Ais for Avignon

As I mentioned last week I thought I would start the year by posting an A-Z of my favourite things about the Vaucluse area  so here we go

A is for Avignon

Why start with Avignon instead of perhaps Aix or Apt? This was actually quite a simple choice, as I’ve always felt that the Vaucluse starts here. Geographically I know that isn’t the case, but for as long as I can remember this has been the starting point for all our holidays and so naturally feels like the perfect place to begin.

At first  ‘Avignon Sud’ was our junction off the ‘Autoroute du Soleil’. It always seemed to take forever to get there, after hours of being stuck in a hot car, watching the temperature on the overhead signs rise the further South we got, with constant calls of ‘are we there yet?’ from the boys in the back. Now though, as I tend to fly, it’s the view (usually from the right-hand side of the plane) of the city’s famous, partial bridge and the bleached colours of the Pope’s Palace, which makes my heart leap.

Pont D'Avignon (Pont St Benezet) - from Avignon et Provence.com

Pont D’Avignon (Pont St Benezet) – from Avignon et Provence

Avignon is a truly stunning and vibrant city,proudly standing on a bend in the Rhone and very worthy of its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Palais des Papes that dominates the old city is an incredible Gothic building, having been the seat of the Papacy during the 14th Century, before the Popes returned to Rome. After a chequered history and a range of uses it is now one of the top 10 Tourist sites in France attracting over 500,000 visitors each year.

This spectacular building is certainly worth a visit, whether to stroll around the vast, sometimes stark rooms with a guide (although you will need a good standard of French to fully appreciate this) or to wander through the building taking in its atmosphere and beautiful frescos with one of the excellent audio-guides (available in 11 different languages). In the later summer the Palais is the backdrop for a dramatic and colourful son-et-lumiere event – this year it will take place from 12th August – 3rd October with 3 shows each week being narrated in English for the first time.

Full informationon all aspects of the Palais is available at http://www.palais-des-papes.com/en – although sadly the site of this tourist attraction has been hacked twice this week following the horrific attacks in Paris and at the moment is still off-line #JesuisCharlie

Palais des Papes (from creme-de-languedoc.com)

Palais des Papes (from creme-de-languedoc.com)

In summerAvignon like most French cities takes on a different character when in July the Festival D’Avignon takes over the city, with street theatre and events in many of the public spaces. The main courtyard of the Palais Des Papes becomes a huge open-air theatre for evening performances, and events take place in other iconic locations – such as a performance (in 2014) of ‘electro-musique’ from the end of the Pont St Benezet, the partial bridge across the Rhone that was the inspiration for the children’s song ‘Sur Le Pont D’Avignon’. As yet full details of this year’s festival are not available but further information can be found here http://www.festival-avignon.com/en/

Festival Venue in the Palais Des Papes (from marvellous Provence)

Festival Venue in the Palais Des Papes (from marvellous Provence)

For me Avignon is the gateway to the Luberon and a great cultural city with so much taking place throughout the year. It is a great place to visit and while away a few hours, whether strolling round simply admiring the architecture; taking in the delights on offer in ‘Les Halles’ (the undercover food market open most days) or pottering around the more general markets that are held in the town every Saturday & Sunday mornings.

Of course, on the other hand, you could always just relax and watch the world go by, whilst having a drink or meal at one of its many lovely cafes – there’s just so much to do & so little time to do it in.

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