Avignon – Your Top Questions Answered
Where? What? Why? When? How to get there? Who with and how long for?
Avignon is set in the south-east of France in the Rhône Valley that runs through Provence, 1h30 from the Alpes and the Mediterranean Sea. Surrounding the city are stunning valleys and hills with perched villages, fortresses and castles, fields of lavender, sunflowers and vineyards galore!
The Avignon town has fantastic art museums, souvenir shops, historical sites and cultural events. Wander its attractive squares enjoy the local cuisine and wines in the numerous bars and restaurants. Don’t leave without trying out some of these:
-Visit the Palace of the Popes
–Sing and dance along the Pont d’Avignon, Saint Bénézet
–Go wine and food pairing
–Visit the Notre Dame de Doms Cathedral
–Admire the Petit Palace Museum
–Meander through Les Halles d’Avignon
–Meet the wine producers, tour the estate and taste their wines
–Take a boat cruise down the River Rhône
–Visit the picturesque surrounding villages
–Attend a festival
–Get active on Mont Ventoux- bike, hike or ski
The Mediterrainean brings hot summers and mild winters. The Mistral wind from the Alpes clears the sky to leave a luminous light captured by photographers and painters such as Van Gogh. With low rain fall and 300 days of sunshine a year, even on a winter’s day the sky and landscape is brightened and the sun draws out the aromatic fragrance of plants.
Art and Culture
The city of Avignon presents an array of festivals, theatre performances, concerts, art museums and street artists. Culminating, in the height of summer, for the Theatre Festival which attracts a collection of contemporary creativity and performing arts. Likewise, the Off Festival and its 900 companies transform the city into an immense and joyful artistic scene while in the winter month of February, during the Hivernales, the city dances. But the city never sleeps – rhythm and cultural projects continue throughout the year!
Capital of the Côtes de Rhône, Avignon and its environs boast some of the most renowned wines in the world including Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. It was the Romans who introduced vineyards into the diverse soils of Provence. Now, Côtes de Rhône wine come in all three colours, the distinctive red at 90% of the time, a splash of white, and rosé for the hot summer afternoons. The AOC requires it to have a minimum alcohol content of 11% and produces approximately 3.3 million hectolitres per year. There are many attractive estates to visit where winery tours, tastings and oenology lessons can be arranged. These wines are also celebrated in lively wine fetes in the surrounding villages.
In the14th century, Avignon was home to a line of seven popes. The Palace of the Popes and its fortress was the most admired of its time, and is now the largest remaining Gothic palace of Europe. Within the city walls, the Petit Palace Museum (in the then cardinal’s palace) and Notre Dame de Doms Cathedral mark the Christian centre of the Roman Empire for nearly 100 years.
The famous song Sur le Pont d’Avignon…refers to the Bénezet Bridge which was one of three bridges that crossed the vigorous Rhône River during the middle ages. It has been partially swept away by several floods and has not been rebuilt since 1668. Today, you can walk along the remaining ruins and sing the old nursery rhyme. This historical centre of Avignon gained status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
Food in Provence
Provençale cuisine combines fresh, locally sourced fruit and vegetables with wild aromatic herbs and olive oil to bring out an authentic Mediterranean flavour. Meals are prepared with locally grown, seasonal ingredients from local markets. In winter, families enjoy daubes (lamb or beef stews). Truffles are sort after, earthy mushrooms which are sniffed out by boars or dogs and give a distinctive flavour to dishes –give them a try in the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin in Ménerbes. In autumn, one can find other varieties of wild mushrooms growing in the hills. With spring comes asparagus, broad beans, melons and strawberries and during summer: apricots, peaches, nectarines, figs, apples and table grapes are picked.
Renowned recipes are:
• Soupe au Pistou – A vegetable and pasta soup with lashings of garlic and basil
• Gratin d’Aubergine – Sliced aubergines in olive oil with onions, tomatoes and herbs, topped with grated cheese and baked
• Ratatouille – Stewed and seasoned Mediterranean summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, onions, courgettes and aubergines
• Omelette aux Truffes – A simple omelette with generous slices of truffles
• Aïoli – A white sauce which combining; Ail (garlic) and huile (oil)
• Tapenade – An appetizer of olives, capers, garlic and olive oil blended together and served on bread or toast
• Salade Niçoise – A salad made from Niçoise olives (from Nice) tomatoes, eggs, anchovies or tuna and drizzled with olive oil
• Boeuf à la Gordienne – Provençal braised beef and vegetables in a red wine sauce
• Crème Brulé à la Lavande – Lavender infused custard topped with a layer of crispy caramelized sugar
• Callison d’Aix – Candied fruit, especially melon and orange, topped with royal icing
• Nougat – A sweet Provençal treat of eggs whites, honey, almonds and sugar.
Along the coast, seafood and fish are popular:
• Bouillabaisse – The great soup of Marseille, made from tomatoes, onions, leeks, herbs and, of course, seafood and fish!
• Pissaladière – This speciality from Nice is an onion and anchovy tart/pizza minus the tomatoes
• Tellines Provençal – Telline clams in a garlic, parsley, olive oil and vinegar sauce
Meat dishes include:
• Lapin Provençal – Rabbit marinated in white wine, stewed with tomatoes, olives, shallots, garlic, bacon and herbs.
• Daube Provençal and Boeuf à la Gordienne Stews made from beef marinated in red wine, with herbs pepper, garlic and olive oil.
• Tomates Farcies – Tomatoes stuffed with minced meat, rice and seasoned.
Provence has numerous vibrant and colourful markets selling seasonal fruit and vegetables and other regional produce, crockery, antiques, clothing, jewellery, crafts and souvenirs. Check out these markets for all your Provençal recipes and more…
• Avignon, six days a week, holds an indoor market in Les Halles d’Avignon where there is a vertical garden, cafés & diverse stalls selling seafood, meats and cheeses.
• Vaison-la-Romaine, Tuesday is the day for the largest and most popular market in Provence with animated vendors selling handy crafts, sun ripened fruit and vegetables and everything, including the kitchen sink! Exhausted? Relax in the shaded bars and restaurants.
• Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on a Wednesday, caters for a more chic crowd displaying unique clothing and souvenir boutiques interspersed with lively cafés.
• Lourmarin, is a town of art galleries that present their work on the Friday market.
Equally, look for the lovely Provençal markets of Aix-en-Provence, Eygalières, Isle-sur-Sorge, Apt and Uzès.
Architectural and Scenic Sites
Avignon and Provence offer many interesting architectural structures. The Pont du Gard is the famous Roman aqueduct where you can relax by the river on a hot day and visit the Maison Carrée in Nîmes in the afternoon. Additionally, you can visit the nearby classified village of La Roque-sur-Cèze with its impressive waterfall carving out the rocks.
Towns and villages are often perched on a hillside, with their houses crowding round a castle or fortress. For villages with fortresses and castles -try out Les Barroux, Tarascon, Ansouis, Les Baux-de-Provence, Paradou, Grignon, Lacoste, Bonnieux, Suze-la-Rousse, Lourmarin, Grimaud, Montélimar, Crillon-sur-Brave, Saignon, and Cadenet. Visit Gordes,one of the most beautiful villages in France, with its Neolithic Borie settlement (stone huts) at its entrance. After visiting these traditional Provençal huts you can cross over to visit the Sénanque Abbey, set amidst the lavender, and marvel at its architecture. For Larger towns with Roman theatres visit; Orange, Arles and Vaison-La-Romaine. Livelier towns filled with bars and restaurants include; L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Cannes, Martigues, Cassis, Saint Rémy de Provence, Aubagne, La Ciotat and Hyères.
Looking for more natural scenery? Venture to Le Lac Saint Croix – close to the stunning village of Moustiers Saint Maria in the Verdon Gorges. Try bird watching in the Camargue or go on the red ochre trail at Rousillion. The Luberon Valley, the Mont Ventoux, the Toulourenc Valley, the Dentelles de Montmirail rocks, the hills of Aubagne, the Calanques of the Côte d’Azur or the Alpilles Hills all provide wonderful routes to take by boat, car, bike or foot.
Summer is the season to catch the festivals, visit historical sites, stroll through the hilltop villages and tour the vineyards. Then sit back and enjoy the local cuisine and wine. Go kayaking, canyoning or potter in the river with the kids. Most villages host a summer fete where there are enough activities for young and old.
Autumn sees less visitors yet the weather is still fine – a good time to cycle along the route de vin or go walking in the Luberon Valley, Gorge du Verdon or up and around Mont Ventoux.
It can be rather chilly in the Winter with the Mistral blowing from the Alpes, yet there are many days of bright skies -a perfect time to hit the slopes of Mont Ventoux for skiing, snowboarding and sledging. The Christmas season in Provence, known as La Calendale, opens with the Fête de la Sainte Barbe on December the 4th and continues to Candlemas on February the 2nd. Les Baux de Provence is particularly special at this time of year. With its ancient magical and mythical traditions, markets and festivals offering an exciting winter.
Spring is bursting with fields and hills of flowers – a good time for walking along the slopes and valleys to discover wild herbs, poppies, wild flowers, sunflowers and lavender. The weather, not yet too hot, makes spring a pleasant time to visit the architectural and scenic sites.
How to get there?
Avignon Airport – 8 km south of the city. Jet2 and Flybe fly directly to Avignon from various UK cities. Connections to the city by bus line 3 or 21 or by taxi.
Marseille Airport 80 km south of Avignon. Connections to large European cities. A shuttle bus can take you to Viterolles or Marseille-St. Charles train station to connect you to trains and TGV’s (high speed trains) to Avignon.
Nîmes-Arles-Carmague Airport 50 km west of Avignon. RyanAir connects to London Luton, Liverpool and Brussels. A shuttle bus can take you to Nîmes train station for your Avignon connection. You can also rent a car at the airport and drive to Avignon.
Paris Airports Roissy-Charles de Gaulle then take the TGV train. Orly aiport has daily flights to Avignon.
TGV trains from Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle.From Paris Orly, get the train to Gare de Lyon and transfer to the TGV train.
Eurostar Direct from London St Pancras.
Rent a car Drive from home or rent from the airport.
Coach From Spain, Morocco, London, Prague, Brussels, Germany, Italy, Poland etc. Coach station: Boulevard St-Roch www.eurolines.fr
Who with and how long for?
A retired couple may prefer to visit outside of the school holidays when the streets are quieter and the hills are cooler to wander through. Click here for a two week holiday itinerary.
The long summer break is best for a family holiday. Kids need to cool down in the rivers, lakes, waterfalls and sea whilst being stimulated by the region’s culture, history and geography. Click here for a long family summer holiday.
The Avignon destination is the perfect choice for romantic escapes for two. Click here for a long weekend itinerary.
You can also visit with your adventurous friends.
-cycling, hiking, rock climbing or winter sports.
Click these links for tours of the Route de vins by Bike. Hiking through the Luberon or Visiting the Mont Ventoux.