L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is one of the most beautiful towns in all of France, yet many foreign visitors miss out on this little gem. It’s rarely mentioned in any English guidebooks, so most of the people who visit are in-the-know French tourists.
Wandering through L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, along its pretty riverfront and past its famous waterwheels, it was impossible for me to imagine that I’d almost skipped my day trip here… and now that I’m home, my day in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue remains one of my favorite memories of my trip to the South of France.
Even better, it’s easy to visit L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue by bus or train, so you don’t need a car to experience authentic, small-town life in France.
In this guide to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue I’m going to cover things to see and do, recommended restaurants and hotels, and how to get to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue from Avignon, so keep reading if you’re looking for a delightful day trip from Avignon.
Things to Do in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Like many small towns in the South of France, the real joy in visiting L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue comes from strolling around town and spontaneously taking in the different sights, sounds, scents and tastes you encounter along the way.
However, because L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has a network of historic waterwheels, it’s worth following the tourist information office’s recommended route, to ensure you don’t miss any of the most picturesque spots. Once you’re done strolling, there are other things to do around town, including museums, galleries and shopping.
Pick Up a Tourist Map of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue at the Tourist Information Office
When you get off the bus in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, your mind is going to be blown and you’re going to want to start exploring right away. However, it’s worthwhile to detour from the bus stop or the train station to the Tourist Information office, where you can pick up a tourist map with a suggested walking route and marked points of interest.
From the bus stop, cross the river and follow Rue de la Republique to Place de la Liberte; the tourist information office will be ahead and to your right.
From the train station, follow Avenue de l’Egalite towards the historic center cross the river and follow Rue Carnot to Place de la Liberte. The tourist information office is on the opposite side of the plaza, so cross diagonally in front of the big church and it will be ahead and to your right.
The Waterwheels of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
There are still about sixteen waterwheels in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, down from the original 66 that once operated here. Some of them still turn, lifting and dropping the water from the Sorgue river, while others rest in place and make a comfortable home for plants, birds and bees.
The map provided by tourist information will take you past all of the waterwheels in the historic city center, though there are a few more dotted around the outskirts of town that you probably won’t see unless you stay overnight (not a bad idea – see below for my L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue hotel recommendations!).
La Sorgue Riverfront
Strolling along the riverfront in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a simple highlight of any visit to this town in Provence. The most-photographed building along the water is probably the Caisse d’Epargne bank (shown above), which is flanked by colorful cafes, bridges, parks and waterwheels.
On the northwest side of the island there is a section where you can walk along an unpaved trail on the outer side of the river. You’ll have to duck under some hanging branches and swat a few mosquitoes, but it’s a pretty slice of nature along the Sorgue River, right in town.
Swimming in the river is prohibited throughout the entire town, but there are a few public terraces where you’re welcome to sit and dip your feet into the (cold!) water.
Le Partage des Eaux / The Parting of the Waters
The Sorgue River originates at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, the largest natural spring in Europe and one of the largest in the entire world. The river flows west towards L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, but just before it arrives in town it branches off in two, at a place called Le Partage des Eaux (“the dividing of the waters”).
A two-kilometer walk from the city center, this nature preserve is a nice place for a walk or a coffee overlooking the river. Check the signage (and watch what the locals do!) regarding swimming here – I believe the water conditions dictate whether swimming is permitted at any given moment.
Personally, I didn’t make it out this far because it was too hot during my visit to walk, but if I’d been driving I would have stopped on my way in or out of town (there’s ample parking).
Museums & Galleries in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
The most notable museum in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is the Campredon Art Center, which is located in a historic mansion on the north side of the historic city center. The exhibits here focus on modern and contemporary art, and usually change seasonally. Admission is approximately €7 (depending on what’s being shown).
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue’s other main art museum is the Fondation Villa Datis, which focuses on contemporary sculpture. Admission is free, but reservations are recommended for the guided tours.
If you’re visiting L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with kids, you might want to make a stop at the Museum of Puppets and Toys, just off rue Carnot. Owned by an elderly local woman, there are several rooms packed with antique dolls and toys for children to admire.
Both children and adults may be interested in La Filaventure Musée Brun de Vian Tiran, a “sensorial” museum exploring the history and process of making wool. Situated inside the Brun de Vian Tiran wool factory (adjacent to the city center), the exhibits here are hands-on and authentic… and obviously end in the factory’s boutique in case you want to buy any luxury wool products. Adult tickets are €7.50, while kids are €6.50.
Antiques & Markets in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is famous for its antique markets. Twice a year, it hosts L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Antiques, Art and You, an antiques fair and flea market with more than 300 vendors from across France, who set up shop throughout the town for five days.
Thoughout the year, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue hosts a smaller antiques market at various locations (including the one shown above, on the road between the train station and the city center). You can also find various antique dealers, artisans and designers at the shops in town.
On Sundays, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has a typical Provençal market, starting around 9:00 am and ending at noon. On Sundays, not only do the antiquarians open their shops, but vendors from around Provence pack the streets to sell their local fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, cheeses and epicurean products. The area around L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is particularly famous for melons (ask the farmer to slice it for you on the spot!) and olive oil (take home a bottle as a souvenir of your trip to Provence).
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has lots of restaurants, but it can be hard to tell which ones are overly touristy, and which ones offer authentic French cuisine. Here are a few that I recommend checking out:
- Arelatis Ice Cream – On the southwest side of the historic center, right on the water, this is a great ice cream shop. Table service is expensive, so I recommend taking your ice cream to go and enjoying it on a bench in the nearby park or along the waterfront.
- Suzette – I think crepes are always the perfect lunch when you’re doing a day trip in France, and Suzette has some of the best crepes (and galettes!) in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. They use local ingredients in their crepes and galettes, which are served with fresh, seasonal side salads.
- Cafe Fleurs is well-known for their fish dishes, inspired by the catch of the day, but since I’m a vegetarian it was their elevated vegetable tajine that tempted me! Reservations are recommended.
If you’re just stopping for a drink, any of the waterfront cafes and bars serve the same drinks, at more or less the same price, so choose based on where you can find a shady table!
Most of the accommodation in L’Isle-sur-La-Sorgue’s center are apartment rentals, rather than hotels. However, there are lots of options at every price point, and if you book in advance it shouldn’t be too hard to wake up to a view of a waterwheel!
- La Maison Sur La Sorgue is one of the few real guesthouses in the historic center. Rooms here are decorated with antiques and exotic souvenirs, and there’s a swimming pool in the garden courtyard.
- Balcon Sur La Sorgue is a spacious apartment rental right on the river, with (as its name suggests) a balcony directly overlooking the waterways. Hostess Sophie is a wealth of local information.
- Less than five minutes from the historic center, Les Terrasses de David et Louisa is an affordable guesthouse with its own waterfront restaurant (book in advance!). They can help you find secure parking nearby if you’re coming to L’Isle Sur la Sorgue by car.
Bus to L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue from Avignon
The bus to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue from Avignon is Line #6, operated by Zou!. The trip takes about fifty minutes, with the bus departing from the Avignon bus station (“Gare Routiere”), beside the train station (sort of “underneath” the Ibis Hotel). Your arrival stop in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue will be Robert Vasse, on the southeast edge of the historic center.
To access the L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue bus schedule, I recommend using the Zou! interactive map here.
Click on “Horaires” and type in “sorgue”. Select “6 – Avignon – L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue”, then set your date and time.
On the schedule, “Direction” means destination, so if it’s set to Robert Vasse the schedule will show the times from Avignon to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and if the direction is set to PEM Gare Routiere the schedule will show times from L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to Avignon.
Train to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue from Avignon
The trains to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue from Avignon are faster than the bus, but they’re also less frequent (and less reliable). When I took my own day trip to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the outbound train was cancelled at the last minute, so I had to run across the street to catch the next bus.
The train station in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is about five minutes southwest of the city center. It’s a small station with few services, and you’ll probably need to buy your tickets from the vending machines or on your phone (don’t count on the ticket window being open).
The train takes about twenty-five minutes, making it a much more attractive option than the bus if it fits your schedule.
Note: The French Railways website implies you’ll have to walk an hour from the station to the city center. This is not correct! As long as you are getting on or off the train at the station called “L’Isle Sur La Sorgue Fontaine de V” you are only five minutes (walking!) from the center. I think the railway website has their reference point for the city center in the wrong place.
Looking for more day trips from Avignon? I’m working on a complete guide, but in the meantime check out my guides to visiting (and swimming at!) Pont du Gard, exploring Saint-Remy de Provence, and walking along the fortress walls in Villeneuve-les-Avignon.
While you can visit nearby Arles as a day trip, I recommend staying overnight.
Like all of my day trip guides, no car is required for any of the day trips I recommend!
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