In the 14th century, this city in the South of France was the seat of the papacy. The Palais des Papes, an austere-looking ... More
Historic Centre of Avignon
In the 14th century, this city in the South of France was the seat of the papacy. The Palais des Papes, an austere-looking fortress lavishly decorated by Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, dominates the city, the surrounding ramparts and the remains of a 12th-century bridge over the Rhone. Beneath this outstanding example of Gothic architecture, the Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms complete an exceptional group of monuments that testify to the leading role played by Avignon in 14th-century Christian Europe.
I'd say before you die, one of the places everybody should have the luxury of exploring is the area of Provence in southern France. Avignon, an ancient city and temporary home to the papacy, is not only an excellent location from which to begin your Provencal excursions it is a great city replete with great restaurants, amazing historical sites, and oodles of charm.
Avignon may be easily reached by TGV (these are the hyper-fast trains) from Paris Gare de Lyon or directly from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport TVG station. The ride is a bit over 2.5 hours or so depending on stops, etc from Paris. From there, you can easily catch TGV trains to Mediterranean destinations like Nice, Marseilles, St. Raphael and Canne or from the Centre-Ville station take regular trains to Arles, Orange, Nimes, and Aix en Provence. You can also catch buses from Avignon and tours to places such as Gorde, Les Baux, St. Remy (where Van Gogh spent much of his time), or the Abbey of Senanque. Or you can rent a car from Avignon and explore for yourself.
The hotels in Avignon are more plentiful and comparatively less expensive that other places in Provence (depending on the time of year). I stay at the Ibis most of the time, but have also stayed a huge hostel across the Rhone somewhat outside of town (Bagatelle)--this was when I was a little bit younger. Buses can get you around the city if you need, but it's very easy to walk around town from most hotels.
Among the sites you must see in Avignon itself are the Papal Palace and the St Benezet bridget (which goes only part way across the Rhone) Most of us in elementary French classes were taught the nursery song, "Sur le Pont D'Avignon" Well the bridge referred to in this song where everybody was dancing the St. Benezet bridge. It is very picturesque and a nice walk out over the Rhone river. The Papal Place and gardens are exquisite. Not as ornate as say, Versailles, but filled with history and armor, and war and religious artifacts. Definitely worth an afternoon's visit. When you are all done there, go back to the Place l'Horloge and meander around the surrounding streets for great food, cafes for people watching, and some killer bargains on...shoes?! Cheapest Doc Marten's I've ever bought and am still wearing I purchased in Avignon in a street not far off from the Place l'Horloge I wish I could remember the name of the store, but I can't. I have purchased provencal souvenirs in Avignon but have saved my artisan purchases for the markets, particularly in Gordes, St. Remy, and the weekly market in Avignon. You must gorge yourself on chevre (goat cheese) from Provence while you're there--pick it up at the artisan market. Take home the soaps and cloth goods. Your soaps, made of olive oil, and scented with lavender, cinnamon-orange, rosemary, honeysuckle, and more will last ages longer than most regular soaps. I bought provencal soap years ago that I still continue to use because it is milled so well. Lavender products are also plentiful as well as herbes de provence blends. These make great gifts too.
Avignon is a city of convenience and charm for your Provencal journey. Definitely make it a necessity on your next French vacation. It has become a regular stop on my travels.
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