Vaison-la-Romaine, known to its early inhabitants as Vasio, lies a bit off the beaten path of tourist destinations. This former Roman city is a relatively quiet community with a number of historical and interesting sights. Some of what you’ll see includes:
In the Gallo-Roman ‘low city’ (basse-ville)
The Ancient Site of Puymin – one of two former districts in Roman Vasio, Puymin consists of the in situ ruins of two villas – La Maison à l’Apollon lauré and La Maison à la Tonnelle. Admission to Puymin allows entrance to the Archaeological Museum, which houses the artifacts discovered during excavations,
and to the 1st-century A.D. Antique Theatre, which offers a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape.
The Ancient Site of La Villasse – the sister site of Puymin, the ruins here include a wide stone walkway (the former shopping arcade Rue des Boutiques) and several villas, one of which contains the remnants of mosaic tiled floors and frescoed walls.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Nazareth – this former bishopric dates mainly to the 11th and 12th centuries and reflects a mix of Gothic, Merovingian, and Romanesque architectural styles. Inside you’ll see remains of the previous Roman structures on this historic site, as well as the medieval Mason’s Marks etched into the stone walls. Adjacent to the church is the former cloister.
Place Montfort – bordered by cafés, restaurants, and shops, and dotted with park benches, this inviting public square – formerly known as the Place du Marché (Market Square) – offers a shady spot for resting and relaxing.
The Roman Bridge – dating to the 1st century A.D. this stone bridge – easily walkable – spans the Ouvèze River and connects the low-lying Gallo-Roman part of the city with the Medieval city on the hillside.
In the Medieval ‘upper city’ (haute-ville), follow the narrow, cobbled, and winding lanes to see:
Le Beffroi – once part of the fortifications of the medieval city, this bell tower rises up from the 14th-century city gate and former guard house.
Hôtels Particuliers – these historic and picturesque mansions – some dating to the 16th and 17th centuries – were built for the nobility of Vaison. Several of these properties, such as those of the Marquis de Taulignan and Comte de Saint Véran, have been renovated and now serve as hotels and other commercial enterprises.
Cathedral Sainte-Marie-de-l’Assomption – also known as the ‘High Cathedral’ this church – built in the 15th-century and dedicated to Saint Mary of the Assumption – stands on the site of a previous chapel and is incorporated into the ramparts of the Medieval city.
From the terrace outside you’ll have a view of the river and the lower city.
The Castle of the Counts – built for Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, this 12th century castle situated on the hilltop south of the river is accessible via a series of sloping and stepped stone walkways and a short trek along a rough trail. Today only ruins remain,
but a climb to the top of the hill offers a stunning panoramic view with the mountains in the distance.
Other interesting sights – as you stroll through the medieval city you’ll come across any number of public squares,
several stone arches, such as the ogival arch that served as the entrance to the former Jewish quarter (la juiverie);
numerous colorfully shuttered windows (some with ornate iron grills), and intriguing doors and courtyard gates, like those of the ancient bishopric (ancien evêché).