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Le Comtat Venaissin

In the footsteps of the popes in Provence

The Comtat Venaissin

A former pontifical state attached to France during the French Revolution, the Comtat Venaissin still retains the memory of the pontiffs who administered these lands for several centuries. Discover the Comtat, a major tourist destination in Provence.

The History of the Comtat Venaissin

At the beginning of the 11th century, the territories of the Marquisate of Provence became the property of the Counts of Toulouse, a powerful Occitan family. After the Albigensian Crusade, in 1229, Count Raymond VII of Toulouse gave his lands along the Rhone River. The territories west of the river were acquired by the king of France, and those east of the river were acquired by the papacy. The pontiffs inherited it in 1274. The Comtat Venaissin was born under the reign of Pope Gregory.

The Comtat Venaissin reached its peak in the 14th century, when the popes settled there. Seven pontiffs succeeded one another from 1305 to 1377. They cultivated cereals, olive trees and vineyards, built palaces, churches, monasteries and castles, reinforced the city walls, and contributed to the cultural and political influence of the region.

The region remained the property of the Papacy until the French Revolution, and was attached to France on August 18, 1791. This territory allowed the creation of a new department, the Vaucluse.

Cities, villages and heritage

The popes have left many treasures to future generations, which today seduce tourists from around the world.

Avignon has an exceptional heritage, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. The Palace of the Popes, the largest Gothic construction of the Middle Ages, has a remarkable architecture. The Saint-Bénézet bridge, partially destroyed by the Rhône floods, is known thanks to the famous nursery rhyme “Sur le pont d’Avignon”. The papal city still has its perfectly preserved ramparts. It also hosts many museums, churches and ancient palaces.

Carpentras is located near Mont Ventoux. It has remarkable monuments, such as the Cathedral Saint-Siffrein. Its synagogue, the oldest active one in France, reminds us of the presence of Jewish populations in the Comtat Venaissin.

In the historical center of Cavaillon, you can discover the cathedral, the synagogue, or the chapel of the Grand Couvent which now hosts temporary exhibitions.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is famous for its wine and for the ruins of its ancient castle. Richerenches, located in the enclave of the Popes, was built around a Templar Commandery. Pernes-les-Fontaines, near Carpentras, has many fountains. The elegant castle of Barroux is admired by many visitors. All the villages of the Comtat have become real tourist attractions.

Between local products and landscape

Wine growing is very present in the Comtat Venaissin. The wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vacqueyras or Beaumes-de-Venise are famous, and the region is a very important wine tourism destination in Provence.

Local products are sold on the markets. Richerenches and Carpentras are for example famous for their truffles, sought after by the greatest chefs. Velleron is known for its strawberry production. The olive oil of Provence is delicious. Fruits and vegetables, honeys, jams, cheeses and delicatessens please all visitors.

You can climb Mont Ventoux, and admire a panorama over the whole of south-eastern France: as far as Sainte-Victoire, Sainte-Baume and the hills surrounding Marseille, and to the east as far as the highest peaks of the Alps. Mont Ventoux is a real challenge for cyclists, and can also be discovered by car. It also offers a playground for nature sports enthusiasts and is covered with snow in winter.

Nature lovers can discover the Gorges de la Nesque, with impressive landscapes. The hiking trails allow you to admire the fauna and flora

Many tourist activities

The Comtat Venaissin offers many tourist activities, to discover as a couple, with friends or family.

Avignon is famous for its many museums. The Petit Palais Museum exhibits masterpieces from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The Calvet museum has works of art around painting, drawing, primitive arts and Egyptology.

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is home to many antique shops. Lovers of antique objects can find real treasures and then have a drink on the terrace of a café.

The archaeological sites and the Théo Desplans archaeological museum of Vaison-la-Romaine recall the Roman and ancient past of the city.

You like festivals? You’ll love the Comtat Venaissin! Every year, the Avignon Festival brings together lovers of contemporary performing arts from all over the world. Many other festivals are waiting for you: the “Rencontres musicales des Pays du Ventoux” at the foot of the mountain and around Carpentras, the “Festival de la cerise” (cherry festival) in Venasque, the “Fête médiévale de la véraison” (medieval festival of the wine harvest) in Vaison-la-Romaine…

Practical information

You can easily reach the Comtat Venaissin by road:

  • From Lyon, take the A7 freeway towards Marseille, and take exits 19 (Bollène) to 25 (Cavaillon) depending on your destination.
  • From Montpellier, take the A9 freeway to Avignon, then the A7 freeway. In the direction of Lyon, you can take exit 19 (Bollène) to reach the north of the Comtat Venaissin. From Marseille, you can take exit 25 (Cavaillon) to visit the south of the Comtat.
  • From Nice, take the A8 freeway to Aix-en-Provence, then the A7 freeway, and take exit 25 (Cavaillon) to 19 (Bollène) depending on your destination.