Way back when, the strange dragon-monster called the Tarasque is said to have terrified the citizens of Tarascon, France (understandably, since it enjoyed snacking on humans). Legend has it that the monster with the spiky back was tamed by St. Martha. Today it’s a sort of mascot of Tarascon, celebrated in many ways. The largest is a June festival, the Fête de la Tarasque, when there are bullfights, music, dancing, bonfires, and parades. The festival also celebrates Tartarin, a fictional character created by the author Alphonse Daudet in the 1870s.
Tarascon is noted for producing the famous, colorful fabrics of Provence. Many are made at the Carles Demery factory and sold in dozens of shops and outdoor markets. Some are on display in a museum in the center of town.
Tarascon is 23 kilometers (14 miles) south of Avignon and lies on the east side of the Rhone River. The busy town has narrow medieval streets, sun-filled squares with flowers and plane and palm trees, and interesting markets.
The solid, towered castle on the bank of the Rhone dates from the 15th century. It was used as a prison for a time, but was restored and holds some fine 17th century tapestries. The chateau is near St. Martha’s Collegiate Church, where tradition says the biblical Martha (the one who tamed the Tarasque) is buried. The church is part Romanesque and part Gothic, with a 3rd century crypt. The Cloister of the Cordeliers at St. Jacques Church is a pretty cloister built for Franciscan monks in the 15th century. The name comes from the cords the monks wore on their robes.
My favorite part of Tarascon is its wonderful markets, especially the flower shows and sales. The town square looks like a field of brightly colored flowers during the Orchid Festival and Flower Fair in spring. The grape harvest is celebrated in the fall. Tuesday, the regular market day, is a great time to browse and find souvenirs such as olive dishes and squares of olive oil soaps.
For a gracious, friendly welcome in a former mansion, Hotel de Provence is a good lodging choice. It has 5 rooms and a sunny terrace – an exceptionally nice small hotel. North of Tarascon, in the village of Boulbon, there’s a delightful hotel of charm, La Bastide de Boulbon. In a lovely, quiet setting, it has 10 rooms, a swimming pool, and hospitable hosts. They offer dinners by candlelight under 200-year-old plane trees.
Written by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com