L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, also known as the Venice of Provence, is an iconic little Provence town with much to commend itself, whether you come for the antiques, the markets or the old town itself.
The Sorgue River
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue means the island on the river Sorgue. It is the crystal-clear Sorgue which gave birth to the town, the water wheels scattered about provide the clue. The wheels drove textile mills, and the textile business is the source of the wealth still evident in the architecture of l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, with its grand houses and surprising church.
The Sorgue river, omnipresent, clear and cool, comes out of the ground ready-formed at Fontaine de Vaucluse a few kilometres away. In summer the river is the scene for various colourful activities, like water jousting and the floating carnival called the Corso Nautique.
If you fancy a dip, head for the Partage des Eaux (the Parting of the Waters) a short walk out of town. This is where the river cuts in two and effectively makes an island of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It’s an idyllic spot, the river green and clear, big trees overhanging on the banks, even a couple of simple restaurants. You’ll want to jump in, but a word of warning – the river is so clean because it has just come from deep underground at Fontaine de Vaucluse, but this also means that the year-round water temperature is 13°C/55°F. It’s wonderful once you get used to it!
The economy of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is no longer driven by the river, but by antiques.This is the biggest antiques centre in France outside of Paris.
Aside from markets there are permanent antique shops and antiques ‘villages’ – these are collections of dealers in disused warehouses, mansions and courtyards, about 300 of them, open from Friday to Monday all year.
Even if you are not buying, it is fun to browse because everything is here.
The Campredon Centre d’Art puts on 3 modern art exhibitions a year in a gorgeous 18th century mansion which is partially classified as a Historical Monument – worth visiting just for the building.
Housed in a beautiful villa by the river, Villa Datris is dedicated to contemporary sculpture, both inside and in the garden. It is open from May to October and entrance is free.
The Antique Toy and Doll Museum (Musee du Jouet et de la Poupee Ancienne) is the result of one local’s obsession – Huguette Jeanselme – who collected all the exhibits, ranging from the 18th century to the modern day. If you like antique dolls, you will like it, and if you find dolls a bit creepy you should avoid.
For the Kids
- Parc Gautier is a lawned park in the centre wih playgound for smaller children and skatepark for older ones (and the bonus of one of the old grand houses of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to look at from the outside, Chateau Gautier).
- Have lunch at La Villa restaurant, the children can swim in the pool, and after eating you can keep an eye on them from the sunloungers. And it’s a good restaurant.
- Kayaking down the Sorgue, from Fontaine de Vaucluse down to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, with either Canoe Evasion or Kayak Vert.
- Younger children will enjoy spotting fish from a bridge or feeding the ducks, and then find the giant ear in the water.
- Villa Datris, with its contemporary sculpture inside and out, is intriguing and accessible for children.
Search below for our Isle sur la Sorgue restaurant recommendations:
What we like…
- L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is where we come for a little bit of refinement – whether that is in the food or the shopping, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a step up from the villages.
- Water everywhere! Provence can be a parched land, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a counterpoint to that, with running water never far away.
- Of course the markets – Sunday is a perfect storm of antiques, bric-a-brac and food, and there’s a great choice of lunch venues too.
Things to note…
- Sunday is market day.
- Sunday is a very popular day to visit L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, so parking becomes difficult. You will always find somewhere to park, but it is a question of how far you have to then walk…
- The prices at an antique or bric-a-brac stall are just starting points for negotiation. You should never pay the asking price!