Written by TianjinPaul on 10 Aug, 2012
As my girlfriend and I planned an early summer weel-end break, we skimmed through scores of possibilities that were accessible from Nice via either plane or train. We had our hearts set on foreign fields with London or Barcelona top of the list. However, we…Read More
As my girlfriend and I planned an early summer weel-end break, we skimmed through scores of possibilities that were accessible from Nice via either plane or train. We had our hearts set on foreign fields with London or Barcelona top of the list. However, we were unable to find either flights of hotels at any kind of reasonable price. So, we decided to stay in the south of France and planned a trip that would take-in both Marseiile and Avignon. To get to both cities, we decided to take the train. This was not exactly the low-cost option that we hoped it would be - tickets from Nice to Marseille were 40 Euro each and Marseille to Avignon was 25 Euros each. However, they seemed to be the best options avaiulable. Despite the rather elevated prices, I was very impressed with the TGV. Our journey to Marseille was fast and efficient with the train arriving dead on time. It was the Avignon leg of the journey, though, that really grabbed the attention. There are two train stations in Avignon: Avignon Ville and Avignon TGV. The 'Ville' is situated in the centre of town and is served by regular rail services to and from cities throughout the region. Avignon TGV is served - as you would imagine - by the TGV. It is about 10km outside the town and is a truly fantastic place. Had Avignon bot been one of the most wonderful cities I have ever explored, the train station might well have been the highlight of our trip, it really was that good.The first thing I loved about the TGV was the organisation. It was remarkable. As we arrived, we got off the train and stepped onto the platform at the exact appointed point for our carriage. We then rolled our suitcase along the spacious and well-marked walkways to the exit where we were easily directed to the shuttle bus that would make the journey to the city. The bus runs every ten nimutes and whisked us into the city without a glitch. Within 15 minutes of the train arriving we were outside our hotel. The only negative point I could make was that the bus cost 1.50 Euros. Had it been free I might have gone as far as declaring the whole process to be perfect.The Avignon TGV was also fantastic because of the station itself. I must admit that, over the course of my travels, I have become a sucker for a good train station. For example, the bustle of Beiijing West (the world's biggest and the underground mystery of Monaco have both had me in raptures. Therefore, I was always going to be impressed by the fantastic example of modern transport architecture that is the TGV station in Avignon. The lazy way to describe it would as "looking like an airport". This would not be inaccurate as it's glass roof and elegant curves are reminiscent of Lord Foster"s work in Beijing Terminal 3. I loved the way the station blended this modernity with natural resources. Much of the strucrure and the platforms is made of wood, which give it - to my mind at least - a greater sense of warmth.The TGV station in Avignon is no great tourist attraction. The city already has plenty of those. However, it was a fantastic welcome to the city. Close
Written by TianjinPaul on 16 Jul, 2012
I live in Nice. I find it to be an extremely pleasant place to go for a stroll on a Sunday afternoon. There is the Old Town with its wonderfully ornate old buildings and, of course, the Promenade des Anglais with beautiful palms and outrageously…Read More
I live in Nice. I find it to be an extremely pleasant place to go for a stroll on a Sunday afternoon. There is the Old Town with its wonderfully ornate old buildings and, of course, the Promenade des Anglais with beautiful palms and outrageously blue sea. I have often told my friends that there is no better place in France, or indeed the world, to pass a lazy Sunday ambling around. However, when my girlfriend and I took a trip to Avignon, Nice found a rival.The first thing I grew to love about Avignon was the wonderfully slow pace of life. We arrived on a Saturday evening and found things as sedate as can be. We were able to leisurely stroll around the city walls, which are extremely impressive, very well-preserved and edged by neatly manicured grass verges. This felt little taste of the Middle Ages left us purring and extremely relaxed. The centre of the city too (inside the walls) was also very relaxing and captivating. Everything is perfectly flat, which certainly helps those who like a stroll. The main street that runs through the town is also beautifully shaded by large trees. As we walked along it, we were extremely impressed by the ancient architecture and beautiful churches. The main street opens out into the town’s main square, where you can find the city hall and a variety of restaurants and cafes at which to pause and take a breath. The canapés and the delicate flowers around the town hall were all very nice and created a wondrous atmosphere of relaxation. After the main square our stroll took us to the Palais des Papes (about which there is more in other entries). The façade of the Palais is truly magnificent. Its gothic towers overwhelm the square in a way that few buildings are capable of. We lingered here for a while taking several pictures and generally standing around in awe.From the Palais, we moved down through a variety of old streets with the same ancient feel as the rest of the city and onto the banks of the Rhone. Again, this was wonderful. As it quite a windy day, we did not linger too long, but were able to take in the fantastic Pont d’Avignon (again, there is a separate entry on this) which juts out into the river, but is not complete and makes a fantastic yet bizarre sight.We returned to our hotel to relax feeling thoroughly impressed at Avignon, we had set out for a simple walk, but had found ourselves immersed in rich culture and history all at the most sedate of paces. It was wonderful. Close
Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 15 Oct, 2011
Avignon, the French city of the popes (who resided here officially for almost seventy years, schismatically for another forty and ruled the city and the surrounding area for half a millennium) and of the bridge from the song known in various versions all over Europe,…Read More
Avignon, the French city of the popes (who resided here officially for almost seventy years, schismatically for another forty and ruled the city and the surrounding area for half a millennium) and of the bridge from the song known in various versions all over Europe, sits on the banks of the Rhone, surrounded by three miles of (restored) medieval ramparts. These are simply picture-perfect storybook fortifications, with round towers topped by wider, crenellated battlements.The old town is a delight to simply walk about, climbing onto the walls and wandering among the charming streets and alleyways of which many date to Avignon's medieval heyday. The medieval quarter is dominated by the gigantic Palais des Papes, the Popes' Palace. It's the largest Gothic palace in the world, inhuman in the scale of its ten-foot thick walls and vast chambers. The Place du Palais is also a vast, stone-covered, empty, windy space (or maybe it only appeared windy because Mistral was blowing on the day of our visit) over which the Palais casts its opressive shadow. Behind the Palais, the pretty 19th century Jardins de Doms stretch across the most ancient part of the city, now criss-crossed with walking paths and decorated with fountains and statues. You can take stairs from here down the ramparts and to the banks of the Rhone and the free shuttle ferry that takes pedestrians and cyclists to the tow path on Barthelasse Island for a walk or simply a better view of the walled city and the iconic bridge.The Avignon bridge, or St Benezet's bridge was built in the 12th century to connect Avignon with Villeneuve-les-Avignon. It was the only bridge on the Rhone south of Lyon and the only one between the royal France and the papal Comtat Venaissin, thus a grand fortified gatehouse that leads directly into the ramparts at the Avignon end. The bridge suffered frequent damage from floods and wind, to eventually collapse by late 17th century. Only four of the original twenty-two arches remain, now a museum with an entry charge. The ruin of the bridge is certainly a picturesque one, the arches jutting out into the Rhone between the walled city and the Barthelasse Island. It's not, however, a sight of a supremely special beauty and its attraction lies in the cultural connotations rather than in the structure itself. Most British and French children know the "Sur le pont d'Avignon" song (originally, probably "Sous le pont..." as apparently dancing would have taken place under the arches rather then on the bridge, though considering that for example London Bridge had even houses built on it, one may wonder whether the notion of dancing on the bridge is as outlandish as it may appear to us). For Poles, there are few more wafers in this Pont-d'Avignon-cultural-layer-cake, as we have a 1941 poem by K.K. Baczynski which was later sung by the intense diva of the Polish cabaret scene, Ewa Demarczyk (if you imagine Edith Piaf on philosophical Almodovar afterburners, you will have an idea of Demarczyk). The old Avignon has also a more cosy, bourgeois side, particularly noticeable on the Place de l'Horologe, where a 19th century Opera stands proudly and a very French carousel with horses and swans goes round-and-round. It's also the location of Avignon's Hotel de Ville, in whose hall there is a bakers' show on the day of our visit and we learn how to roll a perfect croissant as well as have an opportunity to buy lovely baguettes and other bready goods. The square is lined with restaurants and cafes and it is here where the heart of modern Avignon city beats, leaving the stark Place de Palais to the sight-seers and the ghosts of popes. Close
Written by MikeInTown on 26 Jun, 2011
For our last full day in France, we decided to do a daytrip to the town of Avignon. At this point in the trip, we had moved to an airport hotel since there were no vacancies in the city that weekend. To get to Avignon,…Read More
For our last full day in France, we decided to do a daytrip to the town of Avignon. At this point in the trip, we had moved to an airport hotel since there were no vacancies in the city that weekend. To get to Avignon, we needed to take the airport shuttle bus (le Navette) downtown to St. Charles Station and then take a train to Avignon. We bought roundtrip tickets for the regional TER train.Central Avignon consists of a quaint village with narrow streets, shops, restaurants, and small hotels. One of the major draws of the town is the Popes’ Palace (Palais des Papes). Before the Vatican became the home of popes, this large impressive medieval fortress in Avignon was the home of popes from the 1300’s to the 1600’s. My wife and I spent 1.5 hours doing an audio tour of the palace. Most of the rooms are empty. The audio wand commentary told about what used to take place in the rooms: receptions, accounting, meditation, dining, etc.. We learned about the business of running the Catholic Church and Europe in those days. Back then, the pope was more powerful than rulers of nations. The other major draw in Avignon is the Bridge of Avignon (Pont d’Avignon) - also known as the Saint Benezet Bridge. Built in the 12th century, the bridge is probably best known for the nursery rhyme that was written about it. Our admission ticket package for the Popes’ Palace also included an audio tour of this famous bridge. I was a little surprised there was an audio tour. I was under the impression we’d walk on the bridge and maybe snap a few pictures to say we were there. The audio tour tells about the bridge’s legendary beginning, its history, the bell tower, the chapels below, and its destruction. There were originally 22 arches of the bridge spanning the Rhone River but today only a fraction remain. The bridge stops abruptly about half way across the river.My wife and I finished off our lovely day in Avignon with a seafood dinner at one of the city’s quaint restaurants and then walked to the train station for our trip back to Marseille. This time, we were on an ICTER train. I thought maybe this was a step below the TER that brought us to Avignon. The seats were not as nice and there was no fancy marquee indicating the upcoming station stops. Boy was I wrong! This ICTER train crept out of the station and then took off like lightning. We rocketed along the tracks with the only sound being the occasional quick swish as we passed structures situated near the tracks. This ICTER train completed the trip back to Marseille in only an hour, whereas it had taken us two hours to get to Avignon from Marseille on the TER. What was even more fascinating to me was that the ICTER is not even France’s high speed line (the TGV). The TGV makes the trip between in Marseille and Avignon in about 30 minutes! Close
Written by nrf on 19 Jun, 2006
At the western edge of Provence, 35km north-east of Arles, is Avignon, another sun-drenched French city. It is perhaps most famous for Le Palais des Papes. Constructed on the Rhone River in the 14th century, the Popes’ Palace is the largest Gothic fortress-palace in…Read More
At the western edge of Provence, 35km north-east of Arles, is Avignon, another sun-drenched French city. It is perhaps most famous for Le Palais des Papes. Constructed on the Rhone River in the 14th century, the Popes’ Palace is the largest Gothic fortress-palace in Europe. It is a World Heritage site of UNESCO and is one of the most visited monuments in France.First developed by Celts, Avignon became an important Roman city. It passed through many ruling hands before purchase by the Papacy in 1348. The area stayed under church control until annexation to France in 1791. French born Pope Clement V had moved the entire papal court from Rome to Avignon in 1309. The papacy continued there until the election of Italian Urban VI in 1378. However, a faction of Cardinals repudiated that appointment and named Clement VII to rule the church from Avignon. This created the Papal Schism when two Popes, even three for a short time, led Christianity until Church leadership reunited in 1417.During the period of church dominance and for a period after, Avignon was a wealthy centre of commercial trade and banking. The church spent lavishly and the city’s general prosperity encouraged development of education and the arts. This tradition continues to modern times. Avignon is home now to about a dozen fine museums and collections and boasts proudly of its architecture, theatre, music, and dance.Avignon has an area population around 150,000 and is much more than a picturesque destination for tourists. It is an active, vibrant city that has successfully protected its ancient heritage. This is a convenient spot for travellers because many of the attractions are within the old ramparts. East and west of the city are free car parks with convenient shuttle buses providing transport to the old town. The area is easily explored on foot. Pedestrians can wonder through narrow streets and alleys, or enjoy the expansive plaza outside the Palace of Popes. Countless restaurants, many with open-air patios, offer dining for every budget category. Of course, shopping opportunities abound for those so inclined.We began by hopping aboard a tour train that looped around the old town with a smiling young guide providing multilingual commentary. This gave us a sense of the area and helped us plan our walking tours. The Popes’ Palace is large with many parts open to visitors. One can easily spend 3 hours at this site alone.Another attraction to which every tourist points a camera is the Pont Saint-Bénezet, known through the old children’s song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon. Built in the 12th Century, this bridge suffered frequent flood damage. Today, only four of the original 22 arches remain. Nevertheless, words learned in 8th grade French class came quickly to mind.Avignon is a fine destination in an area rich with places worth a visitor's attention. With a circle tour of only 150km, sightseers can enjoy Arles, Nimes, Orange, and Avignon and many picturesque villages along the way. Close
Written by moatway on 28 Oct, 2003
The area of Bouches du Rhone is not large, but it has more than its share of Roman artifacts and sites. There are a number in excellent condition, representative of various forms of Roman public engineering and architecture. They are well worth the time and…Read More
The area of Bouches du Rhone is not large, but it has more than its share of Roman artifacts and sites. There are a number in excellent condition, representative of various forms of Roman public engineering and architecture. They are well worth the time and this article should point you in the direction of the masterpieces and perhaps save some footwork.
There are two major amphitheatres . . . one in Nimes and the other in Arles. The first permanent Roman amphitheatre was built in 29 B.C. and in no time, they were springing up all over. The most famous of them is the Colosseum in Rome which sat 50,000 spectators. It had 80 arched entrance openings which fed the populace into a wide corridor which surrounded the building and from which ran stairs to the various sections. Similar circular corridors were found at each level and it was possible to empty such a building in minutes. Provincial amphitheatres were built on the same design, but on a smaller scale.
The amphitheatre in Nimes is Les Arenes, built around the year 100 A.D. and designed to seat 24,000 spectators. It is the best preserved amphitheatre in France, or perhaps anywhere, as it retains its upper story intact, unlike Arles. It was originally used for gladiatorial combats and like the Colosseum, it could stage naval battles. It is in superb shape and is used year-round for performances although at one point, before its restoration, it was used as slum housing. The amphitheatre in Arles, also referred to as Les Arenes, was built at about the same time, or perhaps shortly thereafter, and although it is slightly larger than the building in Nimes, it sat approximately 21,000 spectators. It served very much the same function but during the medieval period it became a fortress and four towers were added to it. Three of the towers still stand and afford an excellent view of the town. It is still used in summer for bullfights and now seats 12,000.
The premiere theatre is at Orange. The Roman theatre was built in the Greek style, with most of the action taking place in the orchestra in front of the skene, a permanent backdrop. The orchestra was surrounded by a half-circle of rising seating, the auditorium. Many Greek theatres were built into hillsides . . . an effective and economical form of construction. Roman theatres were both free-standing and hillside types . . . but free-standing theatres, like the Theatre Antique in Arles, did not survive in good condition. The theatre at Orange is a combination of the two and is the best example of a Roman theatre perhaps anywhere in the world. The construction behind the stage is several stories high, the better, the Romans thought, to amplify sound. The wall still contains mosaics and a copy of a statue of the Emperor Augustus. An amphitheatre is a marvel but an intact Roman theatre such as this demonstrates the engineering genius of Rome married to the arts. Two great ways to see this theatre are from the hill above it or attending one of the concerts that are held here in summer. While you are in Orange, you may as well have a look at the Arc de Triomphe as it is a good example of what one should look like and it is in surprisingly good shape.
If you want to see a really good Roman temple, you’ll find the best-preserved temple in France, and in the world, in Nimes. The Maison Carre was built during the reign of the Emperor Augustus. It has survived as a meeting hall, private residence and even a stable. There is nothing dramatic about this little Greek-style beauty with its Corinthian columns except the fact that it has survived in such brilliant condition. The only similar site that I can think of in France is the Temple of Augustus and Livy, built by the Emperor Claudius, in the city of Vienne.
These are pieces of Rome. The best example of a Roman town in this area is at St-Remy de Provence . . . the Roman town of Glanum. Now, I’ll admit, I haven’t been to Glanum in twenty-five years, but it drew me for what it was and of course, I happen to have majored in ancient history, so I couldn’t resist. I’m not sure if I would go there today, but I must admit that I was thrilled to walk on stones and imagine who might have preceded me two thousand years ago. There is a triumphal arch here and a mausoleum, but mostly, you have to want to walk with the ghosts of the past. There is little here for you if you don’t care about history.
But there is a place, the best place in the whole area… the place you will visit whether or not you visit any of the other places. It is the Pont du Gard near Nimes. Since it is the best of the Roman sites of any kind, in the area, it is also the most "touristique". The Pont du Gard is part of a three-tiered aqueduct as it crosses the Gard River. The aqueduct originally ran from Uzes to Nimes, a distance of 25 kilometers. There are several views here. It is amazing from the river (you can swim here), you can walk it or you can see it from an elevated position. It is one of the busiest tourist sites in France, so don’t expect solitude. There are exhibits here so it has become a family site with activities for the kids and lots of educational opportunities, but for me, it is what it is . . . amazing.
Well, that’s the short list. I admit, it’s not complete, there are the odd ruins or parts of things that weren’t pulled down, quarried or blown up, but the list contains those things you should really have a look at in Roman Provence.
Written by SadgeArrow on 04 Dec, 2000
OK. Maybe stalking the Japanese woman wasn't very nice. But she looked so out of place, dressed in her brightly colored kimono, bed-pillow bow and all. A little Geisha doll - in the town of the Pope's Palace? So, we…Read More
OK. Maybe stalking the Japanese woman wasn't very nice. But she looked so out of place, dressed in her brightly colored kimono, bed-pillow bow and all. A little Geisha doll - in the town of the Pope's Palace? So, we stalked, uh, I mean, we followed her. Long enough to click a couple of photographs before something else caught our attention.
Because that's the way Avignon is. Just start walking the streets and you're sure to find something entertainig. We were the first to gather around the Mime wearing a white mask and a Revolutionary's tricorn black hat. His street act was putting on a silent show featuring feline gymnastics with his two cats, one black, one calico.
And not all the art is framed and neatly tucked away in a museum. The trompe l'oeil (tromp lay) painted over windows on one side of a building was definitely an eye-catcher.
After walking down many streets and side allies, no map but just following our nose, we thought we were lost. But in typical small French town charm, we made a sharp turn to our right and easily found our way back to the city center, activity bustling around the carousel. Of course, I had to dish out 10 francs and find my favorite white steed. This street walker needed a rest.
Written by Rocket on 22 Nov, 2000
This is not a city for everyone. Lawrence Durrell, in the novel Justine, described Avignon as a stinking armpit, Le Pont d'Avignon sticking out in the water like an amputated finger. Other literary figures have expressed similar disgust with the city, but, but,…Read More
This is not a city for everyone. Lawrence Durrell, in the novel Justine, described Avignon as a stinking armpit, Le Pont d'Avignon sticking out in the water like an amputated finger. Other literary figures have expressed similar disgust with the city, but, but, they all also loved it.
That would be close to my experience there, and I found that its seedier side was somehow appealingly real rather than precious, like so much of France. Yet the city has a pulse and a style that juxtaposes well-dressed, fashionable people with the harsh blackened walls that surround the city. The Palais du Papes is astonishing. The sheer size alone threatens to overwhelm the city but somehow doesn't, standing as it does against the openness of a very large square.
The exhibits, especially of the popes' own quarters are fascinating, and the museum on the other side of the square contains an almost obsessively collected array of Madonna and child canvasses.
Many of the cults of Mary were popular here in the 16th century. I came back many times during a month in Provence, whether it was to watch the Carousel whirling madly in front of me while I drank pastis or beer or coffee in unhurried comfort or the grandeur of the buildings that towered over us all like pyramids in Egypt. I think it was the streets, finally, that brought me back, because they were all different, all promising something, if not seedy, well at least dark in the most mysterious way--like Avignon itself.
Written by food&fun on 04 Nov, 2000
Avignon is a good home base for exploring parts of Provence. Just 2 km. from Avignon is Villeneuve les Avignon. There you will find Chartreuse du Val de Benediction, a 14th century cloister. The self-guided tour takes you into the hallways of…Read More
Avignon is a good home base for exploring parts of Provence. Just 2 km. from Avignon is Villeneuve les Avignon. There you will find Chartreuse du Val de Benediction, a 14th century cloister. The self-guided tour takes you into the hallways of this Carthusian chartehouse, past monks's cells, inner courtyards, and gardens. The most interesting thing to me was seeing the austere quarters in which the monks lived.
Pont du Gard is also just a short drive away. It is a Roman aquaduct, several stories high, built in 19 BC, which joined Uzes with Nimes. This portion of it is remarkably complete. You can walk up a steep path (about 1/2 mile) which takes you to the top, and you can walk across a lower level. It is hard to imagine how the ancient Romans engineered and built this massive structure. In the summer, there is kayaking in the river below, and kayaks can be rented.
Aramon, also within a few miles of Avignon is another walled city, though no where near as large as Avignon. It gives more of a feeling for the way the peasants lived, in the shadow of the Palace of the Popes. Arles and Orange are also easy day-trips from Avignon.
Avignon is famous for the Palace of the Popes and the Broken Bridge (Pont St. Benezet). There is supposedly a well-known children's song about the bridge, but I have yet to hear it. The Palace of the Popes is magnificent outside. Walk…Read More
Avignon is famous for the Palace of the Popes and the Broken Bridge (Pont St. Benezet). There is supposedly a well-known children's song about the bridge, but I have yet to hear it. The Palace of the Popes is magnificent outside. Walk up the hill next to it for a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and valleys. A helpful legend orients you to all the surrounding cities and landmarks. The self-guided tour is well worth the price. At the beginning of the 14th Century, the Pope needed to escape from the political turmoil in Rome, and Avignon became the center of the Papal administration. As magnificent as it is by day, you should also wander by at night, when this huge white stone structure is lit up.
The city is walled, and the ancient part is, as would be expected, inside the walled part. Parking is difficult, but there is a multi-story parking structure outside the train station, which is just a short walk from the center of the old city. There are many parking lots just outside the walls on the side of town by the Popes' Palace, but parking is often scarce there.
Market days in Avignon are Tues. through Sun. from 8 a.m. to noon in the covered market at Place Pie. There is also an open-air market on Saturday and Sunday, also 8 a.m. to noon, at the Porte Magnanen ramparts.
For casual dining, try the cafés along rue Racine, by the Place de l'Horologe. La Fourchette II is one of them, and serves typical Provencal dishes. No credit cards.
The side streets off rue Racine have a number of boulangeries and sandwich shops where you can buy a baguette filled with ham, chicken, sausage or other meats, slathered with that good French mayonnaise, perhaps with lettuce, tomatoes and hard cooked eggs ('salade' or 'crudites') for about $3.00. Look for a sign that says 'formule' for a special price for sandwich, soft drink and dessert combination. Warning: be sure to ask for the 'formule' when you order, or you will probably end up being charged for the individual items.