The road to Vaison from Orange is narrow and winding. The bus takes us through tree-lined alleyways and past vibrantly green vineyards. For most of the drive, we’ve had a spectacular view: several clusters of tan and terracotta buildings—too few to call a town—perched around churches or towers on forested hills. In the valleys, grapevines stretch endlessly; many of them with “Hollywood” style signs advertising their variety of wine. The deep green turret-like trees typical of the region are scattered throughout the landscape. In the distance, there is a vast cliff formation atop a sloping mountain, and I find myself wondering if there are any rock-climbing routes there.
As we approach the town, we pass the Garden of the 9 Maidens, a contemporary sculpture garden composed of 81 blocks of granite engraved with signs and texts in the languages of the Nine European Cities of Culture. It was created, I found out later, after the devastating floods of 1992, each city contributing a poem in honor of the new millennium and to show their support for a united artistic community.
Finally, the town comes into view, and I am struck by the medieval city high on the rocks on the left bank of the river Ouveze. The chateau and its ramparts are the first things that catch my eye, piquing my interest in the Old Town and its history. I will have to explore it tomorrow.
After descending from the bus, I walk towards the Centre Ville to find my hotel: Hotel Burrhus, and as I round the corner, my eyes take in the quaint awnings and satisfying sounds of people dining. Even in this drizzly weather, the town is alive. I wander further into the center of town, not bothering to consult a map, remembering that Hotel Burrhus is situated on the main square of the town. It can’t be too far, I think. It’s not quite closing time, and most of the shops still have their displays on the streets: summery dresses and clothing rippling in the breeze.
It seems as if every street here is for pedestrians only. I feel safe here, respected. I continue to wander, not without aim, but more interested in discovering this village than finding the most direct route to my hotel. I am surprised by Vaison’s size. I had expected one main street, maybe two, the village square, and a couple of restaurants. But this place is bustling. Many fashionable shops line the streets, and there are a dozen or so open restaurants—and a few closed—within only a couple of blocks.
Finally: the square, and the large contemporary sign “Hotel Burrhus”. I have made it to my destination! I open the unique metallic door with its swirling handle and mount the terracotta stairs. At the top, I find the reception and am greeted kindly by Anouchka, who checks me in and walks me to my room. The hotel is a conglomeration of several buildings, and its up-and-down staircases lend an MC Escher-like vibe. The exits and room numbers are clearly marked, though, so I suspect I will have no problem navigating on my own. Anouchka gives me a pamphlet on the main attractions of the area and tells me to ask if I have any questions.
After she leaves, I inspect the room: a comfy minimalist space with egg-like lamps suspended from the ceiling and an easy-to-operate thermostat. In the bathroom there are gorgeous dark tiles and contemporary fixtures. I discover a guide to contemporary art on the desk, and sit down to flip through it and to decide what to do in the morning.
Short Break at Vaison-la-Romaine : Day 2