for concerts, receptions, and special events. If you are fortunate to visit when an exhibit opens, join in the vernissage. This preview or inauguration of a new exhibit is frequently celebrated with a talk about the show and a glass of champagne in the garden.
Hotel Donadéi de Campredon
20, rue du Docteur Tallet
04 90 38 17 41
Take in Modern Art at Fondation Villa Datris
Dedicated to contemporary sculptures, the Villa Datris’ pieces are displayed over three floors in the 19th-century mansion-turned gallery in 2012. The collection includes works of artists with national and international reputations. Larger works are displayed in the gardens surrounding the building. Temporary exhibits are frequently part of the Villa Datris experience.
Enjoy La Vie Provençal
Allow yourself plenty of leisure time for people watching from the terrace of one of L’Isle sur la Sorgue’s many outdoor cafes. The center of French life – big city or small – is the café. You can partake most any time of day.
In the mornings the village comes to life in these venues. Locals tease each other and gossip while tourists at the next table scan their guidebooks.
As the day unfolds checkered table cloths and place settings are applied as the aromas of lunch being readied wafts from the kitchens across the terraces.
In late afternoon you’ll notice the promenade developing. Strollers – flaneurs – amble along the sun-drenched streets before taking up residence once again in a chair at their favorite café terrace. Dogs rest under tables as the clang of glasses is drowned out by the patter of melodic French.
Indulge by enjoying the daily ritual of café life during your visit. You may develop a new outlook on life after enjoying a few days of la vie Provençal.
Walk to the Partages des Eaux
The benches at the Partages des Eaux provide a resting place where the River Sorgue splits into two branches. You can reach the park at the site by leaving town to the east, and walking along the river for twenty minutes. The little more than ½ mile (1km) stroll is along a shaded road. There are two restaurants and a picnic area at the Partages des Eaux to reward your effort.
Get Set When You Arrive
Before jumping off, visit the Office du Tourisme. It’s located behind the church in the center of town. There you’ll find a helpful staff who can answer your questions in any number of languages. Pick up a map and study it over a croissant and a coffee at one of the nearby cafés across from the church. Then begin your exploration starting from the town center.
When to Go
You can enjoy any season in L’Isle sur la Sorgue. This popular destination tends to be crowded and hot in the summer. The weather is generally agreeable in spring and fall. Other than January when merchants take time off, there is plenty to do in the winter months. The town is festive and hosts a Christmas market beginning in mid-December.
Specialty markets are periodically set up along the quays of L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Once a month there is an artisan’s market. Throughout the year musicians, craftsmen and women, and other talent visit the village. Practice your French while checking out the town’s website and schedule your trip when there will be a market or unique event of interest to you in town.
Twice a year, on Easter weekend and in mid-August, the streets are filled with vendors and visitors from all over the world as the town hosts Antiques, Art & You the popular antique fair. Book accommodations well in advance if you plan to attend.
If your trip to L’Isle sur la Sorgue doesn’t fall over a weekend, there is a smaller version of the Sunday market on Thursday mornings.
Where to Stay in Isle sur La Sorgue
The Grand Hotel Henri was refurbished a few years ago. Enjoy comfy rooms, an excellent restaurant, and a nice garden in which to relax in the afternoon after a day of sightseeing. Book your stay here>>
Isle sur la Sorgue – Getting There
You can easily reach L’Isle sur la Sorgue from the city of Avignon using the train, bus, or by renting a car. The TGV arrives in Avignon from Paris multiple times a day. All the major car rental companies are represented at the Gare TGV. The efficient bus system will spirit you from Avignon to the midst of L’Isle in about a half-hour. Avignon has two rail stations, Avignon Centre and Avignon Gare TGV. Book carefully to suit your travel plans and check your ticket. You can also catch a local train from the Avignon TGV station to L’Isle which may require a quick transfer in Avignon Centre station. Book your train tickets in advance here>>
9 Ways to Spend Your Day in Isle sur la Sorgue – Written by and photos by Guest Contributor Kevin McGoff for EuropeUpClose.com