From Lyon, we traveled by TGV (high speed train) to the little town of Avignon in the Provence region. Avignon is a smaller city and, from 1309-1377, was the seat of Catholic popes. The Pope’s Palace (“Palais des Papes”) is a famous landmark of Avignon, as well as the Avignon bridge, Le Pont d’Avignon, which has a French song written about it. Overall, this adorable little town is quintessentially Provencal in style, with tons of history and great places to eat, shop, and wander.
From the TGV train station there is a transfer to the local Avignon train station. Or, you can take a relatively inexpensive cab ride to the heart of the city.
Where to Eat
- La Fourchette – Closed on weekends (how incredibly French), this is a local spot for traditional cuisine.
- Place de L’Horloge – This is the main square, rather than a restaurant, but cafés line all four sides, each better than the next. Stop in any of them for lunch or dinner and people watch on the square while enjoying excellent French cuisine.
Where to Stay
- Hotel Mercure Avignon Centre Palais des Papes – We stayed at this centrally located hotel, right next to the Pope’s Palace and on the main square, Place de l’Horloge. Your stay includes free buffet breakfast – a delicious start to the day. Modern and affordably priced, this hotel can’t be beat for the value.
- Hotel de L’Horloge – The “clock” hotel is right on the Place de l’Horloge, a prime location for seeing all that Avignon has to offer, also at an affordable price.
- Le Cloitre Saint Louis – Featured on Conde Nast’s best hotels, this inexpensive alternative to the grand luxe La Mirande (a more luxurious hotel), incorporates a 16th-century cloister for which it is named. Most guest rooms are in a stylish modern wing and there is a rooftop swimming pool designed by Jean Nouvel.
Sites to See
- Palais des Papes & Cathedral – The “Pope’s Palace” is a must-see and the main attraction of Avignon. Many don’t know that the pope resided in Avignon during much of the 14th century.
- Parc Rocher des Doms – Next to the palace, climb the Parc Rocher des Doms for amazing views of Avignon, where on a clear day you should be able to see as far as Mont Ventoux (1,909m), the tallest mountain in Provence. Free to enter, open during daylight hours.
- Le Pont d’Avignon – Famous in the song “Sure le Pont d’Avignon”, this half-completed medieval bridge gives great views and history combined. Spanning the Rhône between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon, it was built between 1177 and 1185 and is a must-see. You can buy a discounted joint ticket for both the Palais des Papes and the bridge.
- Pont du Gard – The ancient Roman aqueducts are a UNESCO World Heritage site and a short drive from Avignon. The bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 31 mile system built in the first century AD.
- Chateauneuf de Papes – This famous village and wine region is known for expensive, excellent wine, originally named for the Pope’s summer residence. Taste some wine in the Pope’s caves and bring back some delicious souvenirs.
- Lavender fields – Unfortunately, we were just ahead of lavender season (they usually start blooming in June) so we did not get to see this symbol of southern France. But they are worth a stop if visiting Provence in the summer months.