TO SEE | TOWN
When I visited Avignon recently, I couldn’t get the famous children’s song ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ out of my head. There wasn’t much dancing on the well-known bridge that day, but I did have a lovely time in this UNESCO World Heritage town in the Vaucluse department. Let me give you some tips to explore the highlights of the city of popes.
Tip 1: Place de l’Horloge
As I was new to Avignon, I first headed to the Tourist Information Office on the Rue de la République. There, I received a map outlining three walks, all of them with different themes and lengths. I chose to do the shortest walk, of one hour, called ‘The Papal Promenade’. The first stop was at Place de l’Horloge, a pleasant square in the heart of the city centre surrounded by stately plane trees and many restaurants. I couldn’t spot the bell tower though, the remains of a Gothic, cardinal palace, until I was walking back to my car and saw it peeking above the town hall.
Tip 2: Palais des Papes
Avignon is also known for the Palace of the Popes, which is the largest Gothic palace in the world. Like the bridge, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The majestic edifice has towered over the Place du Palais since the 14th century. In fact, since 1309, Avignon has been the residence of nine popes in total, and it took less than 20 years to construct their decadent residence. Nowadays, you can visit 25 rooms in the palace for 12 euros for an adult ticket, and the site is open every day of the year. You can even visit it with a very cool tablet that takes you back to the time of the Sovereign Pontiffs using augmented reality, or marvel at the 360 degrees sound and light show during the ‘Vibrations’ festival.
Tip 3: Rocher des Doms
Climbing the Saint Anne stairs of the Basilica of Notre-Dame des Doms, on the left of the Palais des Papes, led me to the lush green park of Rocher des Doms. What a beautiful oasis in the middle of the town! Strolling along grottos, fountains and a little pond with the ‘Venus aux Hirondelles’ statue, brought me to a stunning lookout platform. Standing 30 meters above the Rhône river, a panoramic view of the famous Avignon bridge and the meandering Provençal landscape unfolded beneath me. As it was a bright, sunny day, I could see as far as the Mont Ventoux!
Tip 4: Pont de Saint-Bénézet
Via a steep stairway and through the tower of the Porte du Rocher, I headed in the direction of the Pont d’Avignon. This famous bridge actually has a name: le Pont de Saint-Bénézet. As I saw people on it, I thought it would be freely accessible. This wasn’t the case, but for a small entrance fee of 5 euros you can walk, and even dance, on the bridge. Well, on the part that is left of the once 920 meter long bridge. Today, only 4 of the originally 22 arches remain.
Tip 5: Rue de la Peyrolerie
After all this history, it was time for some entertainment. Some food! And, of course, some shopping! The Tourist Information map highlighted the Rue Peyrolerie, or the Tinsmith’s Street, as a good place to visit. To get to this street, I took the little passageway right next to the Palaces of the Popes. I think this is one of the most original streets I have ever seen, with ochre-coloured houses built on a sloped rock wall that blends into the Palace of the Popes. I continued on my way and arrived at the charming square of Place des Châtaignes. Here I enjoyed a simple lunch at one of the restaurants underneath the chestnut trees. Slowly strolling back to my car, I discovered the little streets of this neighbourhood, with far more interesting boutiques and restaurants than the big brands on Rue de la République. Next year, I definitely have to bring the family to finally visit Avignon’s Theater Festival during the summer months!