Apt, with a population of more than 11,000, is a relatively big town by local standards. It is surrounded by industrial suburbs and apartment houses. Most remnants of its days as an important Roman city are hidden in private cellars, unexcavated, or locked inside its currently closed museum. So it may seem, at first glance, an unlikely choice of destination.
But Apt, in the Cavalon Valley between the Vaucluse Plateau and the Lubéron, is at the very center of the Lubéron Regional Nature Park and sits at the mid-point of the 100-km/62-mile Lubéron cycle route between Cavaillon and Forcalquier. It is in the middle of very good hiking country, at the convergence of several Grandes Randonées, the French long-distance paths (the GR4, GR6 and GR92 are nearby and the GR9 goes right through the center of town). It is also within easy reach of the Provençal Colorado and the wide, equipped climbing cliffs at Buoux. Add to this the fact that it is surrounded by some of the Lubéron's most picturesque perched villages and, all in all, it is an ideal base for exploring the entire region.
The old town, surrounded by walls, dates mainly from the Middle Ages. It is a warren of narrow streets, vaulted passages and small fountain-centered squares built around the 11thand 12th-century Cathedral of Ste Anne. The church, which contains the saint's relics, was the first sanctuary in France dedicated to her and was an important pilgrimage center. A traditional pilgrim procession still takes place on the last Sunday of July.
A few remains of Roman monuments can be seen below the church (a second-century chapel and fourth-century sarcophagus), in the town center and in the Place Jean-Jaurès, which may have been the Forum.
It was probably pilgrims who originally turned Apt into a bustling market town. A market has taken place there since the 12th century. The French love to classify and rate things – in 1996, the Grand Marché d'Apt was classified as one of France’s 100 Exceptional French Markets because of its atmosphere, originality and permanence. It has been trading on Saturday mornings, in the same location, for at least 500 years, as ordered by the Sénéchal de Provence in 1504.
The ochre industry, which once contributed to the town’s economy, died out in the 1930s when natural ochre, a pigment made of sand, clay and iron oxide, was replaced with synthetics. Today Apt is noted for its glacé fruit – the glistening melons, whole pineapples, peaches must be seen to be believed – lavender essence and faience pottery. From late November, black truffles, a regional treasure, can be found (for a price!) at the Saturday market.
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