ITTING in the Valcluse department in south west France, on the banks of the Rhône River, Avignon was the seat of the Catholic Popes from 1309 to 1377 and is rich in history. Medieval ramparts encircle the city centre, its cafes and sunshine-soaked squares. and 1851 over a former cardinal’s palace, and – next door – the 19th century municipal theatre.
The Place de l’Horloge is seen as the centre of Avignon, a square brimming with cafes, bars and restaurants, often filled with the sound of street musicians.
At the bottom of the square, the wide Rue de la République divides the city in half, with the bohemian quarter on one side and luxury shops of the 5th Avenue of Avignon on the other.
The Popes’ Palace – or Palais des Papes – was built in the 1300s by Benedict XII and Clement VI. Next to this sits Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral, with a gold-gilded statue of the Virgin Mary looking across the city from the top of its bell tower.
In the Rocher des Doms public gardens, sitting on a hill overlooking Avignon, take a break from the colour and sound of the city, admire the peacocks and swans by the pond and take a cup of tea in the cafe. Walk along the remains of Saint Bénézet Bridge (the one in the song). Built in the 12th century, it was destroyed several times, rebuilt and finally abandoned in the 17th century. It costs €4.50 for adults, €3.50 for children.
The Petit Palais is a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site which houses paintings from the 13th to 15th centuries and sculptures, artefacts and paintings from Ancient Greece to the First World War. Tours and workshops are available.
Admission to the permanent exhibitions is free, but tickets to temporary exhibitions come at an additional cost. Entry to the Dutch Artists in Paris costs €13, €11 for concessions. The Art of Pastel from Degas to Redon costs €10 or €8. A combined ticket is €15 or €13.
Take a gourmet tour of the city to see the sights and taste the region’s specialities along the way. Avignon Gourmet Tours runs a range of foodie tours. The morning tour, takes three-and-a-half hours and includes 10 tastings of traditional Provençal products, an olive oil tasting, a visit to Les Halles market and a sampling of Châteauneuf du Pape wine. It costs €59 for adults, €25 for under-12s and free for under-sixes. The walled city is compact and easy to explore on foot. For tired feet, take a Baladine, a little, sevenseater, electric vehicle. They follow a circular route, taking in the main shopping areas and run every day in July and Monday to Saturday the rest of the year.
Buses also operate in the city and there are two rail stations – Avignon TGV and Avignon Centre. Vélopop is a self-service bike hire firm. Bikes can be picked up from racks round Avignon and can be booked by phone or credit card. Linked to the basement of the Palais des Papes by a secret passageway, the Hôtel de La Mirande is home to a cookery school with classes run by Michelinstarred chefs. Classes cost from €90 for adults, €47 for children. In the 19th century basement kitchen, chef Séverine Sagnet runs a table d’hôte, a private cookery demonstration with a three-course dinner and wine tasting, for €86 per person.
A less expensive option is La Cuisine du Dimanche on Rue de la Bonneterie, where dishes are made from fresh, seasonal ingredients, chosen daily from Les Halles. Try the plat du jour at lunchtime for €12 or a two-course set menu for €17. Elegant eaterie Restaurant L’Essentiel, tucked away on Rue de la Petite Fusterie, serves creative dishes – and the menu also features a cheeky ‘pre-dessert’.