Vaucluse, on the east bank of the Rhone in south-eastern France, is a rich tableau of winding rivers and handsome hilltop villages above vineyards and olive groves.
Suffice to say, there’s plenty there to keep visitors occupied – but which activities rise head-and-shoulders above the rest?
The Mail on Sunday’s Gareth Huw Davies visited the area in Provence, where he found precious truffles, Roman riches, rare antiques and a Tour de France landmark…
Vaison-la-Romaine, pictured, was once a thriving Roman town – with remains still including an ancient bridge over the River Ouveze, built in the 1st Century
Vaucluse comes from the Latin for ‘closed valley’, referring to the 750ft-high cliff face above the deepest spring in France, at Fontaine- de-Vaucluse.
The Roman presence is all around Vaucluse, including its main city of Avignon and the town of Orange. The formidable theatre there is still used for performances.
But don’t miss one lesser-known site, Vaison-la-Romaine, which was once a thriving Roman town. Its remains include a Roman bridge over the River Ouveze, built in the 1st Century.
It features a rare, single semi-circular arch with a 54ft span and is still in use. The Archaeological Museum, among the ancient remains, is worth a visit. Look out for the Peacock Mosaic.
Gordes, pictured, is a spiral of old stone houses under terracotta roof tiles, just one of Vaucluse’s charming villages
Some of the finest villages in France are in Vaucluse, including Lourmarin, Seguret and the medieval walled settlement of Venasque.
Gordes is a spiral of old stone houses under terracotta roof tiles. The French express civic pride in many ways, but I particularly liked the solution in the tiny village of Suzette.
They couldn’t afford a real library, so villagers rescued a telephone booth that was about to be dismantled, repainted it and transformed it into a library, or reading cabin.
Hotel Crillon le Brave, pictured, is an elegant maze of rooms, stone stairs and narrow passages, complete with a pool and stunning views
I have never found anything as perfectly rooted in its environment as Hotel Crillon le Brave. The owners took a huddle of hilltop buildings in the tiny hamlet of the same name, 24 miles from Avignon, and turned it into an elegant maze of rooms, stone stairs and narrow passages.
Push open a door and you enter a cosy lounge, the two restaurants, a terrace with sensational views, a spa and a boules pitch.
From our tower room at the top, fitted with two free-standing rolltop baths, we looked down on a sea of vineyards and olive groves.
There’s plenty of cheese to be found in Carpentras, with opportunities to see a demonstration in the craft of goats’ cheese making (stock image)
Our hotel promoted the ‘experience’ – an excursion curated just for you. We chose to base ours around cheese.
Our first call was Madame Vigier’s Aladdin’s cave of a cheese shop in Carpentras. We then followed our guide and Mme Vigier up winding roads to the farm of one of her suppliers, where we were given a demonstration in goats’ cheese making – an ancient craft combined with the latest technology.
A more conventional visit is to little Isle sur la Sorgue, where branches of the River Sorgue meet. Water wheels, narrow streets and stairs down to old washing wells add distinction.
The time to visit is any weekend, when the town is transformed into one of Europe’s biggest centres for antiques and secondhand items.
Giant of Provence
The climb up Mont Ventoux, is one of the toughest tests for riders such as Britain’s Chris Froome in the Tour de France, pictured
Mont Ventoux, the striking stand-alone mountain topped with a great, white cone of bare limestone, is visible for many miles around.
The Giant of Provence is the backdrop to any photograph you take of the pretty villages or rivers of the Vaucluse. The climb to the 6,272ft summit is one of the toughest tests for riders such as Britain’s Chris Froome in the Tour de France.
If you fancy tackling it on foot, one walk begins in the village of Malaucene where the poet Petrarch, in 1336, claimed to be the first ‘tourist’ to climb a mountain for pleasure.
The Saturday morning truffle market in the village of Richerenches, pictured, is your chance to sample the glorious delicacy right from the source
No trip to Provence is complete without hunting for glorious black truffles.
The Saturday morning truffle market in the village of Richerenches is the place to experience this gastronomic phenomenon during the season, between November and March.
There’s the chance to sample black truffle – or black gold, as it is known in these parts – served in an omelette or a soup, or shaved over risotto or pasta.
My hotel was one of a number to take their guests truffle-hunting.