We have discovered a special part of Provence, in the South of France, near the foothills of the French Alps. This area lies within the region roughly bounded by the villages of Gigondas, Grignan, Nyons and Buis de Baronnies. The region is in the northeastern part of Provence and includes parts of the districts of Drome and Vaucluse.
It is a beautiful part of Southern France, with a wide variety of things to do and see. Views take in rich lavender fields, grapevines, and the soft gray of the olive groves. Nyons, one of the best of the larger villages in Provence, is the gateway to the French Alps. Nyons has a very lively market every Thursday throughout the year, as well as many restaurants and old stone architecture dating back to times of Roman influence.
There are too many wineries to count in the area, however the wines from the villages of Gigondas and Vinsobres are rated as among the best in the region. Apart from wine there are many other delicacies to sample, Nyons is the olive capital of France and a visit to la Nyonsaise is a must to taste the olives, oils and other wonderful produce. La Vinsobraise (at the beginning of the road to Vinsobres) houses all the Vinsobres wines which have one of the best reputations for red wine in France. Nyons also has it’s own lavender distillery with a shop next door to purchase all those lovely lavender products.
Vaison la Romaine also lies in this region (with a fantastic market every Tuesday) and is a must to visit with its well preserved ancient section of the village and recently discovered Roman ruins that are well preserved, as well as a Roman ampitheatre, which is currently being restored. The ancient Castle of the Counts of Toulouse is well worth the climb, as well as the ancient old village on the hill over the old bridge.
Grignan with it’s superb castle, which was the centre of power for the region until the French Revolution, is 20 minutes to the west of Nyons. Chateau Grignan is a beautiful Chateau with a perched village at the base. You can see it for miles as you pass through Valreas. Lots of lovely boutiques and artisan shops for that special gift will be found here. The Chateau is well worth a tour if you have time, as well as the church. Lunch at one of the many cafes and restaurants at the base of the castle is a lovely way to pass away the afternoon.
North and east from Nyons are the scenic gorges and then the beginning of the stunning French Alps with great skiing in winter, hiking in summer and breathtaking scenery.
An hours drive to the southwest of Nyons is Avignon, well known as the home of the Catholic Church for the reign of six Popes from 1377 onwards, and also the Pont St Benezet – from the song ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon’. The bridge only goes half way across the Rhone – the rest having been swept away by floods a couple of hundred years ago. The Palais des Papes offers an important insight into the influence on southern France of the relocation of the Catholic Church from Rome to Avignon.
Marseilles and the Cote d’Azur are about and hour and a half drive south from Nyons on the Motorway.
In Summer the markets in the region can get very busy, so it is a good idea to get there before 10 as they close at 12. A selection of the best markets in the region:
Tuesday– Vaison la Romaine – a wonderful selection of food, crafts, clothing and plants. Good in winter too!
Thursday– Nyons – our favorite market. Lots of everything and lovely cafes to have lunch at. Wander down to the old bridge through old town.
Friday– Carpentras – plenty of variety.
- St Cecile de la Vigne – A small but lovely provencal market – well worth a visit!
- Uzes – Lots of food stalls with local specialities. Worth combining with a trip to the Pont du Gard.
- Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – The largest antique market outside Paris plus all the usual food and craft stalls. Well worth a half day visit.
- Carpentras – Flea market – you’ll never know what you will find here!
This is only a taste of the wonderful things we have found in this part of Provence and we strongly recommend a visit. Access to this part of Provence is easiest via the TGV stations at Avignon or Montelimar which are about 2 hours and 30 minutes travelling on the main line south from Paris or Charles De Gaulle airport. Lyon, which has the third largest airport in France, is 56 minutes by TGV north of Montelimar.