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Excellent guided walk in English in Vaison la Romaine!

I spent 3 weeks this month (August) following the Roman roads in southern France, making good use of the Rick Steve's Provence/Riviera book along with a bunch of Gallo-Romanic reference sources.
In the RS book there is a recommendation for an English-speaking guide for Vaison La Romaine named Janet Henderson (tel 00 33 (0) 642 246 556, email [email protected] )

I arranged a walk with Janet on a Tuesday -- allowing me to stroll the market that morning when I arrived by bus from Orange, and then spend 2+ hours with her among the lower town ruins and the upper town alleys.
Janet's tour was wonderful!
She knew of my interest in Roman history and architecture, and wove that long story into the specific setting there in Vaison. It was in my first week on the road but I could already tell that the subsequent millennium or so after the Roman period matches or tops the imperial drama. Janet spun that part of the local history out equally well.
She is a native English speaker but steeped in the life along the Rhone -- a great combination for a narrated walk.

Special moment: the Tuesday market in Vaison La Romaine is big and busy, attracting local shoppers as well as internal tourists (not much non-French being spoken) and as we made our way to the Villasse section of the ruins, we stood before the excavated "rue des Boutiques" where a pedestrian gallery paralleled the wagon path in the ancient town's merchant row. It was as though we walked back 2K years in 20 meters, and found the same things going on. (I wonder how much the handmade bottle openers went for back then!) I could practically hear the switch from the jazz clarinet trio at today's Place 'La Poste' fade back to timbrels and flutes.

An overall lesson on this trip was to recognize the value of a personal guide in a language one finds easy to follow, even if just whatever group tour offered by the local tourist office (but a small custom tour by someone as gracious and educated as Janet is worth the extra euros!) I know my history (or think I do) and I can follow a map (or think I can) but it always turns out that a human guide brings out and draws together the story and the physical surroundings better than I could with any number of books in my shoulder bag.

Another broad lesson is not to be so quick to find a broad lesson. Many Roman settlements had a standard layout, supposedly -- a cardo and ordo, a forum, temple, theater, storage/docklands, etc. -- and it is tempting to blur the distinctions between one settlement and another. This is a mistake with the architecture, but even more-so when it comes to the cultural history. The differences between Vienne and Vaison and Orange and Nimes and Arles and Avignon and Marseille, and on and on are significant. They were not administered identically, nor were they overrun and ruled by the same subsequent powers, and it's those differences that make them unique. I particularly felt the differences between the Gard region, that had been under Visigoth influence, and the Provence areas that had been under Franks. What the Greeks/Phoenicians did or didn't do in a particular area also mattered going forward.

I have other praise and corrections for the RS Guide that I'll post as I get the chance. (I'm looking at you, Avignon bag storage!) [that office is closed]

Posted by
359 posts

Very interesting. I am hoping to go see the Roman ruins in Provence in the next couple of years!

Posted by
2529 posts

Do it, sanderskin!
I strongly recommend using guides when you do go,
and I don't mean a driver who has read the signage and wikipedia articles
and parrots them back, but a real scholastic guide who will get beyond the headlines.

I remember overhearing a glorified taxi driver in the church of San Clemente in Rome telling a couple
who had hired him for a half-day tour a bunch of outlandish, nearly silly, stories about what was going
on in the lower levels of the church, like worse than Disney. I mean Charlton Heston would've been embarrassed.
This is not what I mean by a guide!