It can be difficult to imagine an area of the world with more varied terrain, climate and history than Provençal, the classic spelling of Provence. Even the name Provence is indicative of its history, derived from Provincia Romana, given by the Romans when they established the region as the first Roman province beyond the Alps. Bordered in the northeast by the Alps, the East by the Italian Piedmont, the Southeast by Liguria, the South by the Mediterranean and the West by Languedoc-Roussillon, the most prominent and influential feature, perhaps, is the Rhône River which finds its source in the Swiss Alps at the Rhône Glacier and flows through Switzerland to France and ultimately empties into the Mediterranean. The terroir of Provence; the soil, topography and the climate and perhaps the history are created and dictated by the influence of the Rhône.
We first saw the Rhône in Geneva at the beginning of our journey where it flows into and then out of Lake Léman (Lake Geneva). After leaving Switzerland and entering Italy we did not see the Rhone again until we were driving past Valence on our way to the small city of Bollène. Bollène is located in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur where we stayed for three days as we began our exploration of Provence. We were fortunate to stay in the guest cottages of vignerons Valérie and Jean-Pierre Jourdan, proprietors of Domaine Bastide de Jourdan. The Domaine was perfectly situated for our upcoming explorations of Avignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Orange and the Roman City of Vaison-la-Romaine. Yes, the Domaine’s wine was also quite good and representative of the region.
We explored Orange (Arausio, the original Roman name when founded in 35 BC) on our first day enjoying the delightful Market which consumed several blocks in the center of the city. The local food, vegetables, spices and crafts were eye-catchingly colorful.
The principal historic sites, the Triumphal Arch of Orange and the Roman Theatre, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are two must-sees. Théâtre antique d’Orange, the Roman Theatre of Orange was built in the first Century AD. The preservation of this theater, constructed during the reign of Caesar Augustus, is phenomenal and the efforts to make a living museum have vastly succeeded. The size is difficult to comprehend but consider that it could seat between 5,400 and 7,300 people. The theater is also the home of the summer opera festival, the Chorégies d’Orange.
Not to far from Orange is the historic town of Vaison-la-Romaine. Visitors can walk through the original Roman hill town of Vaso which remains the heart of modern day Vaison-la-Romaine. You are literally walking on cobblestones placed over 2,000 years ago. Most notable is the old Roman Bridge, over the river Ouvèze, constructed in the first century AD and still in use by people and automobiles. I had a feeling of my own insignificance as I considered the people who had crossed that bridge before me and the interesting and difficult lives they must have lead.
Some places to eat near Bollène and Orange:
Le Pigalle in Orange had outdoor and indoor seating and a very diverse menu for or lunch experience. We enjoyed the local wines and food made with very fresh ingredients.
Restaurant La Chapelle Paul Trois Châteaux is located at Saint 5 Impasse Ludovic-de-Bimard, 26130 Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. Recommended by Mme Jourdan, the setting is romantic and intimately delightful. The dishes were very thoughtfully prepared and exquisite in flavor.
Where we stayed: We were very fortunate to stay at the quaint and convenient cottages of Bastide Jourdan at the winery property in Bollène were we awoke to the sounds of harvest. A delightful and well situated location, especially in September. The cottages (there are several) offer full kitchens and 2 bedrooms.
Our first visit, chronicled here, was so pleasant and relaxed that we will be returning in July to experience the annual Lavender bloom which should be spectacular. Read Part II about Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Part III on our report on Avignon!