Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a small town in the south of France, famous for having one of the largest antique markets in Provence. These days, it is a popular destination for visitors who wish to explore the local markets, and for well-off Parisians to buy a 2nd home.
The region of Provence is one of the most popular destinations in France, and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue epitomizes its sunny charm. The commune is an arrondissement of Avignon within the department of Vaucluse, in the région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Usually called Isle-sur-Sorgue by the locals (dropping the la), the town’s name translates to Island on the Sorgue.
It is usually quiet, laid back place where time seems to have stood still. With the nearby vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône, lavender fields, old villages and beautiful towns that surround the area, it a great place away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Until Market Day that is. Each Sunday, more than 500 antique and brocante dealers from across France and Europe descend on the pretty village to sell their vintage wares and collectibles.
This small town is located about an hour away from Aix-en-Provence and Arles. It is sometimes called the Venice of Provence because it is situated on a river and there are long canal along the center of town.
As the locals like to claim, the town “Isle” (meaning island) arose from the bottom of the marshes of the Sorgue and stood up as if by magic on stilts. L’Isle sur la Sorgue was born.
While there are vestiges of a civilization here since Roman times, the town really began to take shape in the 12th century. It has a feel of a medieval village and has long been thought of as one of the most attractive villages in France.
During the Avignon papacy, it became one of the most important cities of the era. In later centuries, the river provided the power for an textile industry in the area. You can still see the old paddle wheels used and in its manufacturing trade.
These days, the town has been transformed into a charming little tourist attraction. This place is full of cafés, antique shops, and artists’ galleries, all bursting with life and activity. With plenty to do in the area, there are many reasons to make a stop in this special town. So let’s get to it, shall we? Allons-y!
Antique Market days
The small town of Isle-sur-Sorgue is located in the heart of Provence in the South of France and is known as one of the antique market capitals of France (along with Lille) because it’s the best place to find genuine antiques and flea market bargains.
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue’s famous antique market is held every Sunday, and runs from 8h-18h. However, if you want to pick up a few provençale souvenirs, I recommend going early, because all the good stuff goes quick.
In addition, parking in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is quite the hassle as the large town parking lot is a good 20 minute walk away. Smaller street parking is available but fills up quickly, so be prepared to arrive early and to have to walk a bit.
There is a train station near the center of town however, so your better bet may be taking the train. Unless you are planning on buying large items, that is. In addition, be prepared to pay in cash. Entry to the antique market is free.
Farmers’ Market days
In addition to the antique market, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has a food and drinks market on Thursday and Sunday mornings from 7-13h.
With everything from fruits, vegetables, seafood, cheeses, charcuterie, soaps, linens, and more, there is something for everyone. Entry to the market is free. You can read more about local foods and drinks to try in Provence here.
Things to see and do
1. The Sorgue
The Sorgue river, for while Isle-sur-la-Sorgue gets its name, lies between the foothills of the Alps and the Rhône river, and goes for several miles. Its source goes all the way back to the Fontaine de Vauclause, which is a famous point in Provence because when you get there, the water appears to come from deep underground.
There are several types of boating activities on the Sorgue, with one of the most popular being the Nego chin boats. These are are flat-bottomed boats that take you through the Provençale countryside, tout en douceur (in peace and quiet).
The Sorgue runs through the town center as well, however as you can see the pedestrian bridges are a bit low for boat to go under.
2. The Old Town
If you dislike crowds, you may want to head to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on non-market days or after the market has already ended. Having family in the area, I’ve been to the town many times, and I can tell you the town is equally charming on its quieter days!
There are plenty of shops, cafés, hotels, and restaurants in the area, for visitors and local alike.
The town used to be encircled by stone walls, which have now mostly come down, but you can still get the feel of the medieval village in the town’s many squares and narrow alleyways. Under the bright sunshine of Provence, it does not fail to charm.
3. Le Partage des Eaux
The Partage des Eaux is the point of the river Sorgue where the water splits into two tributaries, the Sorgue de Velleron and the Sorgue d’Entraigues.
It is a tranquil spot outside the hubbub of the city center, and is a popular spot of fishing, canoeing and kayaking. It also happens to be next to the town’s large parking lot, as well as a couple of large restaurants with terrasses that are usually enjoyed by the locals.
Summer festival: Corso Nautique
In the summer every year, on the last Sunday and Monday in July, a dozen flower-filled floats sail along the quai Rouget de l’Isle in a famous event called the Corso Nautique.
Taking place at night, a parade of illuminated boats set sale, with revelers dressed in fairylike costumes, along with one special “Queen of Corso” and her dauphines (ladies-in-waiting). The boat parade is held on both nights, but on the Monday evening, the whole extravaganza ends with a traditional battle of flowers.
How do you get to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue?
If you are coming from Paris, it takes around 7 hours by car to get to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. However, there is a high-speed TGV train which can bring you from Paris to Avignon in 3h30 from where you can take a local TER train to Carpentras in 20 minutes.
The largest international airport is in Marseille, which is about 50 miles (80km) away. Avignon airport is 15 miles (22 km) away, but does not have as many international connections. You can also take a tour from Avignon that will bring you to the Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in comfort.
Where to park?
It is quite difficult to get street parking in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on market days. There is a large parking lot next to the “Partage des eaux” but that is a good 15-20 minute walk away from the center of town.
Smaller street parking is available but fills up quickly, so be prepared to arrive early. Later in the afternoon, you could get lucky if you drive around a bit, but parking does get quite complicated especially if you have a large car.
Where should you stay?
The following hotels are near the center of Isle-sur-Sorgue, in easy walking distance to all the main attractions:
- €€€ – Hotel Les Nevons
- €€€€ – Grand Hôtel Henri – Les Collectionneurs
- €€€€€ – La Maison sur la Sorgue – Esprit de France
How many days should you spend?
The village center of Isle-sur-Sorgue is quite lovely, so if you enjoy the charm of small-town France, I would recommend spending at least one night here.
If you enjoyed that post, you may want to read more about traveling around Provence and the French Riviera. A bientôt!