Good Morning Vaison
So often sleeping in a strange bed is uncomfortable, but not at Hotel Burrhus: I have no back-ache this morning, and I rise with energy. At the reception, Laurence, the owner, greets me and asks if I would like coffee or tea. She invites me to sit on the deck and enjoy the weather. Outside, the square is full of the sounds of voices: merchants hawking their wares, tourists haggling with them. “It’s the Tuesday market tomorrow,” Anouchka had told me, eyes glittering. “It’s village-wide. You’ll like it.” From the terrace, I have a bird’s eye view of the canvas roofs over each stall.
My tea comes with fresh orange juice in a tall glass and a small basket of bread. Inside, I discover a vast array of local fruits and cheeses as well as the breakfast norms. The food is good and well worth the 9 Euros I paid for it. There are only a couple other people on the terrace at 9:15, and the atmosphere is calm and familial.
Exploring a Provencal Market
After breakfast, I decide to wander through the market. Laurence has asked me to return at 2 for a tour of the hotel, so I have some time before then. As I descend into the square, the noises and smells that had been peripheral from the terrace become much more immediate; my sensory intake is forced into overdrive. The stalls are an array of colors: Provencal fabrics hang from above, swaying in the breeze. Sachets of herbs and fragrances are laid out artistically. Several booths sell only straw hats: fedoras, panama hats, floppy hats, trilbies… Others are dedicated to children’s clothes, and I find a perfect dress in a yellow Provencal pattern for my three-year-old niece. The saleswoman shows me her name on the tag. “Handmade by me,” she says, grinning, showing teeth.
From the square, the market branches into about five directions, stretching like rivulets through the main streets of town. I had thought about renting a bike today, but I can barely weave through the strollers, walkers, and flaneurs on my own feet, let alone on wheels. I buy a loaf of sesame bread, a tapenade, and a mixture of olives to save for lunch, then I seek out the Roman ruins.
Site-Seeing: Roman Ruins
Nowhere in town is very far, and I am in front of the gate toute de suite. The price for a student ticket is only 3 Euros—extremely reasonable considering the extensive grounds available to view. Everything, I have noticed, is well-priced in this town, especially the market. “Vaison is a touristy town,” Laurence tells me later, “but it is also a family town. People live here year-round.” I suspect this is part of the reason for its affordability.
The ruins are impressive. Though they are not grandiose or towering, they stretch quite a distance, and include several well-preserved statues: one each of Emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina. As I wander through the rubble, I become absorbed in recreating the town, imagining tall stone buildings where there are now only foundations, and wondering who lived here and what their lives were like. I follow a winding forest trail up to the most impressive site yet: the ancient Roman theater. I am surprised to see how closely it resembles the layout of a modern stadium. It holds six-thousand people—nearly the entire population of Vaison—and is still in use today. On Friday, the annual Vaison Dance Festival will begin hosting events here, continuing throughout the month of July.
There is a second part of the Roman ruins, a very rich quarter of the town that includes the well-maintained ruins of several grand residences, a public bath, and a shopping street. There are also remains yet to be excavated. When the main square was recently renovated, ruins were found underneath its foundations. And then of course, leading into the medieval hilltop city is the region’s oldest Roman bridge used as a modern road. It even withstood the devastating floods of 1992 that left the village without power or water for three whole days.
Short Break at Vaison-la-Romaine : Day 1
- Short Break at Vaison-la-Romaine : Day 3