A June 1997 trip
to Avignon by MichaelJM
Quote: Avignon, Orange, St. Remy, and Mount Ventoux--what a variety of experiences to watch out for in this picturesque part of France.
Attraction | "Orange"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 10, 2006
Provence, France 84100
Attraction | "Bridge at Avignon"
We approached the town of Avignon to the strains of "sur the pont d’Avignon" humming when we weren’t too sure of the words! The Bridge of St. Benezet used to span the river with 22 splendid arches leaping through the water. But the bridge has had a chequered history. Originally built by a young shepherd, on instructions from God, around 1170. It is said that Benezet was believed to be totally mad and was brought before the local judge who stated that if Benezet could lift a heavy boulder than he would be viewed as capable of building the bridge. This challenge was allegedly responded to and Benezet not only lifted the boulder but he carried it across the Rhone and placed it at the point where the bridge would start. The townsfolk were astonished and soon the poor shepherd boy had enough donations made to enable the building of the first bridge at Avignon. Far fetched? Yes, but it’s a good yarn!
Benezet’s bridge was destroyed under the occupation of Louis VIII’s occupation (1226) but was speedily replaced with a stone replacement. However, over the years it regularly had to be repaired after partial destruction by the might of the River Rhone. In the mid-1660s the civil authorities gave up on repairing the bridge and now we all flock to see this iconic feature. There’s a small chapel, dedicated to Benezet (who although not canonised has had sainthood bestowed on him) and somehow a walk on this bridge is quite mystical. The views aren’t brilliant, the waters of the Rhone not staggering, but to be "sur le pont" is a good experience.We next had a gentle walk through the narrow crowded streets of the old town in the direction of the Papal Palace. Street entertainers abound and there was a strong feeling of fun, which almost suggested carnival. Small market areas selling tourist tack were prevalent, but as a visitor this is easy to ignore and everyone is keen to sell you maps or offer their expertise as a guide. We stuck out for the tourist information centre and were given a free map of the town!Next to the palace is the impressive 12th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms. It’s almost fairy-like in appearance with a 19th-century gilded statue of the Virgin standing on the pinnacle. I guess this is a confirmation of the stupendous view of the river that’s afforded to you (better for her) from the gardens surrounding the cathedral. Entrance is free (but respect its spirituality) and it is perhaps the simplest of cathedrals that we’ve ever seen. Inside are the tombs of some of the apostate popes and there is a fairly impressive, if not sombre altarpiece. Pope XXII is buried here and much of the "artwork" and intricate sculpture can be linked to him. Looking downhill from the Cathedral we were impressed by the views across the papal buildings—the site of our next visit.
Pont d'Avignon/Pont Saint-Benezet
Attraction | "Palais des Papes"
We took a guided tour of the palace and although we benefited from a highly informative trip I do think it was somewhat rushed. We had no real time to ponder before being moved to the next stage of the tour. We started in the old guardroom which had a fine allegorical mural on one wall and the Papal coat of arms (three golden bees) on another. Next a look at the pope’s audience hall, which interestingly took on a less spiritual existence as an arsenal in the 17th century, before moving into the "Courtyard of Honour". I find enclosed courtyards very serene as even with parties of tourists the brouhaha seems to evaporate into the heavens, but this one has sinister overtones as it is capped with the "angel’s tower" and a small military fort. Was this papal paranoia or a real threat to the papacy?The Consistory hall was where the pope used to meet with his cardinals. It houses some fine frescoes and displays portraits of all the popes who lived in Avignon. The Grand Tinel or Banqueting Hall is a huge space (45m by 10 m) with beautifully fitted wooden panelling built into the shape of an inverted hull. Apparently this was originally swathed in blue cloth covered with a liberal scattering of golden stars. The other members of the party inadvertently gave us a clue of the cacophony that would have occurred in this massive dining area when the pope met with his religious colleagues. You can be assured that they would neither have skimped on food, drink nor entertainment. The main contributor to the Palace's artwork was Matteo Giovanetti. In the Tinel Chapel the frescoes depict the life of St. Martial and the detail on the figures together with a real "modern" perspective confirm his ranking as a first class Italian painter of his day. The "Stag Chamber," originally the study of Clement VI, is absolutely superb with secular frescoes showing stag and ferret hunting, falconry, bird snaring, fishing and a great vista of forest life. All under an intricate 14th-century ceiling and set off against a beautiful array of sensitively restored ceramic tiles.
Clement had a real taste for high living and wanted his visitors to be both impressed and in awe of him and his environment. The Great Audience Hall is confirmation of this fact!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 11, 2006
Palais des Papes-Palace of the Popes
3 Place Palais
04 90 86 04 13
On our trip to the summit we stopped off at the lower climbs to check out a small 11th-century Chapel. The Romanesque Chapel de Notre-Dames du Groseau is named after the nearby fresh water springs of the source of the River Groseau.
The lower verdant slopes surprise us and there are a number of "pit stops" in the leafy forests for picnic breaks and masses of lavender fields filling the air with its beautiful scent and contributing to the many hues of the countryside. However, other than brief stops to look over the view, and speculative thoughts about the fitness required to cycle this slope, we progress steadily to the summit. The summit is 1912m high and the views from the top are stupendous and purport to be some of the best panoramic views in all of Europe. Up here there’s a totally different feel to the mountain. It’s ruggedly stark desert-like landscape almost defies life (a great contrast to the lower slopes) and the red and white striped radar station gives it a surreal appearance. Even on a bright summer’s day there’s a good breeze up here (perhaps the mountain is named after the French word for windy, venteux. Although many more believe it’s named after the Celtic expression "Ven Top" for white mountain).
Mount Ventoux apparently has almost 1500 different plant species including poppies, orchids, lilies, loads of alpines, and rare white thistle; there are 120 species of birds that make the mountain their home; and it’s breeding territory for wild boar, foxes, Corsican moufflon, deer, chamois, and deer. All wildlife is protected in thisUNESC protected site, so respect the area to ensure this diversity continues to prosper.
We were particularly interested in the marble memorial built to commemorate the death of the English rider Tom Simpson collapsed with heat exhaustion and died on the ascent of Mount Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France. At the time he was challenging for the yellow jersey on this particularly gruelling mountain climb. Although not a follower of cycling events I do remember being upset, with most of the UK for the death, by way of a heart attack, for this courageous athlete. It was, however, later discovered that he had traces of amphetamines in his body–a fact which led to the sport embarking on a regular drug-testing programme.
A trip up this mountain is a must and the sensationally clear air at the summit offers its own reward.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 12, 2006
Attraction | "St Remy de Provence"
The town’s tourist board has set out a self-guiding tour of the streets by way of 21 enamelled plaques detailing the scene and accompanied by a miniaturisation of a Van Gogh painting. This was a successful attempt to weave together the personality and emotions of the artists with the features and natural landscape of St. Remy. Effectively the tour starts at Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum where Van Gogh stayed or a year from May 1889, through the neighbourhoods ending up at the entrance of the Estrine town house, which is now the Van Gogh centre. There is no original artwork here, which is strange in itself, but it is St. Remy’s personalised tribute to the great artist combined, on the top floor with ever changing promotional exhibitions for locally working contemporary artists.
The infamous Nostradamus was born and bred in the town in December 1503 and parts of his birth home can be seen in the town’s centre. He was a prolific writer in his day but of course he is now known for his predictive writings contained in "the centuries." I wonder if he predicted world wide fame back in the 1500s?
The Mistral is a generally known as the wind which blows away the cobwebs and heralds the start of the Provencal summer, but in St. Remy Frederic Mistral was a great and is still a revered poet who manages to epitomise the great pleasure and emotions that are viewed as typical Provence. He formed the "felibrige" movement of poets writing in the Provencal tongue and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1904. Effigies of this eccentric man can be seen throughout the town. For the classicists, Charles Gounod took up residence in St. Remy and both wrote and first performed his opera, Mireio (based on Mistral’s poem), in the town.
Check out the Roman remains of the Mausolée des Jules, a well-preserved unusual funerary monument is both well sculpted and perfectly proportioned. The triumphal arch dating from around 20 A.D. (restored in the 1700s) has sculptured depictions of Caesar’s conquests.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 17, 2006
Saint Rémy de Provence