In search of the source of La Fontaine de Vaucluse

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.

The pretty village of La Fontaine de Vaucluse
The pretty village of La Fontaine de Vaucluse

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.

There’s more to Avignon than le pont

.Although Le Pont Saint Bénézet aka Le Pont d’Avignon, is probably the most famous feature of the French Provencal town of Avignon, there is a great deal more to it than its legendary bridge.

Le Palais des Papes
Le Palais des Papes

For centuries Avignon was a place apart from the rest of France, first as a Roman outpost, next as the “City of Popes” and then as an independent Republic. It was not until 1791, after the French Revolution that it became a part of France. Today’s Avignon is a city of two distinct characters and of two separate parts; at its heart is a small mediaeval town, walled in by thick stone ramparts and encircling it is a vast modern city.

In 1309, Pope Clement V moved to Avignon and until 1423 it remained the seat of the Papacy and the centre of the Catholic Church. The popes resided in enormous fortress-like Palais des Papes. Constructed between 1335 and 1364 on a natural rock spur, it had walls 5 centimetres thick and was virtually unassailable.

Like many splendid French palaces, especially those linked to the aristocracy and the church, with the Revolution, le Palais des Papes became a barracks and then a prison.

Le Palais des Papes is now a museum of art, architecture and history – a fascinating, time devouring institution, definitely not the place for a rushed visit. Leave lots of time to linger, grab an audio guide and travel back through the centuries..

Avignon is famed world-wide for its annual theatre festival and its historic centre is a UNESCo World heritage site