Au revoir, Avignon

After our last few days in Avignon, it’s evident why this town is often referred to as the jewel in Provence’s crown.

Avignon is best explored a pied and we spend hours meandering through the narrow, mostly pedestrianised streets. I say mostly pedestrianised, as every now and then, with surprisingly little warning, tourist trains squeeze through impossibly small passages.

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The main square of Avignon is the Place de l’Horologe, and we stay at the Hotel d L’Horologe, which overlooks the square. Despite its central location, it’s quiet by night, and although our room is on the small side, we have all the comforts we need, including air conditioning – essential in France during August!

As for the Place de l’Horologe, we’re not too impressed with the requisite tourist trap restaurants and venture down Avignon’s beautiful laneways when we go out to eat.

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Our favourite street is Rue Bonneterie, which has some lovely restaurants, fun outdoor bars and some edgy street art to boot:

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Aside from eating, drinking and getting lost in lane ways, there’s lots to see in Avignon.

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I was surprised to learn that seven popes resided in Avignon in the 14th century. The spectacular Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) is one of the top tourist sites in France, and a must-see destination if you visit.

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The long admission queue moves quickly and we are offered a complementary audio guide, from which we glean useful facts, I’m very interested to learn that a treasure chest of gold was found under the Palais treasury as recently as 1985!

In 1348, Avignon was purchased by Pope Clement VI from Joanna d’Anjou (Queen of Naples and Provence) in apparent exchange for declaring Joanna innocent of complicity in the murder of her husband. Yes, it sounded dodgy to us too….

After visiting the Palais, we take a break in the Rocher des Doms gardens. From this vantage point, we have panoramic views over the Pont St Benezet, the famous bridge from the primary school French song.

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Opposite from Avignon centre is Barthelasse island. Situated between two river arms, it’s the biggest river island in Europe. We spend some time on Barthelasse enjoying the spectacular views on offer. There is a free boat which shuttles passengers across the river at frequent intervals.

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We experience the full spectrum of French service in Avignon, virtually ignored at one restaurant, until the dishes arrive which are slammed down on to our table, another waitress brings us trois “breakfast du jour” and holds out her hand for immediate payment (Adam’s French is surprisingly good and he clearly said deux!) The best service we receive is at a resultant called Número 75, which deserves a separate review.

Our next stop is Montpellier, and I’ll post more from there.

In the meantime, friends, have you had a standout meal whilst traveling? And what made it memorable for you?

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