I have wanted to visit Avignon since I was a little girl. I had "danser sur le pont d'Avignon" on my bucket list. Obviously, that meant I needed to go to Avignon. I had planned a trip to France for March 2020 (we all know what happened to that trip) and had decided that Provence was going to be my focus. Once that was decided, Avignon was on the "must-do" list. The visit finally happened in 2022.
We left our digs in Arles and drove our rental car about 45 minutes to Avignon. There is a train service between the two towns (18 minutes $8-$40 CAD), or a bus (90 minutes, $4 CAD). We really enjoyed the drive through the countryside.
Avignon is a lovely UNESCO medieval city in Provence region of France, along the Rhône River enclosed by walls. For less than seventy years between 1309 and 1377, it was the seat of the Roman Catholic popes. The old town is dominated by the massive and imposing Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace). The city remained under papal rule until it joined France in 1791.
Since it was Monday, the museums were closed and we chose to skip the Papal palace (for reasons based upon our feelings about the extravagance of Versailles, the horror of the Canadian residential school issues, and general discomfort with institutional religions).
We took the "petit train" ($13.00 CAD) that took us on a 45-minute tour around the old city and provided excellent commentary as it wound its way through the narrow, meandering streets. We were straining our necks back and forth as there was something to see on every block.
Our round-trip train ride began and ended in the plaza in front of the Palais des Popes. This huge palace was built in less than twenty years, under the direction of Pope Benedict XII and Clement VI. It is considered to be the most important Gothic palace in the world. Its size is roughly equivalent to four Gothic cathedrals. According to the website Visite Avignon, it "presents the visitor with more than twenty places, theaters of events with universal repercussions with, in particular, the private apartments of the Pope and their fabulous fresco decorations executed by Italian artists Matteo Giovannetti and Simone Martini."
The Petit Palais Museum is in the Palais des Archbishops. This was built at the end of the 15th Century by the future Pope Julius II, a Cardinal at the time. There's a good steep walk uphill to the garden area we had spotted on our train ride.
We enjoyed the rooftops of the old city as we climbed the path into Rocher des Doms (Doms Rock) the garden and expansive viewing plaza
The garden isn't large, and is designed around fountains and ponds. Some were designed to look very natural, and others were more formal. What is hugely impressive is that the garden has been built over a huge water tank for the entire city as well as provide water to the Palaces and gardens.
There was a busy restaurant with seating with views of the fountains, statues and gardens.
As gorgeous as the gardens were, the viewing plazas offer spectacular views across the river to Fort St André on Mount Andoan. This hill was strategically and politically important and was flat-topped. The original defensive tower was built in 1302, the rest was completed in the following century.
The Hôtel des Monnais (Coin House) is much more modern, having been built in the early 1600s. The eagles and dragons on top are the family arms of Cardinal Borghese of the influential Italian family.
The Pont St. Benézet, or Pont d'Avignon was a special treat. Much of the bridge collapsed many centuries ago and children have been singing about it ever since. Visitors can walk out to the end, visit St. Nicholas' chapel in the second arch, and yes, even dance. To see that foolishness, check out this post .
There are many little squares and plazas which offer a large selection of restaurants offering outdoor seating and a plethora of people-watching opportunities.
We love to meander around old cities, browse local specialty shops, look for photo ops, chat with vendors & artists, and find cool spots like this little park beside Église Saint-Didier where locals brought their bag lunches to eat in the shade. It was right beside the tourist information office where we booked our day trip to Châteauneuf du Pape. To learn more about that trip, check out this post.
We rarely have a plan in mind but instead make decisions as we go along. This leads to discovering some charming little nooks and crannies.
We only had a wee taste of the delights of Avignon and unfortunately weren't able to visit some of the museums. There are many more areas to explore within and outside of the old city. It would be a great place to spend several days and really soak up the experience.
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Returning to Arles, we sat at a sidewalk cafe as we drank wine and ate cheese.