When you arrive in Pernes-les-Fontaines by car, you never suspect the labyrinth of charming little alleys that are hiding a few meters from the main road. The big Café de la Place opens its arms to walkers, making a halt evident and urgent during any trip to the Luberon: yet this little-known town was the capital of the Comtat Venaissin under the impetus of the Counts of Toulouse between 1120 and 1320! But careful, Pernes can’t be reduced to just its heritage, even if it’s breathtaking: 40 public fountains, 14 mansions dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, 13 chapels and mills, 7 gardens and a sublime covered market dating back to 1623. What’s so seductive in Pernes is the lifestyle: the calm of the city is disrupted by children playing on the square of the St Augustine church, today transformed into a cultural center, and the city’s true cultural heart. Further on, a very serious pétanque session is played out on the banks of the Nesque, in the shadow of the Notre-Dame gate… Just behind the path running alongside the river, a contemporary art gallery organizes an opening with outdoor refreshments to summon the sun… A natural appropriation of the city by its inhabitants, who materialize every four years for the Heritage Festival during which the entire village lives as if it’s 1850. To discover Pernes-les-Fontaines is to lose oneself in the hilly lanes, dissolving into the benevolent activity of the inhabitants. What’s striking is the constant sound of running water, like a refreshing unifying thread which makes one want to discover the many cascades: indeed the city has a natural spring, at the heart of village life, a byword for wealth and at the center of all trades.
Pernes is the best example of a Provence village whose existence is tried intimately to water, its source of life. The relationship is best explained by writer and poet Pierre Vaussais who noted “In Pernes, Pernes-les-Fontaines, where the water has definite qualities to heal the sorrows of love.”
Amongst the fountains, the Cormoran, located just in front of the covered market, is the most famous thanks to a majestic bird spreading its wings at its top. Higher up, towards the Fernande Tower, a relic from the 12th century, the Gigot fountain is tucked away. Its name, meaning leg of lamb, comes from a similarly shaped piece at the top of the structure. The fountain is also marked by a large vase that bears the city’s coat of arms. The war memorial reveals a magnificent sculpture-homage that is extremely moving, a sentiment that continues lower down when one arrives in the Clos de Verdon, a little public garden created in 1930 by Mr. and Mrs. Terrasse. Bucolic and unrenovated, it’s made up of a massive round fountain topped by a simple basin and surrounded by concrete benches, with in the background a wrought iron gazebo surrounded by lilacs; a garden which encourages meditation and relaxation. Make Pernes-les-Fontaines a destination, and you won’t regret it.