The Provence roadtrip I mentioned earlier started in Avignon. Just a short visit, en route farther east. The weather was cold, gray and very windy, which gave all those crenellated stone walls a slightly menacing feel. It also meant there weren’t hordes of people in the streets.

La Place du Palais, with a view of the Clock Tower, or Horloge.

The best part of my Avignon experience will get its own post–I need to research the names that came up. Let me just say that it’s always good to have a passion that you can pursue during your travels. I used to dance Argentine tango, which took me to many interesting neighborhoods and hidden places in cities across Europe. A hunt for a hunting knife–a gift for a friend–led to a surprising discovery of uncharted (to me, at least) quarters of Paris. And in Avignon, it was books. But that story is coming.

The two most famous sights in Avignon are le Palais des Papes–the Papal Palace–and the Pont d’Avignon, which I can’t even type without the children’s verse burrowing into my head.

The bridge.

I didn’t have time to visit the Papal Palace–it’s huge–but I did go out onto the bridge, officially named Pont Saint-Bénézet. It crosses the Rhône, and you can see that the river, one of the largest in France, must really swell during flooding seasons. The current drought was achingly clear on my visit in late February.

“Hold children’s hands” the sign says. I saw several panicked parents of uncomprehending toddlers trying to do just that. This is one sight I’d skip with little kids.

The bridge was built from 1177 to 1185, with 22 arches. Successive floods and wars destroyed parts of it, but they obstinately repaired the damage. Finally, they gave up rebuilding it after a flood in 1669. Nearly 500 years–not bad for a bridge. And much of it is still standing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to a good viewpoint to show the bridge stopping halfway across the river.

View of the city center from the bridge. It isn’t wide at all. I can’t imagine crossing it when it was in use–much more crowded and without the guardrails.
The bridge in the distance is le Pont Edouard Daladier, inaugurated in 1961. It took five years to build. We’ll see how long it lasts.

Avignon hosts a huge, huge performing arts festival every July, which is either a reason to visit then or to avoid it then. The main stage is in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes. I really have to come back to visit the museum.

An imposing structure, and this is just a small part of it. Talk about a flex. Now a Unesco World Heritage site.

You might not know, as I certainly didn’t before first visiting Avignon, that the popes moved here in the 14th century during a power grab. Boys will be boys. Anyway, during this infighting, or schism, the French king was kind of the big shot of Europe and a competing power to the church. A couple of popes died (one of them was pope for less than nine months, and possibly was poisoned), and the French king, Philippe IV (known as the “Iron King”), got his own guy, Clément V, chosen pope. Clément decided, shall we say, to move to Avignon. During this tumult, there were popes and antipopes, and enough intrigue for a streaming series.

The palace construction started in 1252 on mere bishop scale, and Clément didn’t show up until 1305. They kept adding on, as one does, until the whole place got to 11,000 square meters (118,000 square feet). The popes moved back to Rome in 1377, but then there were two antipopes who hung on in Avignon until 1403.

The walls go on and on.
A chapel on the bridge.

The town center was large and lively. I enjoyed the passing fashion show as I had a coffee on a café terrace–even in the cold, the French sit outside. Most of the center was car-free, which is wonderful, but probably a hassle for those living there. Pedestrian zones and low-pollution zones (which keep out older cars, trucks and diesel cars) are hotly contested in cities across the country–outside of Paris, the French love their cars. Though these days all attention is on retirement.

Speaking of cars, I drove through that tunnel on the way to the underground parking garage. Don’t even think about parking on the street.
Gorgeous façade. And they have a view of the Papal Palace.
The street name is Steep Incline Street Charles Ansidéi, named after a guy who promoted tourism in the city. But the part I like is “steep incline.” Tell it like it is!
French litter (a champagne cork).
I’ll take it. Even just a room. Even just one of those Anduze pots.
Though the number of bells on the walls is worrisome.
Those windows!

Have you been to Avignon? Any suggestions for my return trip?

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19 thoughts on “Avignon

  1. Ah yes, we visited and we stayed for a time. I recall the Palais as a series of twists, turns, and climbs. One early morning we strolled up to the beautiful park overlooking the Rhône, where we found an old man working on pen and ink drawings in black and indigo and bought one of the Pont d’Avignon, hung on our dining room wall ever since. We sat out on the pont in the sunshine for an hour, then roamed the Provençal pottery market where I selected a gorgeous pasta bowl that I thought my husband should carry home. When he ungallantly declined, I left it behind. I took a photo of it, now hanging in our kitchen.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve never made it there, one of the many places on my list which never seems to get shorter. However it did remind me of a trip we made to Cassis 30 years ago. I can remember jumping into the ocean which was rather fresh for me and almost walking on water in my rush to escape the cold. Where do the years go?

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  3. I need to go on a short break soon, and Avignon sounds ideal – enough to see, not too far to drive, and out of season it should be wonderful! We stopped in January 2022 and spent about an hour wandering about and then grabbed a quick lunch – we’ll go back!!

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    1. Then stay tuned for the next post about bookstores, if that interests you. We ate at a little place called Vivotto, 34 rue des Trois Faucons, which was inexpensive and surprisingly good. Nice vibe. Very casual.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is fabulous, Catherine, great photos. We almost went to Avignon in January…did lots of research but never followed through. Maybe end of this year. 🤞🏻

    The Jardin des Doms, behind Palais des Papes and Église Notre Dame, is said to have panoramic views of the Pont d’Avignon and all the way to Mont Ventoux. With Google maps you can check out the trails.

    There are so many day trip possibilities from Avignon. It would make a good base for a week or two. I’m looking forward to your next Avignon post.

    Liked by 1 person

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