A busy market town of 30,000 inhabitants, Carpentras sits on the fertile plain of Comtat Venassin that is protected from the elements - in particular from the Mistral wind.
It has a prime location just to the north east of Avignon, looking over to Mont Ventoux and within easy reach of the Côtes du Rhône vineyards.
History & Culture in Carpentras
The Romans and the Greeks were both early settlers here (planting vines and olives respectively) but it was the Popes, who ruled from here before moving to Avignon in the 14th century, whose influence was the greatest. Carpentras became the administrative capital for the Papal States. The Popes allowed Jews to settle in the area which in turn brought lenders, traders and other professionals to Carpentras, and hence, wealth.
This industriousness continued into the 19th century with paper mills, textile factories and the production of water-driven power. Gypsum, stone, clay and ochre have been quarryed for, and industries related to agriculture flourished in the 20th century.
Sights & Attractions in Carpentras
You'll find a range of historical architectural influences in the Carpentras, from Romanesque, Gothic, classical, renaissance and baroque. The impressive Hotel Dieu was built in the 18th century for the Bishop of Carpentras and holds an impressive collection of art donated by wealthy patrons of the time. It has become a cultural centre and you can take tours, visiting the pharmacy, a baroque chapel, polentiful marble decorations and library.
Other museums in Carpentras include Musée Sobirats (decorative arts) and Musée Comtadin - Duplessis (collection of art and local artefacts).
The Cathédrale Saint Siffrein is Gothic in style and dates back to the 15th century. The interior is as lavish as you may expect from a Papal seat with valuable paintings, stained glass from the 15th century, gilded wood carvings and wonderful iron work. The Palais de Justice sits on the same main square and dates from the 17th century.
A Roman arch can be found on the north side of the Cathedral and depicts two prisoners to commemorate Rome's victory over the barbarians. The 14th century Synagogue is the oldest in France and is still active. Its rather plain façade hides a decadent interior. Ancient city walls from that time are mostly gone, although you will find a tower - La Porte d'Orange - to the north of the old town.
Thanks to it's Papal connection and the wealth it created, Carpentras has a plentiful water supply brought from rivers to the north east via aqueducts. The aqueduct that exists today was built in the 18th century and consists of 48 arches with a height of 23m. This water carrying system also allowed for beautiful fountains and wash basins in Carpentras.
Events in Carpentras
The Provençal market is held on Friday mornings. Local produce includes strawberries (very famous!), melon, cherries, and wine (AOC Côtes du Ventoux). There is an additional Farmer's Market held on Tuesdays from 16:30 to 19:30 in the carpark by Hotel Dieu. Go in April and May for the strawberries, and in May for cherries.
There is an antique market on Friday mornings by the town hall and on Sundays at the car park of Jean Jaures.
Carpentras is however, best known for its truffles, and between November and March, you can expect to find these delicacies at the market first thing. There is also a festival dedicated to the 'black diamonds' at the beginning of February.
The main fair of the town is St Siffrein, which takes place at the end of November. It's an agricultural fair, with a truffle market, street vendors, a horse fair, exhibitions and street entertainers. Not to be missed!
Things to do in Carpentras
Carpentras is home to a thriving arts and crafts industry with artesans of all types having workshops in the town. You'll find sculpture, stained glass, musical instruments, marble, ironwork and woodwork - these shops can be found to the north of the city just off Avenue de la Sante once you cross the River Auzon.
If you do decide to stay in Carpentras, you won't be far away from wonderful nature and the ability to enjoy hiking, cycling, horse riding and rock climbing. For something slightly less active, you can indulge in wine tours, visiting the perched villages of the area, or the largest mountain in the area, Mont Ventoux.
Hotels in Carpentras
There are a good number of accommodation options in and around Carpentras.