Gateway town to the Luberon
Cavaillon is the western gateway into the Luberon, a market town with a population of 25,000 people.
Cavaillon is on the A7 autoroute, which is the main north-south artery connecting Paris to Provence, so it has all the ugly but necessary stuff for the Luberon region - supermarkets, big box stores, materials and supplies, etc. These are all on the outskirts of town, leaving the centre of Cavaillon looking like the pleasant Provence market town it is, with two main shopping streets fulfilling every need and appetite, shuttered windows and terracotta roofs baking slowly in the southern sun.
CAVAILLON OLD TOWN
Cavaillon is best taken in with a walk around the disarming old part of town, punctuated by points of interest. There are many restaurants and cafes in Cavaillon, so a half-day can easily be spent here.
Starting right in the centre of the old part of town, there is Cavaillon synagogue, its unremarkable 15th-century exterior masking an impressive 18th-century rococo interior. Cavaillon was unusual in the middle ages in harbouring a Jewish population expelled from other parts of France, albeit in a ghetto. The synagogue marks the greater economic freedoms granted them in the 1700s. Just to the west of the synagogue is Cavaillon cathedral with its cloister garden and mix of styles from different rebuilds through the centuries.
Cavaillon is synonymous with melons, these are known as Cavaillon melons, but are more accurately charentais. There is a melon festival in July, led by the Knights of the Order of the Melon, and a Michelin-starred restaurant, Maison Prévot, whose chef is obsessed with including melons in as many dishes as he can. The Cavaillon melon is absolutely delicious, its orange flesh rich with flavour and sweetness. But there is more to Cavaillon than its melons.
A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
Just to the south of the cathedral, the Hotel d'Agar is a sort of cabinet of curiosities assembled by a family of history fanatics over two floors of a grand town house. It has intriguing objects from all sorts of eras, from Greek and Roman times to modern art. The house is built on the site of Roman ruins and its garden continues to yield finds. The garden is thought to be the oldest in France, having been in constant use since before the time of Jesus. You can visit by appointment for a guided tour lasting about 90 minutes.
Heading south a couple of blocks, on the green at the end of the main shopping street of Cours Bournissac, by the tourist office stands a Roman arch, or rather a double arch. This is a rather fine monument, with carvings and decorations. It looks a little lost and was only moved here in the 1800s from its original more central position. If you are interested in Roman finds you will find a collection of them at the Musée Archéologique de l’Hotel Dieu, which is Cavaillon's archaeological museum.
ST JACQUES HILL
You'll notice that Cavaillon nestles against a hill topped by a chapel on its western side, this is the Colline St-Jacques, and the sharp, steep walk up to the St-Jacques chapel will burn off approximately one dessert item and reward you with a superb view over Cavaillon and far beyond, not just the Luberon but also Mont Ventoux, the Durance river, the Alpilles hill range, and the Monts de Vaucluse. You can also drive up if you didn't have a dessert.
For the sporty, there is a Via Ferrata on the near-vertical cliff sides of the hill, with an easy course and a harder course, each taking up to 2 hours. With helmet and harness you start at the top of the hill and make your way along the cliff-face using steel cables, bridges, beams, gangways and ladders. Access is free, and if you don't have your own equipment you can rent a helmet and harness from the AB Cycles Outdoor store next to the tourist office at the foot of the hill.
Monday mornings see the centre of Cavaillon taken over by the big weekly market, selling clothes and housewares as much as food. This is more of a real market than the prettier ones in the villages, and it is where the locals shop and catch up on gossip. Cavaillon is where you would go to get your phone fixed, or go to the cinema, or take a train. The train line that used to run through the Luberon is now a paved and dedicated cycle path called the Veloroute, so Cavaillon is as close as you can get to the Luberon villages by train.
AMENITIES IN Cavaillon
Restaurants | Cafes | Monday Market | Bakeries | Supermarkets | Boutiques | Bank/ATM | Pharmacies | Cinemas