Avignon, France: History, Art and Theatre in Provence

Avignon, France: History, Art and Theatre in Provence

We have been fortunate enough to have spent the last couple of weeks staying in Avignon as our base for exploring the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of France. A quick 2.5-hour train ride from Paris and sitting alongside the Rhone river, this is the perfect city to begin your journey through one of France's most sought-after regions.

We visited in winter, so while it wasn't super warm, the sun was still shining most of the time and it was certainly warmer than anywhere else we had been in Europe this winter. It was quite pleasant, even when notorious Mistral winds blew.

Avignon differs from other small towns in France because it is essentially a second Vatican. It was here that the pope (seven of them to be precise) resided from the years 1309 to 1377, and the city remained under papal rule until the French Revolution, when it joined France. It is also one of the few cities in France that has preserved its ramparts.

Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) in Avignon.

Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) in Avignon.

Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the Avignon Cathedral

Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the Avignon Cathedral

Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes)

Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes)

You can go inside of the palace for €12, however most of the interior has been stripped, so there is not much to see.

Avignon Cathedral

Avignon Cathedral

Looking back at Palais des Papes

Looking back at Palais des Papes

Pont Saint-Benezet (or Pont d'Avignon)

Pont Saint-Benezet (or Pont d'Avignon)

Another major attraction in Avignon is Pont Saint-Bénezet, or Pont d'Avignon. An old bridge across the Rhone river built in the 12th century. This bridge has been washed away and rebuilt several times over the centuries, but was abandoned in the 17th century, so only about half remains. It is also featured in the popular children's song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon". You can go on the bridge for €5.

Parc Rocher des Doms

Parc Rocher des Doms

Parc Rocher des Doms

Parc Rocher des Doms

Our favourite part of Avignon is the lovely park that sits above Palais des Papes and the cathedral.  From here you can overlook the Rhone River, the city, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Mont Ventoux, the highest mountain in Provence, and an important (and steep!) stage of the Tour de France.

View of the Rhone river from Parc Rocher des Doms

View of the Rhone river from Parc Rocher des Doms

For once we actually got a picture of us together! By the koi pond at Parc Rocher des Doms

For once we actually got a picture of us together! By the koi pond at Parc Rocher des Doms

View of Place des Palais and Musee du Petit Palais

View of Place des Palais and Musee du Petit Palais

Art lovers have to visit the Musee du Petis Palais, which was once a cardinal's palace. This museum is host to a large collection of medieval and Rennaissance art.

Delisa on the steps of Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes)

Delisa on the steps of Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes)

Door to Palais des Papes

Door to Palais des Papes

Rue de la Peyrolerie - behind Palais des Papes

Rue de la Peyrolerie - behind Palais des Papes

Rue de la Peyrolerie heading into Esplanade Yves Michel-Bechet

Rue de la Peyrolerie heading into Esplanade Yves Michel-Bechet

Like any old city, we find the main appeal to us is wandering the smaller cobblestone roads even though the twist around the city and make you get lost. After two weeks here we still get turned around.

Street corner by Basilique St. Pierre - the bells ring nicely on the hour so you know when it's lunch time.

Street corner by Basilique St. Pierre - the bells ring nicely on the hour so you know when it's lunch time.

Place Pie, near Les Halles indoor market

Place Pie, near Les Halles indoor market

Les Halles indoor market

Les Halles indoor market

Another main attraction in Avignon is Les Halles indoor market, open mornings Tuesday through Sunday. Here you can wander around the various stalls selling produce, meat, fish, spices, nuts, and baked goods. You can even stay for lunch and sample the local cuisine straight from the source!

What To Do and See In Avignon

  • Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) - free to wander the outside, €12 to tour the inside
  • Musee du Petit Palais - home to many medieval and Renaissance works - €6
  • Parc Rocher des Doms - soak up the Provençal sun and the fantastic views - free
  • Les Halles indoor market - sample all the delights of the Provence region
  • Avignon Theatre Festival - every July one of the biggest performing arts festivals in the world is hosted in Avignon. If you are not there in July, there are still theatrical performances in one of their many theatres and an opera house, so stop by and enjoy a performance!

What To Eat in Avignon

  • In the mood for a burger? Some of the best burgers in France are made at Le Potard right in the centre of town.
  • If pizza is more your thing, go off of the tourist track and hit up Vezzo Pizza on Rue Guillaume Puy.
  • For an excellent baguette and/or pastry, make sure you visit Le Fabrique des Saveurs, an excellent boulangerie behind Les Halles market.
Burger from Le Potard

Burger from Le Potard

A sample of some of the delights from Le Fabrique des Saveurs

A sample of some of the delights from Le Fabrique des Saveurs

Day Trip From Avignon 

There are many, many places to see just a short drive or train ride from Avignon, which is why it makes a perfect base for your Provence adventure.  We will touch more on those in a separate post, however one easy site to see from Avignon if you have a car is Pont du Gard.

An ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River, it is only about a 20-minute drive from Avignon and is certainly a site to see. Tickets are normally €8.50, but it was only €3 when we went since the museum was closed.

Pont du Gard - Avignon, Provence, Languedoc
Pont du Gard - Avignon, Provence, Languedoc
Pont du Gard - Avignon, Provence, Languedoc
Pont du Gard - Avignon, Provence, Languedoc

We are still enjoying our time in Provence, but it is time to move on to another town, so we bid adieu to Avignon for now.

Have you been to Avignon? What was your favourite part? Let us know in the comments!

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Avignon, France: History, Art and Theatre in Provence