Quick guide to Avignon


Explore the city which was once the seat of papal power

I know the name, but where is it exactly?

Situated in the Vaucluse département and straddling the River Rhône on the border with the Gard, Avignon is a fine architectural city which is gateway to Provence.

I’ve heard it was once home to the papacy. Is that right?

Yes. Following a conflict between the French crown and the Papacy, Pope Clement V moved his court here from Rome in 1309, beginning the Avignon Papacy, which lasted until 1377. Six further popes resided at the Palais des Papes and Avignon remained papal property until the French Revolution, when it became part of France.

So, there must be plenty to see.

Of course! The historic centre, which became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995, is dominated by the Gothic splendour of the Palais des Papes. Around 20 papal apartments are open to the public, while the palace’s courtyard is the main setting for the Avignon Festival, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors every July. Then venture next door to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms and climb the bell tower to find a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary which has looked over the city since 1859. And don’t forget to stroll along what remains of the Pont d’Avignon – made famous by the nursery rhyme – which juts out into the Rhône and offers panoramic views of the city.

It sounds wonderful. Are there any good places to eat?

Yes! For a quintessentially French place, try L’Épicerie (menus from €15.50, tel: (Fr) 4 90 82 74 22, www.restaurantlepicerie.fr), serving simple favourites such as cassoulet and steak frites. Alternatively, there is 83.Vernet (menus from €24, tel: (Fr) 4 90 85 99 04, www.83vernet.com), which is housed in a beautiful 15th-century cloister and offers dishes such as tartare du boeuf.

Get me there quick!

Avignon-Provence Airport is eight kilometres south-east of the city. You can get summer flights from Birmingham and Southampton with Flybe and from London City with Cityjet. Alternatively, Eurostar operates a direct summer service from London St Pancras to the Gare d’Avignon TGV, which takes 5hr 50min. Return fares start from £99.

Where should I stay?

For a touch of elegance try the five-star Hôtel d’Europe (doubles from €299, tel: (Fr) 4 90 14 76 76, www.heurope.com), in the heart of Avignon. A hotel since 1799, it is considered one of the oldest in France and has hosted many high-profile guests including Napoléon Bonaparte, Victor Hugo and Édith Piaf.

For more information visit www.avignon-tourisme.com

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