To Sydneysiders, Vaucluse is an exclusive harbourside suburb. To Melbournians it is a Catholic enclave on highly desirable hilltop. To the French, though, Vaucluse is a mysterious spring in a village, in a hidden valley in the Luberon region of the south of France.
One of the world’s largest springs, La Fontaine de Vaucluse, as it is properly known, comes from deep underground. Nobody has ever been able to find its exact source, although many have tried. Jacques Cousteau came close, back in the 1950s, when, equipped with his latest submarine inventions, he tried to reach the bottom of the bassin, or pool. But in the end, even he failed. Since then a probe successfully reached its sandy bed and measured the depth at 308 metres. But still, the actual source of the spring remains a secret.
During the dry season, La Fontaine de Vaucluse is a small round pool, of an extraordinary blue, at the foot the surrounding cliffs. But when heavy rains fall, it becomes a real fountain, shooting 52, 000 litres of water skyward every second.
La Fontaine de Vaucluse feed the River Sorgue, whose waters are crystal clear at the source but soon turn a vivid emerald.
The day I visited La Fontaine de Vaucluse, it was raining ferociously. Thunder was booming around the valley. Water was racing down the hillsides in swift unruly streams and pouring through the village streets. Tragically, after I had battled for what seemed like an eternity up a muddy track, to get within what had to be seconds from the legendary ”fontaine”, I was turned back by a chap in a high viz vest who informed me apologetically that it was “trop dangéreux” to go any further.
It was disappointing and at the time I almost cried. But I did feel that even if I hadn’t seen it, I had felt the force of the mighty Fontaine de Vaucluse.
Furthermore, the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse has a fascinating museum, ambient cafes and restaurants overlooking the Sorgue, as well as some interesting boutiques.