If you are in France, then Avignon is the place, that should be on your list. The commune got famous as it is that city, to which the Popes fled, and resided during the Avignon Papacy. To the south-east of France, in the department of Vaucluse, and on the left bank of the Rhone River. Yes. That’s where this beautiful city is located. Beautiful would be a vague adjective to define this place. Avignon is neither serene, nor pretty. But, this stunner of a city stands out from the rest with it’s inexplicable Gothic architecture. And, you would see the best of Gothic architecture with the Avignon Paleis des Papes. In short, if you are a lover of art and history, then this city is the perfect holiday destination.
The reason behind Avignon’s striking architecture is the use of limestone. Take a walk through the main city and it’s alleyways. You would be greeted with rows upon rows of sandy yellow buildings everywhere. The area around Avignon has been found to be very rich in limestone. As a result, majority of the buildings constructed there are with this material. The population of this commune is estimated to be around 200,000. With a rich, cultural heritage, you would find a huge number of things to do in Avignon.
So, while we are at it, let’s dig into bit more details about the place and what all it has to offer to a prospective traveller.
THINGS TO DO IN AVIGNON
1. Palais des Papes
Avignon Palais des Papes is the world’s largest medieval Gothic structure according in Europe. And, needless to say, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several different Popes helped to erect this palace throughout the 14th century. It took less than 20 years (1335-1352) to build this enormous structure. And, it can be well compared to the size of 4 individual Gothic structures. The palace is actually a joint of two buildings, the old and the new palace. Pope Benoit XII was responsible for building the old palace or famously known as the Palais Veux. While Palais Neuf o the new palace was built by Pope Clément VI. They both were well-known as the Builder Popes amongst the 9 Popes that resided in Avignon.
Just next to the palace is the famous bridge on the Rhone river. One of the most powerful rivers in France. The palace gates open at around 9 in the morning and 9 :30 during the off-season months. If you truly love architecture and art, then visit to this place is one of the best things to do in Avignon. Marvel at the 14th century frescoes and the intricate watercolour paintings hanging on the walls. And, it’s but obvious that the architecture is something to make anyone dumbfounded.
2. Pont Saint Bénézet
A testament to the city of Avignon, the Saint Bénézet Bridge is an edifice of 900 metres and 22 arches. Until the 17th century, it was a focal route for transportation across the Rhône river. However, transportation has been stalled as the bridge is partially ruined. But, the UNESCO listed site is still an attraction for the tourists and open to them. Legend has it that the shepherd boy Bénézet received a message from the angels to build a bridge over the Rhône.
In spite of lack of support from his fellow town mates, he went ahead with the action. He was endowed with the strength of carrying a giant rock boulder all by himself. And, the bridge was built in a span of 8 years. Visit this place to admire the architecture and the history behind the same. The ticket price would include an audio-guide and entry to the “Le Pont Retrouvé” Museum. This museum features the films about research work, three dimensional exhibits and multimedia presentations offering an interactive experience.
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3. Place de l’Horloge
A beautiful square in the centre of the commune, it’s one of the best places to sit and relax. Also known as the Clock Tower Square, the buildings located here includes the 19th century city hall and opera. It is located near the Palais des Papes and towards the west side is the theater and the Hôtel de Ville. Best time to go there would be in the afternoon as the square has a number of restaurants offering French delicacies. A walk in the evening would also be something you can do as the area is quite peaceful.
Along with restaurants, there are a number of cafes as well. Do plan a visit around in July, as it’s the time for Bastille Day. 14th July to be precise the exact date for the festival. Around this time, the square is brought to life until late in the night. Street artists, theatre troupes all gather round this place to give their performances and attract tourists. And, if you are planning a trip in winter, then the Christmas market would be a delightful experience.
4. Musée du Petit Palais
This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the 13th century and is a museum and art gallery in Avignon. In the year 1976 it opened it’s doors to the world and now boasts of some excellent Renaissance paintings. It was designed as a Gothic fort, a typical element of medieval architecture. Primarily, it was the residence of Avignon’s episcopal bishops before Pope Clement V. Find some of the best masterpieces of Italian paintings from the 13th to the 15th century. Look for the most renowned piece of painting, Boticelli’s Virgin and Child. It’s also home to some of the best Avignon sculptures and a collection of works by the Avignon School of Painters.
5. Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Doms
When you compare this structure to the Palais des Papes, it isn’t a stunner at all. But, still this 12th century cathedral is one of the top things to do in Avignon. With a tranquil interior, it’s flooded with available light from the high windows. There’s an inspiring sense of space and intimacy when you get inside. In the entrance, there’s ivory-colored stonework. To the left stands a 12th century bishop’s chair of white marble.
A Late Gothic monument to John XXII stands on the 4th chapel on the southern side. Early 15th century frescoes look gracious on the walls in the Baptistry Chapel. The cathedral also boasts of a huge octagonal dome and a treasury of religious objects in the chapel dedicated to John XXVII. Entry is free.
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6. Old town of Avignon
Stretching around the imposing Palais des Papes, is the old town. A walk through the streets of the old town is one of the most amazing things to do in Avignon. Best, if you pick up a map from the tourist office and then carry on with your walk. The map would guide you through the cobbled streets, protected by the circular walls all around. Do not miss the King René’s house in the rue Roi-Ren.
The rue des Teinturiers which follows the river Sorgue. The Quartier de la Balance that runs down to the Pont Bénézet, and the Place de l’Horloge. In short, the old town gives you that perfect medieval Renaissance feel.
7. Rocher des Doms
It’s a rocky point, just a short walk away from the Palais des Papes. With a gorgeous park on it’s summit, it also offers an excellent panoramic view of Avignon. The name of the park/garden is Jardin des Domes. You can just take a stroll, sit, relax and enjoy some really good food in the café up there.
8. Musée Calvet
A beautiful 18th century neo-classical palace is where the Calvet Museum is located. Sculptures, silverware, upright stones carved with faces sit alongside French, Italian and Flemish paintings from the 16th to the 19th century.
DAY TRIPS FROM AVIGNON
When you are in Avignon, you can never miss out on the amazing day trips from this commune. Make a list and pack your bags. Well, we are here to help you out with this as well. Did you also know that most of the travellers choose Avignon for exploring the wider Provence region? The best way to get around is you can hire a car. Bus and trains are available as well. Here is a list of some of the places you can go around.
Les Baux-de-Provence and Carrières de Lumières
First and foremost, buy Michelin maps of the region before getting started. Now, about this place. Located on the rocky hill in the Alpilles, this Provencal village is a must visit. One of the best places when it comes to take a day trip from Avignon. Charming is the word which you can use to describe this picturesque village. There’s plenty to see and do as the village is brimming with historical treasures.
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Nothing can stop you from falling head over heels in love with this place. Come summers, and you would be able to run through the dreamy bloom of lavender covering like a blanket. Explore the pristine village of Aix-en-Provence and Valensole village while exploring the fragrant fields of Lavender.
The place where Vincent Van Gogh spent a year after leaving the city of Arles. The renowned artist painted some of his masterpieces in this place and the surrounding countryside. This place is considered and celebrated as a bit of an artist’s hub and it’s quite obvious. Once you visit, you would left in no doubt as to where the artists get their inspiration from.
Avignon is surely one of those places if you want a break from the traditional European getaways. Highly recommended, if you are a history or architecture student or take keen interest in the subject. Other than this, even if you are just an avid traveler, put this in your bucket list now!
Frequently asked questions(FAQ’s) about Avignon
- Why should I visit Avignon given all places?
Ans. Famous for it’s Roman and Gothic architecture, it naturally pulls any avid traveller. Other than the traditional mountains or beaches, this place has a lot to offer in terms of arts and culture.
- What is the importance of Avignon?
Ans: Although it belongs to the French soil, Avignon belonged to the duke of Anjou. The historic importance of this place dates from the 14th century. It was selected as the papal residence by Clement V in the year 1309. The reason the city was chosen was because of it’s central location within the Christendom than Rome.
- When is the best time to visit Avignon?
Ans: Best time undoubtedly would be summer as there are quite a number of festivals which you would get to enjoy at that time. Plus, the villages around Avignon would offr you some of the most amazing views during that time.
- How long should I stay in Avignon if I am visiting quite a few places in France?
Ans: 4 days should be enough as it would help to cover the places in the commune as well as the surrounding villages.
- Which is the best area to book a hotel in Avignon?
Ans: If you are going in summer, the best place would be around the square i.e., Place de l’Horloge.
- Is Nime, Aix-en-provence and Chateauneuf-de-Pape easy to get to with car?
Ans: Although, the summer rush would be there, if you have adequate time in hand and start early morning, you would be able to get by.
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