Avignon Pictures Guide, France

The Pope's Palace, Avignon, France

The Pope’s Palace (Palais des Papes), though clearly more of a fortress, Avignon, Provence, South of France.

Avignon Tourism

Home to varied Popes for a hundred years Avignon is now home to a modest permanent population and shuffling, gobbling, boggling hordes during the summer season.

The city is particularly popular during the annual Festival d’Avignon in the last two weeks of July and first week of August, when the city’s magnificent buildings are used as backdrops for theatrical, musical and other events.
Most performances – buskers aside – involve the French language so this is a good time for English speakers NOT to be here.

Entering the walled area of Avignon, France.

Entering the walled area of Avignon.

Avignon’s superbly preserved and complete 2. 5 miles (4 kms) of ramparts were actually too small to be seriously defensive but now conveniently serve to divide most of the sights of the city from the ever-expanding suburbs.

The main attraction outside the city walls is the sing-song Pont d’Avignon (picture below), though the also attractive and fortified Villeneuve-les-Avignon – where the Pope’s cardinals built their splendid mansions – is just across the River Rhone, also pictured below.

Le Pont d’Avignon

Avignon Bridge, Provence, France

Le Pont d’Avignon

More correctly known as Pont St-Bénezet stretches over the River Rhone, with Villeneuve-les-Avignon just visible in the photo on the right. The bridge was started in 1185 AD, reached nearly a kilometre in length and finally collapsed due to flood surges in 1660.

A favourite kid’s nursery-rhyme (in the UK) is Le Pont d’Avignon and this is it, projecting into the Rhone. The bridge now has four arches but used to have 22, stretching over the island of Barthelasse (the long stretch of trees is an island in the middle of the Rhone) to the far bank.

The song goes like this. . . “Sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse, l’on y danse, Sur le Pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse tout en rond”.

The thing is, although the bridge was originally long, it was never wide enough to dance (medieval style) on. The current thinking is that Ile de la Barthelasse is now a summer recreation area and has always been so, particularly since it used to disappear under flood waters in the winter. So. . . people used to dance on the island under the bridge during medieval summers. Thus the song probably used to be. . . “Sous le Pont d’Avignon” etc.

Place du Palais, Avignon, Provence, France

Avignon’s Place du Palais seen from the tourist-accessible roof of the Pope’s Palace, from where the roofs look ‘like a pie crust fresh from the oven‘ according to Lawrence Durrell. The centre of Avignon, Place de l’Horloge, is the green clump of trees on the left of the picture.

Trompe l'oeuil windows, Avignon, Provence, France

One of Avignon’s many little curiosities, trompe l’oeuil windows painted by different artists and scattered around the city. Tourists, keep your eyes peeled!

Avignon weather

The best time to be in Avignon is April to early July, late August and September (avoiding the 3 festival weeks). October and November are wet months and winter generally is made unpleasant by the random and chilling Mistral wind.

The Mistral  strikes hard and fast in the summer, knocking parasols onto little old ladies and blasting napkins everywhere, while in winter it’s steady but – originating in the Alps – brutally cold, dropping temperatures by up to 10C within minutes.

French restaurants are not permitted to serve alcoholic drinks without food so don’t sit down and expect a cool and solitary glass of white wine to aid your recovery. Think croque monsieur + cold white wine.

Restaurants and bars in Avignon are legion and reasonably priced, with Place de l’Horloge offering the biggest selection of dining establishments, though not the cheapest, naturally.

Palais des Papes

Pope's Palace tower and statue, Palais des Papes, Avignon, Provence, France

Seen from the interior of the Palais des Papes is the gilded virgin belonging to next door’s Cathédral Notre-Dame-des-Doms, Avignon.

Is the Pope’s Palace worthwhile?

The bad news is, in contrast to the mesmerising fantasy gothic exterior, the interior of the Popes’ Palace is really quite dreary and uninteresting.
The denuded rooms of the Palace lack any sign of the baroque ‘n’ roll life and times of the Popes, cardinals and their corrupt courtiers.
Open daily from about 9 am to 5. 45pm (winter) or 8pm (summer), self guided walking tours offer good multi-lingual handsets that inspire total loss of brain function within minutes.

the Chapel, Palais des Papes, Avignon, Provence, France

The most interesting room in the Palace, possibly Chapelle St-Jean but how would we know, we had lost the ability to absorb audio-data, or in fact any data, at this point. The Asian gentleman at the back, on the other hand, has been trained to listen and learn anything through a childhood spent memorising kanji.

a Christian frieze, Palais des Papes, Avignon, Provence, France

A relief frieze in the same chapel as above, probably by Matteo Giovenetti in 1346, the court artist.

The last room of the Palace tour is the official Papal wine cellar, La Bouteillerie, offering tastings and sales of any Pope-related grape varieties, including of course, Côtes du Rhône that is grown nearby as well as Chateauneuf-du-Papes.

An easy drive from Avigon are Aix-en-Provence, Pont du Gard and Nimes.

Things to do  in Avignon apart from visiting the Pope’s Palace

Walking Tours:

Avignon’s Place du Palais, adjoining buildings including the Pont Saint Bénezet, Rocher des Doms gardens, ramparts and more is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Conveniently Avignon Tourism has designed four themed walking tours, marked by four coloured trails of dots on pavements (sidewalks) – Orange, Red, Blue and Green, with each walk taking between one and two hours.

The Bugcrew were not impressed by the blue and green tours that occupy much of the east side inside the walls, apart from the occasional eerie painted faces in windows (generally famous visitors to Avignon) and the incredible vertical garden on the side of Les Halles market.

The orange walking tour, however, which starts above in the Place du Palais, is extremely rewarding, while the red one less so, but still worthwhile.

Across the river Villeneuve-les-Avignon offers three walking tours with the purple historical centre path being the most interesting.

a cute street off Avignon's Place de l'Horloge, Provence, France

A cute little street off Avignon’s main square, Place de l’Horloge. Note the trompe l’oeuil windows.

Place de l’Horloge is mostly traffic-free and lined with several imposing buildings, including the Opera House, Clock Tower and Hotel de Ville (which is, of course, not a hotel but the city’s main administrative office).

However, the mass of restaurants tables, chairs, awnings and other paraphernalia that flood the square drown its power to impress.

At the end of the street pictured above lurks Jean Vilar House, exhibition space for historic costumes and models.

a Côtes du Rhône vineyard in Avignon, Provence, France

A small Côtes du Rhône vineyard up on the Rocher des Doms park near the Palais and Cathedral, Avignon, looking across the Rhône to Villeneuve-les-Avignon.

The little Rocher des Doms park provides a green breathing space in Avignon with terrific viewpoints over the Rhône river, a duck pond, kid-friendly amusements and a sundial that tells the time with the help of your own shadow.

Museums in Avignon

– Petit Palais: The superb, medieval art collection housed in the Petit Palais ranges from 13thC – 15thC, much of it by Italian masters working on and finally achieving an understanding of perspective. Botticelli’s Virgin and Child is a highlight.

– Musée Calvet, in a marvelous 18thC palace, houses an eclectic collection from 19thC sculptures, varied masterly paintings, gothic clocks, Flemish curiosities and an Egyptian mummy.

–  Collection Lambert is a lively contemporary art collection gathered in the 18thC Hôtel de Caumont.

–  Fondation Angladon-Dubrujeaud, set in another fine 18thC mansion, with beautifully staged grand masters from Degas, Picasso, Cezanne and Modigliani to the only Van Gogh in Provence.

–  Musée Louis Vouland looks after elaborate fixtures and fittings of the French aristocracy in appropriate surroundings.

–  Musée Requien d’Histoire Naturelle is a natural history collection that could be either fed to the local dogs or thrown at them.

–  Musée Lapidaire, a baroque chapel, specialises in uninspiring Roman stonework and sculptures.

Getting to Avignon

– Car, not difficult via the A7 from Lyons or Marseille, or A9 from Nîmes. Park and stay inside the walls if possible. Nîmes is 25 miles away, Aix-en-Provence 42 miles, Marseille 54 miles, St Tropez 103 miles, Cannes 113 miles, Nice 123 miles.

– Train: TGV (high speed train) or regular trains arrive at different stations; the latter is nearer to the city.

– Fly, Marseilles is the nearest large airport.

– Get a boat up or downriver, from/to Arles or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but book well in advance.