We were up early to move the car and as I sat with my coffee on the window sill, watching the little town stretch and yawn and get ready for the day’s bustle and flurry of activity, the stillness was disturbed by the arrival of the first of many covered vans carrying their wares to the largest outdoor markets in the Luberon. LÍsle-sur-la-Sorgue is a food market, flea market and antique market rolled into one so you can buy everything from fromage to fine art.
Our apartment was on the second floor in an ancient building right in the heart of town. It was a studio apartment with the bedroom suspended from a mezzanine floor. The stairs were steep so we made the under-stair space our dressing room and storage area. It worked particularly well. Everything was at our fingertips.
Our larder was stocked and we resolved to make as many meals in, as was sensible- considering we were in France. John discovered the boulangeries close by and we tested the various croissants each morning and decided on a favourite. After coffee and cereal, it was time to explore. Peter Mayle once wrote, “You can get anything at the L’Isle sur la Sorgue markets, except a bargain”, but we were not there to buy. We were there to experience.
It is enormous. I had no idea of the variety of one fruit for instance- huge gnarled orbs, oblong squat and tiny baubles, red, yellow, green and purple- Ahh tomatoes!! Cheese that came flavoured with lavender, pesto or tomato coloured blue, green, red respectively and one even multi-coloured. Olives and garlic displayed in their many varieties, seasonal fruits and vegetables so prolific they are sold at specific vendors.
Stretching along the river on both sides and through the labyrinthine streets of the small town, LÍsle-sur-la-Sorgue is a wonderful setting for this large and eclectic market. Plane trees provide shade while the babbling river and historic waterwheels and flower-bedecked riverside cafes and restaurants offer respite from the jostling crowds. We wandered until our feet hurt and the crush of the crowd became too much. It was a complete sensory treat. It was time to retreat to our little nest in the heart of the chaos.
The town is famous for being a hub for antique dealers and is the second largest antique centre in France after Paris. We decided that we would investigate the antiques later in the week. These markets are huge!!
We did investigate the following day and discovered the intricacies of this amazing little town with its myriad of antique shops, art galleries and specialty stores to delight anyone with an eye for the unusual and unique.
The last time we were in this area was 2009 when we also visited Fontaine du Vaucluse and it was so spectacular we decided to do so again. We were horrified by what we saw. We were aware that this area of France was experiencing a drought but the spring, Fontaine du Vaucluse, is the fifth largest in the world, the source of the River Sorgue andnormally has an annual flow of 630 million cubic metres. It was surprisingly low. We clambered down the cliff face beyond the safety fences but were not prepared to go into the cavern itself. The water level must have been thirty metres lower than when we had seen it last.
Next, Gordes where we inadvertently found ourselves forced to drive into the heart of the small town on market day. It was daunting. We gently nudged the marketeers out of our way and headed to the heart of the village, the school, where entrepreneurial parents and citizens were making a killing taking five euro for each car. The markets were wrapping up and so we found a delightful little restaurant with a fabulous garden and settled in for lunch. Oh, it is so easy to do lunch in France.
Next stop Lourmarin. Again we had visited this village many years ago and it was still just as delightful. We wondered aimlessly finding delightful art galleries, artisan shops and tiny museums. Of course, it was time for coffee and there was no end of charming cafes to choose from. We indulged…Again!!!
On our return to LÍsle-sur-la-Sorgue, we stumbled across a boat race. Obviously a very long-standing boat race. As we watched the participants struggle and scramble over weirs and walls, with some serious and others just plain silly, we saw a dad and his sons fall and struggle to reassemble into the elongated flat-bottomed boat (Nego Chin) but as other competitors stopped to help we understood the point of the competition was simply to complete the course. We never worked out where the start or finish was and I really don’t think it mattered. At this stage, the whole point was the participation. It highlighted the feeling that we have in France, that life is about participating, cooperating, complementing and just being.