L'ISLE SUR LA SORGUE
l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is famous for its graceful waterways and antique markets which give this chic town its character and atmosphere. The 'isle' was created when the River Sorgue was split into canals ploughed by water wheels powering the paper and silk mills in the 18th century. On a Sunday morning, the quays, main streets and narrow side streets are swamped with antique and brocante stalls, as well as the heady olfactory sensations of traditional Provencal fare changing as you move through the market. The town, despite its modest size (around 17 000 inhabitants), has the biggest collection of antique dealers outside Paris, and art galleries too, reminding us of the area's Impressionist roots (there is even a 'sculpture' of a discarded ear thrown into the river!).
The town has a healthy selection of restaurants, cafés and shops, but is small enough that you can quickly become intimate with it. There are two markets a week, so when the famous Sunday meeting gets crowded in July and August, you can choose to pick and squeeze the ingredients for your gourmet creations on a Thursday instead. The town has a thriving local community, so doesn't 'die' in the winter like many of the more 'chocolate box' tourist attractions; you will quickly feel like you are not 'just a tourist'.
Parking can be difficult in the historic centre-ville of L'isle-sur-la-Sorgue, however, there are lots of car parks all around the town centre within a few minutes walk - everything is very close. The only days with parking restrictions are Thursday and Sunday mornings when the markets are on (these are finished by around 2pm when you can take cars into the centre again). The car parks are all free apart from one - the one by the 'Spar' (it is owned by the supermarket, not the town).
What makes L'Isle sur la Sorgue special is its undisputed reputation as the place in Southern France to shop for antiquities. The first antique fair in l'Isle sur la Sorgue was initiated by Rene Legier. At that time nobody expected it to grow and grow. Today it is probably the third most important antique center in Europe after London and Paris. Over 300 antique dealers exhibit here on a permanent basis; this number more than doubles with visiting dealers every weekend. The international antique fare is held twice a year at Easter and in August. Some antique stores are open all year, others only from April to October. Thursday afternoon to Sunday is your best bet to find all stores open. Dealers from all over the world present an astonishing selection of antiquities. "The only thing you can't get in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a bargain" (Peter Mayle).
Everything you will want to see is in and around the historic center of the town, between the two arms of the river Sorgue and the immediate town adjacent to it. The imposing Notre-Dame-des-Anges (Our Lady of the Angels) church in the center of the "vieille ville" was a Collegial church in 1222. Rebuilt in the 17th century, three sides still show signs of its age; the front is refurbished, and includes a lovely clock showing the time, date and phases of the moon. It is a beautiful Southern Gothic and Baroque structure. The church is surrounded by cafés and shops, including the much-painted Café de France, and the many shopping streets radiating out from this centre have mouth-watering smells and attractive window displays.