Sep 7th, 2011 | By | Category: Senior Travel

Seniors Visit a Natural Spring

I’ve been to France 31 times now. I tell my wife if she ever can’t find me…look for me in Provence. As a tour guide I recently had a retired army officer ask me where I would live if I could live anywhere in the world. Without hesitation, I responded, “Provence.”  I wanted to select a single major highlight of the Vaucluse area of France to share with seniors who read this blog.

One of my fondest memories is the Fontaine de Vaucluse,  the dramatic source of the Sorgue River. It is the site of one of the most powerful natural springs in the world. The emerald green calm summer waters become spectacular in the wet seasons, autumn and spring. The Italian poet, Petrarch, who lived there in the 14th century pining for his muse, made the Fontaine world famous.

At the base of high, rocky cliffs, a deep pool of seemingly still water is actually a full-fledged river gushing up out of the depths. A few meters from this pool, the white water rapids crash down over black rocks, giving away the truth of the still waters of the source of the Sorgue river. Below the rapids, the river settles down to a wide expanse in front of dams and waterwheels, passing under the bridge at the center of the village, and then flowing on downstream as a lovely river.  A key feature of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is the truly amazing and unique sight of a river gushing up out of the ground.

From May to early September, thousands throng the riverbanks to witness the phenomenon. Souvenir tents spring up like mushrooms after rain. It is hard to believe that this is really a spring. I’ve walked into the hole when it was dry and could not believe that I had done that when I saw it as its max. It is the fifth largest spring in the world. I’ve seen it at it’s lowest and at it’s highest flow. It is totally dramatic to stand along side of the cave as the water comes cascading down out of the huge opening.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau poured bags of dye over the mountain to see where it originated, without much success. He and several of his men dove into the Fontaine and never did find the source.  In the 1980s, a robot submarine plunged more than 1,000 feet and failed to find the bottom. Churning rapids just downstream of the pool reveal the powerful flow, which can reach as much as 7,000 cubic feet per second. Within about a mile, by the time it passes the waterwheel and scenic bridge in the center of town, the spring has widened and formed the broad, clear Sorgue River.

The town downstream is called Isle Sur La Sorgue and it too is well worth a visit as it is world famed for its antique stores.  Plan on having lunch right along side of the stream and enjoy the atmosphere. Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is a medieval village tucked in a “closed valley” at the southwestern corner of the mountainous Plateau de Vaucluse, 25 km east of Avignon.

Santons on Display for Seniors

My wife and I watched a boat battle in the middle of the stream with two chinese dragon boats and a man standing on the front with a long pole and a large boxing glove on the end trying to knock off another in the same stance on the other boat. One of the attractions along the stream is a paper mill. Now a site for tourists to visit, this was a driving industrial force from the 15th century.

There are seven museums in the village. Le Musée du Santon has over 2000 santons (little saints) on display. Provence is well famed for these small treasures with the most famous coming from a man in Aix-en-Provence, Paul Fouque. With his name stamped on the bottom of them, they are  quite valuable little figures.  Le Coup Mistral, is one of his most noted santons and for $531 you can take one home. If you should get to Aix, be sure to check out his workshop. Enjoy la Vaucluse. jeb

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