L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: our essentials along the water

It is the capital of bargain hunters and second-hand goods dealers! A certain sweetness of life reigns in this Provençal town crossed by the Sorgue, which has earned it the nickname of Venice of Vaucluse. Our essentials.

Nestled between Luberon, Ventoux and Alpilles, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue boasts slow tourism, local gastronomy and a strong textile heritage. Bathed by the Sorgue, from which it draws its wealth, the city has established itself as the French capital of bargain hunters and second-hand goods dealers, who come from all over the world to stroll along the quays and in its picturesque alleys, in search of the gentle Provençal way of life.

The quays of the Venice of Vaucluse

It is nicknamed the Comtadine Venice, or the Venice of Vaucluse. Here, water is omnipresent all year round and seeps through the canals into the heart of the small town centre. From the Sorgue, the city draws its richness and originality. This wild river takes its source from the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, the largest outlet in mainland France. Water thus occupies a primordial place in the life and history of the city. To realize this, just follow the route of the wheels proposed by the tourist office. Over 2 km, this pedestrian route runs along the cool waters of the Sorgue to discover the paddle wheels, vestiges of the textile industry which ensured the prosperity of the city.

Poet and resistant, René Char, the illustrious child of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue where he was born on June 14, 1907, wrote to a friend in 1942 “… Watch while waiting to turn the last wheels on the Sorgue, measure the abundant length of their foam, calculate the dilapidated resistance of their boards, confide in a low voice to the wild waters that we love so much…” Meandering from the alleys to the quays, passing through certain squares and terraces, the Sorgue offers the city a certain charm and a formidable tourist asset. From the heart of town, a 20 to 30-minute interpretive trail leads to the Partage des Eaux, where the Sorgue divides into two arms giving rise to the Sorgue de Velleron and the Sorgue d’Entraigues. Family outing appreciated by L’Islois and tourists passing through, it is also a preserved natural place and very popular at picnic time. To avoid the crowds, go there on weekdays.

The antique villages

The city has six villages of antique dealers. Here, the Nouvel Vag space inaugurated in 2021. New Vag / Photo press

The appointment is given. French capital of flea markets, antiques and design, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has been attracting antique dealers, second-hand goods dealers, craftsmen and artists for 60 years. Year-round, the city’s six antique villages bring together some 300 exhibitors. The major Easter and autumn fairs, highlights of the local calendar, attract up to 10,000 visitors and 500 exhibitors from all over the world. The city is then transformed into an open-air gallery, where art lovers, curious tourists and antique dealers in search of unique pieces stroll from stand to stand, taking advantage of the mild autumn. Year-round, the galleries are open from Friday to Monday, and from Easter Thursday to All Saints’ Day. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue thus offers an alternative to the usual lethargy of Sundays and Mondays in small towns.

Each village has its specialties. Industrial lights, earthenware, aeronautical parts, paintings of religious art, if seasoned second-hand dealers know which porch to go to unearth a rare piece, bargain hunters for a day let themselves be carried away by their curiosity and the flow of the crowd. Under the superb Eiffel-style framework of a former 19th century spinning mill, the New VAG space, inaugurated in 2021, dusts off preconceived ideas about the world of second-hand goods and antiques. The first antiques village in L’Isle sur la Sorgue, opened in 1978, the Village des Antiquaires de la Gare now houses this space where vintage pieces, second-hand clothes and designer objects come together in a modern and rejuvenated spirit. The idea? Attract new customers, especially young people.

Open to the street or to gardens in which the eyes no longer know where to rest, the galleries each claim their own identity. Thus, lovers of furniture from the 16th to the 20th century will hunt around in the sumptuous decor of the Hôtel Dongier, while the Ile aux Brocantes seduces with its tree-lined arbours where one comes to seek freshness, weaving between industrial furniture and of garden.

Skeptics left unmoved by antiques will take a detour to the shop Park side, a 1,000 m² showroom displaying a jumble of old toys, weathered furniture, linens, enamel plaques and other curiosities. According to affinities and budget, visitors are free to let themselves be carried away, from gallery to gallery and along the quays, by objects that will arouse their curiosity.

The market, an unmissable event

Incredible spectacle, one Sunday per month in summer, the market becomes floating. Adobe Stock / Philippe LERIDON

Its notoriety, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue also owes it to its traditional Provençal market. On Thursday and Sunday mornings, gourmets flock from all over the department and even beyond to come and soak up the colors and scents of Provence. Around the Notre-Dame-des-Anges collegiate church, pedestrian traffic is sometimes difficult. Greengrocers, winegrowers, food trucks, olive oil producers, cheese makers, bakers and butchers, nearly 230 exhibitors take over the narrow streets of the city center and the banks of the Sorgue. Strawberries from Carpentras, candied fruits, melon from Cavaillon, Muscat from Ventoux or black truffles from Vaucluse offer a gourmet dive into the terroir. At the end of the morning, it is a pleasure to concoct a picnic with regional products that we will taste in the Gautier municipal park, in the shade of the splendid castle.

Along the river, the lucky ones may attend a Nègo Chin training. Typical boat of the Sorgue, this flat-bottomed boat resembling a gondola was once used by local fishermen. The island association Nègo Chin perpetuates the tradition and often organizes races on Sunday mornings in summer. The helmsman must, with the help of a pole, keep the direction and the progress of his boat without losing his balance to go up the current and pass under the bridges! On the first Sunday of August, part of the market even relocates to the water. Fruits, vegetables, lavender and soaps are then loaded onto the Nègo Chin and sold by merchants in costume. A local and unique tradition not to be missed.

La Filaventure, a story woven over the centuries

Filaventure Brun de Vian-Tiran has been in operation since 1808. CANDE / Photo press

Another highlight of a trip to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: take a trip back in time with a visit to the Filaventure Brun de Vian-Tiran. A major textile producer from the 12th century, L’Isle prospered during the industrial revolution with the installation of factories on the water’s edge, taking advantage of the hydraulic energy supplied by the Sorgue, a veritable source of nourishment. In operation since 1808, Brun de Vian-Tiran is the only textile factory still in operation. The opportunity was too good to expose this know-how to the general public.

In a wing of the factory, a museum has been set up on the first floor of the shop. Merino, alpaca, cashmere, from the Crau plains to Mongolia, the sensory and interactive journey takes us on a discovery of the most beautiful wools in the world. Through interactive maps, videos and an innovation and design laboratory, visitors discover ancestral and unique know-how. The Circuit 1808 combines a tour of the city, a unique visit to the workshops of the factory and a museum. From the thread of the wool to the thread of history, it is the whole heritage of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue that we unfold here.

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L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: our essentials along the water

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