Charming Provence: Avignon
Provence is filled with beautiful landscapes, historical towns and charming little villages. When on a road trip in France, we took care of not driving along motorways, but chose to use the smaller winding roads instead, to enjoy the natural beauty of this area in southeastern France. One of our destinations was the city of Avignon ‘in the heart of Provence’. The city has long and eventful history, which shows in the architectural heritage. The walled old town of Avignon is home to majestic buildings, such as the famous Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace), as well as narrow alleys with beautiful old houses and chapels. The well-preserved medieval ramparts that enclose the old town, are 4,3 kilometers long and look impressive. As the city is located by the Rhone River, the bridges and islands offer wonderful views towards the walls and the old town.
The name of Avignon may ring a bell for those who have read their history books well; it was a very important city in the Middle Ages, and the seat of the papacy (office of the pope) from 1309 to 1377 instead of Rome. The city walls were built in early 14th century, and the Gothic style Palais des Popes during 1335-1364. Today a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s in fact the largest Gothic palace ever built, with walls up to 3 meters thick. Right next to the palace is the Cathedral of Avignon, also known as Cathedrale Notre-Dame des Doms. The Romanesque style church is older than the Pope’s Palace, built in late 12th century. The prestige, gold-plated statue of Virgin Mary in top of the bell tower was added in 1859.
Yet another landmark of Avignon is the Pont d’Avignon bridge (Pont Saint-Benezed), or what is left of it today. The first wooden bridge over Rhone, from Avignon to Villeneuve-les-Avignon, was built in late 12th century, and rebuilt with 22 stone arches in 1234. Flooding of Rhone made the bridge hard and expensive to maintain, and finally it was left to collapse arch by arch. Four arches and the gatehouse have survived, and are part of the UNESCO site together with Palais des Popes and Avignon Cathedral.
Avignon makes a wonderful day trip destination when on a road trip, but has enough to keep visitors busy for several days. The old town is small enough to be explored on foot, but reserve time to wander along the alleys and visit the famous sites. Accommodation options include pretty much everything from luxury hotels to dorm beds in hostel. For those into camping (on a budget) or glamping, check out Camping Bagatelle in Barthelasse Island, just over the river from the old town. We stayed there one night, and enjoyed the amazing views of the Palais des Papes and Pont d’Avignon. In case you are planning to go in July, check out the schedule of the yearly Avignon Festival (Festival d’Avignon), one of the most famous art festivals in the world, and it’s side festival called Festival Off.