Set on the Rhone River, the historic capital of Provence is known for its bridge but is also an intriguing medieval city with a wealth of history, culture and gastronomy to discover.
One of the most historic communes in France, the earliest mentions of Avignon as a settlement come from the Greeks, hundreds of years before the Roman invasion. The legacy of Avignon’s origins live on in the Tarasque de Noves – a statue believed to have been carved by the Gallic tribe that once ruled the lower Rh6ne valley, the Cavares. Today you can see this at the Musee Lapidaire.
Avignon is notable for having been home to seven successive Popes in the 14th century, which led to Pope Clement VI purchasing the town itself in 1348 – and it would remain under Papal control until 1791 when it became part of France during the Revolution.
The city centre is one of the few in all of France (or Europe) to have preserved its medieval ramparts, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) dominates Avignon’s landscape and is one of the most impressive examples of the international Gothic style of architecture in existence. It is actually two structures – the first, the old 13th-century bishop’s palace expanded by Pope Benedict XII (The Old Palace) and then a new structure built by Clement VI (The New Palace). Over the 14th and 15th centuries it caused Avignon to become a hub for great artists. The facade has been beautifully preserved and much of the palace is open to the public.
Other must-sees include the bridge, the Pont Saint-Benezet, immortalised in the children’s song Sur le Pont d’Avignon, and Avignon Cathedral. History enthusiasts will enjoy walking along the city walls and ramparts and visiting the site of the battle between Charles Martel and the Moors in 737 AD.
Avignon’s city centre is pedestrianised, making it perfect for browsing, and is home to many winding streets adorned with small shops, perfect for unique presents and souvenirs as well as Provencal specialties. The main street is Rue de la Republique, which has all the standard branches one would expect in France as well as a department store, but the real treats are in the side streets ¬Rue Joseph-Vernet is home to many chic boutiques as is the Rue St. Agricol.
There are marketplaces too, which often have different stalls on different days – visit the main food market at Les Halles d’Avignon or the charming local outdoor market at Rempart St. Michel. Local delights include melon or fig jam, liqueur chocolates (you may have heard of Papalines d’Avignon), sugared fruit and olive oil. Of course this is France, so there’s a strong local wine tradition in the form of the popular Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which can be found for sale pretty much everywhere you go, but La Cave du Bouffart on the Rue de la Monnaie is perhaps the best winery in town.
Christian Etienne’s restaurant, located right by the Palais des Papes, has everything one would expect from a master chef of France. La Mirande offers local classics with a modern twist. And if you want a traditional French café, Ginette et Marcel spills out onto the square.