There’s a TV show that we watch here called Affaire Conclue (roughly, Done Deal) that’s kind of like the program Antiques Roadshow, but with a twist. Members of the public bring objects from their home to the studio in Paris where an auctioneer provides a bit of history about the item and then sets a value that she/he thinks it would bring if put under the hammer. The bonus is that in the next room a panel of collectors, flea market stall holders, and decorators is waiting to bid on what has come in that day and with cash in hand hopefully take their bounty home. They filmed an extended 2-hour version of the show in a town in Provence nicknamed “Capital of antiques and flea markets” that’s only a train ride away for us, so we were off for a long weekend in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
In 1467 washing clothes in the Sorgue River was prohibited to ensure clean water for the fishing village that would become L’Isle (The Island) and to allow the development of 66 water wheels that would power the machinery that would bring prosperity to the area. Fifteen of these “clean engines” remain including the one in use at Brun De Vian Tiran where the 8th generation carries on their family’s heritage in wool textiles begun in 1808. Their museum traces that history and in their boutique you can buy lots of examples of the blankets, rugs, scarves, and shawls they make.
The church in the middle of the island is Notre-Dame-des-Anges constructed in 1222 and then enlarged and decorated in the Baroque style in 1672. While you might expect a sundial on a building of this age, the exterior has a moon dial that farmers consulted for both sowing and harvesting their crops. Right beside the church on shady Place de la Liberté are several restaurants and that’s where we enjoyed a delicious Italian lunch at Restaurant Bella Vita.
At the other end of this same cool Place we saw the Medieval tower, La Tour d’Argent dating from the end of the 12th century. It was built by members of the ruling class, probably as their home, and despite seeing many other residents since then including an inn, a movie theater, and a disco, the building has remained essentially unchanged for 800 years.
Although we are fascinated by the centuries of history here, that’s not what brought us nor the TV show Affaire Conclu to L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue. In 1978 the first antique dealers’ village was created and that has grown to 300 dealers making it the largest concentration of sellers of antiques outside of Paris. Every Sunday these vendors are joined by other merchants for an open air market that twice a year, at Easter and on August 15, fills the town with more than 500 vendors. A quote attributed to Peter Mayle, author of several books about the area including A Year in Provence, made me laugh: “The only thing you can’t get in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a bargain.” Maybe, maybe not, but we had a great time in a beautiful town.
Tourism office: http://www.oti-delasorgue.co.uk/
Restaurant Bella Vita: https://www.facebook.com/restaurantbellavita/