The town of Carpentras in the department of Vaucluse, Provence, is spectacular. At the foot of Mont Ventoux, it has a rather exotic feel, almost Roman with its terracotta roofs and fabulous fountains. The market in Carpentras is one of the best in Provence – no strike that. It’s one of the best in France. It really is that special.
Here’s what to see and do in Carpentras:
This has to be not just one of the best markets in France, but one of the oldest, mentioned in a Papal document of 1155. Visit Carpentras on a Friday morning and you’ll get to witness the vibrant market day. Some 350 stalls snaking their way along a warren of streets and plane tree shaded squares. You’ll find everything from clothes to baskets, shoes to cakes, fruit, veg, truffles, olives marinated a dozen different ways, pungent herbs, tangy cheese, aromatic lavender and mouth-watering street food….
Your senses are assailed by a kaleidoscope of colour, luscious scents and a cacophony of sounds as the charismatic salespeople lovingly describing their wares to buyers. It’s captivating. Market lovers will be dazzled wandering the streets and browsing the stalls.
Tip: If you’re there on a Sunday, enjoy the flea market under the plane trees in the centre of town. Around 180 stalls are there every Sunday morning at the Parking des Platanes.
What to see in Carpentras town
Carpentras certainly has an air of Roman legacy about it, terracotta roofed houses jumbled together along narrow cobbled streets. But the only obvious sign of their existence is the remains of a triumphal arch. Behind the 15th century Gothic Cathedral of St-Siffrein (a 7th century Bishop of Carpentras), the 1st century Roman Arch has carvings displaying captive warriors.
But take a wander through the town and you’ll find history everywhere.
In 1313 Pope Clement V took up residence in Carpentras. His successor moved the Papal Court to Avignon before it was re-established decades later in Rome. Carpentras was the capital of what’s known as Comtat-Venaissin. This territory belonged at one time to the Counts of Provence, at another to the Catholic Church and didn’t become French until 1791.
One of the legacies of the French Popes in Carpentras is the Synagogue, created in 1367. The Jewish community, expelled from France, was welcomed into Papal territory. The synagogue is one of the oldest still active synagogues in Europe.
Discover the Judaica Collection, an incredible collection of ancient books, paintings and sculptures at Inguimbertine, the only library-museum in France. Hosting exhibitions as well as storing books, it’s named after the humanist bishop Inguimbertine of Carpentras (1735-1757) and is well worth a visit.
It’s a lively town that’s great for shopping – the glass covered Boyer Passage is teeming with trendy shops and boutiques.
Carpentras is famous for its berlingot bonbons, hard, translucent, striped, multi-flavoured, multi-coloured boiled sweets in a tetrahedron shape. They make the perfect souvenir and there are several shops selling them in the town. Find out more and watch these delicious little treats being made at the Confiserie du Mont Ventoux.
In fact Carpentras has a definite sweet tooth. Cake-aholics will go gaga for La Maison Jouvaud. Three generations of the Jouvaud family have been tempting the taste buds at their patisserie paradise. Home-made chocolates, meringues, candied fruit, utterly drool-worthy cakes. In an area famous for its confectionary, Maison Jouvaud is a legend. Don’t miss their specialities – candied apricot made to a recipe passed down through the family using pink apricots grown on the slopes of Mont Ventoux. And their strawberry confit – unforgettable. You can also buy the most amazing savoury snacks here, perfect for a picnic lunch. I joined Monsieur Jouvaud in the kitchen to watch him creating – a master at work, and I didn’t let him down when it came to the taste test!
Wine and dine
The perfect antidote to all this sweetness – a glass of wine and a nibble of cheese at Mercy Fromage. Formerly the Maison Vigier, this shop has quickly become renowned for its delicious fromages and wines. With seating out front, it’s ideal for a cheese platter and a glass while you watch the world go by.
Dine out around the fountain in Place Charles de Gaulle and listen to the tinkling water as the sun beats down. The perfect Provence experience…
Where to the locals eat out in Carpentras
Locals love: Chez Serge in rue Cottier. Valérie Gilet, a Provence expert says “Chez Serge has been there for a long long time. The owner, Serge Ghoukassian, is a famous local character. It manages to be both relaxed but gastronomic. And, he is a truffle expert among other things , his truffle pizza is incredible! In winter, once a week, he hosts truffle gala dinners, with a wine-grower invited to share his wines for tasting and learning – it’s really memorable.” Just a few steps from the restaurant, Serge’s wine bar offers a huge selection of wines and pair them with cheese and delicatessen plates, as well winter or summer truffle dishes. It’s THE place to chill out at night!
Local Stephanie Maisonnave recommends: Le livre gourmand: “Two sisters created this unique place a while ago. It is both bookstore and bistro, where you can devour literature while having a light home-made lunch,”
Le Grenache: “A wine bar offering food and wine pairing events. It’s a top address for advice and awide range of vintages – many of them being local, which is perfect!”
Vegetarian restaurant in Carpentras
Vegetarians aren’t forgotten! Au bord de l’Auzon “is great for its informal and fun atmosphere, this small, friendly and unpretentious restaurant sits above the banks of the Auzon waterway. In summer, tables are set in a lovely garden, surrounded by trees and nature, a few steps away from a spa. Dining under the lanterns listening to the gentle sound of water, birds and cicadas is so soothing. In winter, you can have lunch and dinner in a chalet. There is no menu, but a daily slate, as all is prepared every day with the local products that are seasonal. Their vegetarian dishes change daily and you’ll sometimes find there’s a southwestern touch to the dishes, as one of the owners is from this region.”
There’s plenty of choice from bistros to posh nosh. In Carpentras – they take their food seriously.
Find out more on what to see and do in Provence: Provence guide
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