Avignon’s Palais des Papes was the Residence of the Popes of Avignon:
Our modern hotel stands outside the massive ramparts which enclose the amazing town of Avignon. The hotel was very much lacking in any style or character and we could have been anywhere else in the world but France. But once we walk through the main fortress gate of Avignon, a whole different world unfolds before us and I feel much happier here.
Cour Jean Jaures is the main street of Avignon and just a little down this road, at number 41, is the tourist office. There are lots of cafes and eating establishments along this stretch and we had dinner at one of the seafood restaurants. We were excited at the display of seafood and oysters which looked fabulous in the restaurant window, but unfortunately the meal itself was not as good as we had anticipated. Our great expectations of rich, creamy oysters were disappointingly met by watery and salted specimens.
Avignon was the residence of the Popes in the Middle Ages and one of its dominating landmarks is the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) in the huge main square. We’ve seen many impressive structures during our travels, but this Palais is the biggest existing Gothic palace in the world and you certainly won’t miss it. My little Canon digital camera didn’t have any hopes of capturing the building and even Tony with his professional camera had to go a long way back to take it all in.
Being Jour National du Patrimoine, entry to all public buildings is free. That said, it also meant that there were enormous queues to get into the Palais. We were told that there is actually not much remaining of the original luxurious furnishings inside so we instead spent time in the Rocher des Doms gardens which are very pleasant. From here you get a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
For a quick orientation of the town, hop on one of Les trains Touristiques d’Avignon. These little white trains will take you through medieval back streets, the renovated old town, shopping streets and the ramparts, etc. You can then retrace some of the circuit on foot to get a better look around and feel of the place.
Avignon’s other famous landmark is the Pont St-Bénézet. Built in the 12th century, it was the only crossing point along the Rhone river, and was a major cause of the prosperity of the town. Unfortunately, the bridge was largely destroyed by floods in 1668, and only 4 of the 22 arches now remain. The legend of the construction of the bridge and its history is available on audioguides (this is worth hiring) and you can also hear the world famous song sur le Pont d’Avignon … on y danse, on y chante.
Other interesting sights in Avignon include
- The old town with its cardinal’s liveries and its church towers
- There are many interesting museums here, including Musée du Petit Palais (once the archbishop of Avignon’s residence), Musée Calvet, Musée Angladon, Lambert collection, Palais du Roure, Musée Lapidaire and Jean Vilar’s house
- Place de l’Horloge and its shady terraces
The Palais, bridge and ramparts, all Unesco World Heritage sites, together with the churches and chapels all lend a unique atmosphere to the town which is one of my favourite places for a French holiday. And if you’re here in July, the annual Festival d’Avignon runs for three weeks and you’ll be treated to theatre, dance, music, opera and food and wine.
Europe is so well connected by train these days and you can get by train to Avignon in no time at all:
From Paris – The TGV Avignon high-speed train gets you there in just 2 hrs 40 mins. This non-stop TGV direct from Paris arrives at Avignon TGV Station which is on the outskirts of town (about 1.8 miles or 3km to the south). A shuttle bus runs into town every 15 minutes. Alternatively you can also pick up a taxi or hire a car from one of the rental companies located at the station.
From London – During summer months from July to September, you can travel to Avignon direct from London St. Pancras on the Eurostar. The journey takes 5hrs 55mins and you’ll arrive at the Avignon Town Centre Station just outside the city’s historic walls.
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