At the base of the craggy Dentelles de Montmirail, Provencal history comes to life in Vaison-la-Romaine. Once known simply as Vaison, this picturesque little village in the Haut Vaucluse was renamed in 1924 after the discovery of numerous Roman ruins.
Vaison-la-Romaine consists of two halves—an upper town established during medieval times and a more modern, lower town built on Roman foundations—connected across the Ouveze River by a 1st-century, single-arch bridge. The town boasts two impressive archaeological sites as well as a hilltop castle, making Vaison-la-Romaine one of the most monument-packed towns in Southern France. Visitors can also enjoy sophisticated spots to sample French dishes, a famous open-air market, and a thriving arts scene.
From walking along the Ouveze River to catching a live performance at the ancient theater, here are the best things to do in Vaison-la-Romaine.
Exploring Vaison la Romaine
While Vaison-la-Romaine has no public transit, you can reserve a 35-minute tour aboard the village’s Petit Train for only €4.50. You can also get around with a car, but some tight paths must be accessed on foot or by bicycle (just watch for bumps in the cobblestone streets). Stay at the Hotel La Bastide de Vaison, where you can relax by the pool after a long day of exploring.
Walking Around The City
Touring the city on foot will afford you the most opportunities to find Vaison-la-Romaine’s hidden gems. Snap some photos at the Chapelle Saint-Quenin, dedicated to the town’s patron saint, then stroll just fifteen minutes down the road to grab a gelato cone at Leone Artisan Glacier, on Place Montfort. Allow yourself extra time to meander through the streets and take in the old ruins mingled with modern buildings.
Markets, Shops, and Cuisine
Most people visit Vaison-la-Romaine during summer to enjoy the balmy weather, annual festivals, and nearby lavender fields. But no matter what time of year you plan your trip, make sure you’re in town on a Tuesday—that’s when Vaison-la-Romaine’s weekly open-air market, Marche Provencal, takes place.
The region’s truffle season runs from November through mid-March, but visitors can participate in tastings year-round at PLANTIN, a nearly 100-year-old establishment in neighboring Puymeras.
The Medieval Old Town
During a 12th-century conflict between Christian bishops and the counts of Toulouse, Vaison-la-Romaine split into two distinct halves across the Ouveze River. Today, you can experience the village’s medieval history on the upper town’s quiet, cobblestone streets.
Upper Town (Haute Ville) and Lower Town (Ville Basse)
Located on the higher ground south of the river, Haute Ville stands as the medieval town center. Visitors can spy relics like the 12th-century castle and beffroi (clock tower) up here. Most activity today takes place in the lower town, which hosts nearly all of the village’s modern amenities: restaurants, bars, the Cinema Le Florian, and a performing arts theater, among others.
Honoring the Lady of Nazareth, the peaceful Vaison Cathedral features a walled cloister and several chapters of Vaison-la-Romaine’s history in one location. Architecture aficionados can admire the cathedral’s eclectic mix of building styles, which incorporate Roman, medieval, and modern influences into one striking structure.
Chateau de Vaison-la-Romaine
The Chateau de Vaison-la-Romaine dates back to the 12th century, when Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, first established the castle as a wood tower above the Haute Ville. Although the castle does not allow visitors today, if you make the trip up the steep hill, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the ruins and Vaison-la-Romaine.
Activities & Excursions in Vaison la Romaine
In addition to historical sites and landmarks, outdoor activities abound in Vaison-la-Romaine. Considering its location at the base of the stunning Dentelles de Montmirail mountains, the village makes an excellent starting point for hikes, scenic drives, and more.
Dentelles de Montmirail Hiking
The Dentelles de Montmirail mountains, which soar above the town, have several trails for hikers of all skill levels. Those looking for a more relaxing walk should try the Peyrol loop, while serious hikers or cyclists can tackle one of the multi-day routes that surround the village.
Vaison-la-Romaine might not have the same sunny beaches as the French Riviera, but the idyllic River Ouveze flows directly through the heart of town. Nibble on a fruit tart from Peyrerol Gilles as you walk along the river banks, or dip your feet to cool off after a hot, tiring day of sight-seeing.
The highest summit in the Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux is a 40-minute drive from Vaison-la-Romaine. But the trip is well worth it on clear days when visitors can marvel at panoramic views of the surrounding Rhone Valley. Drive all the way up to the windy peak, where you can take in the spectacular scenery with a glass of AOC Ventoux at Brasserie Le Vendran.
If you prefer to leave the trip-planning to the professionals, several companies offer tours of Vaison-la-Romaine and surrounding environs. Gourmands should check out the VIP cheese and wine tour from Provence Panorama or Sun E-Bike’s e-bike and wine tour. Escapades Futees, meanwhile, provides customizable circuits that you can adjust based on your preferences.
Roman Ruins of Vaison la Romaine
Traces of ancient Rome linger throughout Vaison-la-Romaine’s streets. The Romans conquered Provence in the 2nd century BC and would occupy the area for several hundred more years, constructing upscale neighborhoods, public baths, and a gymnasium in what was then called Vasio. For a showcase of Roman aesthetics, visit the House of the Peacock and Maison au Buste d’Argent, which feature ornate mosaic floors.
The Roman Bridge
One of Vaison-la-Romaine’s many picture-perfect spots, the single-arch Roman Bridge stretches 17.2 meters to link the upper and lower towns across the Ouveze River. Although historians date the bridge to the 1st century AD, you can still walk or drive across just like the Romans once did, as the solid stone structure has survived severe flooding and centuries of use.
The Ancient Theatre
Constructed in approximately 20 AD, the Theatre Antique de Vaison-la-Romaine is one of several public works built in Roman times. The theater still serves its original purpose today—visitors can catch the town’s annual dance festival and the triennial Choralies music celebration from the stone benches.
Encompassing the theater, Puymin and La Villasse archaeological sites offer a look into Vaison-la-Romaine’s ancient past. First, drop by the centrally located tourism office to purchase a €9 PASS ticket, which covers entry to all monuments for 24 hours. Then, head to ruins like the House of the Wreathed Apollo and the House of the Peacock to discover how nobles lived during the 200-year-long Pax Romana. Circle back to the tourism office at the end of the day for a sumptuous meal at the Restaurant AUGUET, right next door.