It never disappoints you, this ancient market town at the foothills of the giant Mt.Ventoux. First mentioned in 46 BC as "Carpentorate" it evolved into an important market town in the "Provincia Narbonensis". The abbreviated form used in the old times was "Provincia Nostra" or simply "Provincia", hence the name Provence. Many of the Roman soldiers were given land here once retired. Few of the Roman structures have survived as many of the stones and pillars were subsequently used for other buildings. The Roman Arc de Triomphe on the North side of Cathédrale St.Siffrain is a mere shadow of the one in Orange. Carpentras is a delight to visit. Let the charm of the old town with its 18th and 19th century buildings cast its spell on you. The town has many small shops, cafés and a magnificent weekly market, one of the best in France.
Carpentras was once the capital of the Comtat Venaissin. The name Venaissin comes from the nearby village of Venasque not Venice. In 1274 the town and surrounding territory was acquired by the Pope and became part of the Papal States in France, a territory stretching from Avignon and Carpentras to Vaison-la-Romaine and Valreas. Papal control persisted until 1791, when an unauthorized plebiscite was held and the inhabitants voted for annexation by France. The papacy did not, however, recognize this formally until 1814.
It is best to explore the old town on foot. Park your car at the free public parking (P) below the Porte d'Orange.
Carpentras, used to have a significant Jewish population. At its peak, during the 12th and 13th century, roughly 10% of the population was Jewish. La Synagogue (A) on Place Maurice Charretier, dating back to 1367, is one of the oldest in France. Jews expelled from France were given refuge in the Papal Territory. Renovated in the 18th century and again in the 1920s, it is still used by the small Jewish community in town. Visit the mikvé and bakery in the basement. Inquire with one of the nice ladies at the tourist office located in the town hall (Hotel de Ville) across the square as to current opening times. Last time we checked opening times were Mo-Th 10:00 - 12:00.
Cathédrale St.Siffrein (B) on Place St.Siffrein has a melange of architectural styles as it was constructed over many centuries. The earliest structures are Romanesque, including the 12th century dome. The South door is in Gothic style. It also called the Porte Juife, as converted Jews had to enter through this side door with its famous Boule aux Rats on top of the arch. You find Renaissance style at the West door. Admire the elaborate gargoyles and chimeras, especially the ones over the South door. Chimeras are grotesque creatures used purely as decoration, whereas gargoyles are decorated grotesque water spouts. The St. Siffrein Fair (Nov. 25 - 27) is one of the oldest fairs in France, a combination of fun and agricultural fair. The equally famous truffle market starts at the Friday before the St.Siffrein fair. It is held every Friday morning in front of the Hôtel Dieu until the end of March. See also our article about truffles.
Noteworthy is the Porte d'Orange (C), the only one of four fortified gates remaining. In the 14th century the Pope ordered the construction of ramparts around the town, which were demolished in the late 19th century to make way for what is today the rather noisy ring road around the old town. Other noteworthy buildings are the episcopal palace (now the Palais de Justice) and the Hôtel Dieu (D) (the hospital) and its outstanding 18th century pharmacy (open only in July and August). The former Chapelle de Collège des Jésuites (E) on Rue du Collège, once an eminent place of studies - including the poet Francisco Petrarca - has a magnificent cupola. The chapel is now used for art exhibitions and if you can get inside do so by all means, the architecture is worth it. Otherwise there are a number of 17th and 18th century private mansions with Provençal style doors and balconies. Visit the Passage Boyer (F), a 19th century covered shopping arcade East of the Porte d'Orange.
Carpentras has two small museums worthwhile a visit if you want to delve a bit deeper into local history. The Musée Comtadin-Duplessis (G) on 243 Blvd. Albin Durand is the region's history and folkore museum and shows paintings donated by Monseigneur d'Inguimbert, bishop of Carpentras in the 18th century. It also houses an internationally renowned library with many historic manuscripts and books collected by said Monseigneur d'Inguimbert. The Musée Sobirats (H) on 112 Rue du Collège is an 18th century private residence filled with furniture and art objects of the Louis XV and XVI styles which were once owned by the Marquis de Sobirats. Opening hours for both museums from April 1 - Sept.30: 10:00-12:00, 14:00-18:00 except Tuesdays and public holidays.
One of the best weekly markets in France takes place every Friday morning in Carpentras. It has been in existence since 1155 and it's huge! The Eastern part of the old town and the Place de les Platanes below it are full of market stalls. You can buy everything you need here, from food to clothing to furniture and you won't stay hungry either while you shop. Reportedly there are over 350 stall holders. No wonder the market is hugely popular. Parking is a problem not only during vacation times. We recommend to either be there early, say 8:30 AM or after 11:00 AM, the market winds down at around 1:00 PM.
Carpentras is worth a visit should you be in the area. Nothing spectacular except for Friday's market, which is huge. The surrounding countryside is what brings most visitors to this region, the Comtat Venaissin, the Haut Vaucluse and a bit further south the Luberon.
Restaurants: Nothing to write home about as far as Carpentras goes but a very decent selection in the countryside.
Accommodation: We recommend to stay in one of the B&B's in the villages of the Comtat Venaissin, Haut Vaucluse or the Luberon. There are many self-catering holiday rentals here. Stay away from the area between Carpentras and Avignon, which is densely populated with lots of commerce.