Technically we didn’t plan to go on a holiday or any kind of trip this week. We’ve got our bi-monthly jaunt to Ukraine scheduled next week and were aiming for some r’n’r (and plenty of translation) at home in Italy until then. Until we got kicked out of our house for long-winded Italian family reasons and had to move into an ancient flat with no wifi, no hot water, no washing machine, no oven and no fridge… So, we were stuck in this place trying our best to get by washing in buckets and cooking on a camping stove like it was the 1800s for about a week before we thought ‘you know what, stuff it, let’s go to France.’ So we booked a cheap apart-hotel in Avignon, hopped in the car and drove the 3 hours over to Provence in the South of France.
And you know what, I’m glad we did! I didn’t know a whole lot about the city beforehand, just that Provence is famous for growing a lot of lavender, there’s a song about a bridge there, and I used to get drunk on cheap bottles of Sainsbury’s own Cotes de Rhône wine when I was a student. But it turns out there’s plenty more to this charming Provençal holiday spot.
The main tourist attraction of Avignon, and the first thing you’ll notice dominating the centre of the city is the truly spectacular Palais de Papes, or Palace of the Popes, home to 9 popes across the history of Avignon. It looks fairly incredible from the outside, but it’s also worth forking out to go inside and explore the extensive interior. I think it’s around 9 euro to visit just the palais, but we bought a combined ticket to see the palais and the pont d’Avignon for 13.50, which seems a reasonable price to hit the 2 main attractions over a weekend. You can spend a whole afternoon looking around the palace, and you can decide for yourself how long to spend and how much detail you want to go into, as the accompanying audio guide offers different audio points which you can choose to listen to or not, as you prefer. It’s certainly worth several hours though, and is really worth the investment.
Of course the other major site of interest is the Pont d’Avignon, or the St Bénézet bridge, which is the subject of a rather twee well-known French song. In fact you have to pay 5 euro to actually walk onto the bridge (or get the aforementioned joint ticket), which is a little steep, but it’s pretty much the most iconic monument of the city, so you sort of have to go for it. The bridge has a rather interesting history – in fact it was never finished, although countless attempts were made to add bits on to it here and there over the centuries, in the end they seem to have given up and left half a bridge there for tourists to pay 5 euro to walk to the end and back.
So once you’re done with the palace and the bridge, time to wander around the city and experience its relaxed French charms. As our visit was in mid-May, the weather turned from extremely windy on our first two days to lovely and sunny for the rest. I’d say this is the perfect time to visit, when you can fully appreciate both the outdoor and indoor attractions, and enjoy wandering the beautiful streets or relaxing in one of the parks.
By the time you get hungry, you’ll be seriously spoilt for choice. Our first hit was L’Amarante (below) – a teensy Portuguese deli where we got a delicious Portuguese sausage sandwich, a Sagres and a pastel de nata each for just 7.50. Absolutely recommended for a relaxed snack-y lunch.
Often on trips we don’t eat out every day, but food in Avignon was very affordably priced, at between 8 and 15 euro for a full meal with all the trimmings. Literally, wander across any of the charming squares and you will find more quaint little restaurants with inviting tables outside in the sunshine than you can shake a stick at. In my experience, you can’t be disappointed, as we tried about 6-7 places in total and were impressed by all of them. However, I’ll drop in a little recommendation for our favourite – L’Ardoise which had a great lunch menu for 13 euro each including a delicious French-style main, a glass of wine, dessert and coffee. All of which was a surprisingly excellent quality. For a very French afternoon snack, I can also recommend the creperie ‘La Flourdiliz’, where I had quite possibly the best crepe of my life, adorned with apples, brandy and ice cream.
Possibly the highlight for me was visiting the Pont de Gard (yes, another bridge)… This is a Roman aqueduct which has casually stayed standing for the last 2000 years (it did a bit better than the Pont de St. Bénézet…), and you can visit the bridge and its simply gorgeous surroundings for 18 euro for a group (arriving by car). This sounds a bit expensive but we found it 100% worth it as the whole site is absolutely beautiful and you can spend the whole day picnicking, strolling, kayaking, swimming and sunbathing in lovely parkland with the river flowing through the centre. If it’s a lovely sunny day, there is nothing better to do!
All in all, we spent 5 days here and loved every minute! It’s the perfect place for a very relaxed French break where you can cover both city and countryside with ease, and eat and drink yourself silly on amazing French food and wine for quite reasonable prices.
Has anyone else been to this beautiful French destination? Did you love it as much as I did? Let me know!