On a recent road trip, the Magellan adventurers discovered a stunning little piece of paradise – L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in the Vaucluse department of Southern France. Known as the antiques capital of France, there are over a thousand antiques shops in town, some stunning chambre d’hôtes in which to stay, some great restaurants in which to eat and some wonderful local attractions to visit.
Where to stay:
The glorious newly refurbished Grand Hôtel Henri is situated in the heart of town and is decorated in the style of Napoléon III otherwise known as Style Française. It was originally known as the Hotel Chartres, then the Hôtel Pétrarque et Laure, and was visited by the Empress Eugénie in 1867. Notably, their restaurant was featured in the very first Michelin guide of 1900.
Where to eat:
Situated in the heart of one of the main antique markets, Le Quai de la Gare, is the Michelin-starred oasis of the charming and talented Chef Daniel Hebet – Le Jardin du Quai. Originally from La Rochelle, he studied cuisine in Paris before engaging his thirst for travel and ended up in Peru where he become the most famous Frenchman in the country, thanks to his television appearances! He returned triumphant to France, to the Restaurant La Mirande in Avignon where he won his first Michelin star. He opened Le Jardin du Quai in 2004 and serves a simple, refined menu at lunchtime with a more gastronomic offering in the evening.
Where to drink:
The Rhonéa wine co-operative (otherwise known as Artisan Wine Growers with a Heart!) is a must stop on your travels around the area.The organisation provides some excellent tours around the vineyards which include many on the world stage and an added advantage is, your tour is with the actual winemakers rather than just with a local guide. Appellations gigondas, vacqueras and Beaume de Venise are particular to the area. Sweet white Beaume de Venise is probably the best known wine but the red Cru is just as good and worthy of all the accolades it receives. Apart from the tours in 4×4’s, Rhonéa can do them on bikes or on horseback, otherwise tastings are in the main cellar or, in clement weather, amongst the vines. Gastronomic meals with tasting notes in the Dolium Restaurant are fun at only €70 per person. There are truffle hunts in the season starting on 3rd December – 4th March 2017 when they hold pairing contests. Les Temps Forts – Semaine de Goût – is another firm favourite event which has wines and food pairings galore with noted chefs having pop-ups in the vineyards. Advance booking is vital as its very, very popular.
Throughout L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, there are vestiges of the town’s former life as an industrial centre producing silk, paper and wool by harnessing the power of water. These enormous water wheels used to be everywhere in town but now, there is just one still working at Brun de Vian-Tiran which is the only business now producing fine wool products.
What you might not expect in an antiques centre, is a contemporary private art collection of world renown – the Villa Datris. Opened in 2011, this amazing collection belongs to Danièle Kapel-Marcovici with 25 outdoor sculptures in the magnificent gardens and many rooms inside of works of art. Sculptural exhibits include those by Laurent Perbos, Jesús-Rafael Soto, Rym Karoui and Thomas Lardeur. Open May – October, entrance is free to all.
An absolute must if you love tapenade is a pit-stop at Les Délices du Luberon, offering a cornucopia of Provençale products but especially Tapenade. What they cleverly also do is produce tiny recipe booklets using their products – available in English – which shows you how to make the most of your purchases – Salmon Sushi with Olive Jam for instance, Loin of Lamb with Black Tapenade or Pan-fried Foie Gras with Onion Confit – recipe ideas to bring the sunshine of Provence to your table is their quite appropriate motto.
The perched villages in the mountainous areas of Southern France are a must visit on any road trip. On this occasion, quite close of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is the magnificent ancient village of Gordes. Gordes is one of seven “Plus Beaux Villages de France” within the department of the Vaucluse. With its stunning white and grey buildings spiralling around the rock on which it is built, it has a labyrinth of cobbled streets, was home to Marc Chagall, is home to contemporary artist Pol Mara who has a museum here and many other celebrity visitor-residents including Madonna and Michael Jackson. The village was an Oppidum in Roman times – a word we came to know well in this region and it means literally a large Roman settlement in an administrative area of Ancient Rome. It is only 30 minutes drive to Avignon and it offers views over the magnificent Mont Luberon and surrounding countryside.
Contributor & photographer: Sue Lowry
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