Deciding where to start with this A to Z wasn’t as easy as I imagined it would be, so why start with Avignon instead of perhaps Aix or Apt ….. Especially as we live so close to Apt and it is such a fascinating place too.
In the end, it was quite a simple choice, as I’ve always felt that the Vaucluse started 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 the holidays, that ultimately led to us wanting to make the leap to settle here, and so naturally feels like the perfect place to begin.
At first, Avignon was simply our junction off the ‘Autoroute du Soleil’, that wonderfully named motorway, designed to make you smile, as you sit in heavy traffic, with everyone else, intent on making their way to the sun. It always seemed to take forever to get there, after hours of being stuck in a hot car, watching the temperature displayed on the overhead signs continuing to rise, the further South we got, with constant calls of ‘are we there yet?’ from the boys in the back.
Then when we flew down, the first sight of view of the city’s famous bridge and the bleached colours of the Pope’s Palace, always made my heart leap as it was a clear sign that we were nearly back. It always felt like the gateway, to a place that felt like home.
Over the last few years, we’ve got to know the city a little better, and even though we only live a short distance away, we have found a few excuses to go and spend the night there, grabbing the opportunity to eat at one of the little restaurants tucked away in the pedestrianised heart of the city, and then to enjoy ambling around in the sultry, late evenings, admiring the incredibly ornate stonework on the buildings, at night.
It really is a vibrant city, proudly standing on its bend in the Rhone, and more than worthy of its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Palais des Papes that dominates the old city is a truly incredible building, towering above the central square in all its glory. It isn’t until you get close to it, that you can actually appreciate its size, craning your neck skywards to be able to see it, in all its gothic glory. The talent of the 13th century architects and stonemasons who designed and built this incredible edifice, is still clear to see, even over 700 years later.
For the last few years the ‘Cour D’Honneur’ at the Palais, a large square internal courtyard, flanked on all four sides by beautiful stone walls and towers, has been the setting for dramatic ‘son et lumiere’ events, where the walls have been used as screens for the most incredible light shows.
At times there may be flowers growing across them, or birds and butterflies flitting around the crenellated towers, perhaps people dancing there too, or more dramatically the sight of the walls crumbling and collapsing into the courtyard itself.
This is a spectacular event, and I look forward to it starting again, whenever that may be. Whilst this event is on, there are also a number of other buildings in the city used for smaller, public light displays. These are just as detailed and eye-catching as those in the Cour D’Honneur itself, but can be enjoyed by everyone, not just those who have bought tickets for the main event.
I must admit that wandering around the city, on warm summer evenings, watching these displays, whilst eating ice-cream and enjoying the burble of sound from restaurants and other visitors, is a simple joy, and I look forward to the time when we will be able to enjoy these simple pleasures again.
Avignon celebrates culture in many different ways, but perhaps the most exciting, is in July, when the ‘Festival D’Avignon’ takes over the city, with street theatre and events in many of the public spaces. Every lamp-post, railing and drainpipe is covered with posters and fliers for the events that are taking place across the city, with hundreds of different performances vying for the visitors’ attention.
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’.
For me Avignon has always been the gateway to the Luberon and now we know it better, is also a great cultural city with so much taking place throughout the year. It is a fantastic place to visit, and to 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, with smaller more specialist markets during the week too.
Of course, on the other hand, you could always just sit in one of the cafes, surrounding the square in front of the Palais Des Papes, relaxing and watching the world go by….
The long and short of it is, that there’s just so much to do & so little time to do it in.