Since my first visit to Avignon I have been mesmerized by the incredible Palace of the Popes. It is a magnificent structure and is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. I love wandering through the ancient rooms and hearing the stories of the extravagant dinners and parties that took place when the palace was occupied by one of the six popes that ruled the Catholic church from Avignon.
A visit to the Palace of the Popes is a must if you are in the south of France. Avignon is the second most visited city in France because of visitors to the Palace. Today there is a fabulous self-guided tour that includes headphones and an iPad. You hold the iPad up and it generates an image of the space as it would have been decorated, painted and furnished in its’ day. It is very cool and lots of fun. Don’t miss the very top of the palace where you walk among the spires and have a view over the city.
When you visit the palace be sure to also visit the cathedral, Cathedrale Notre-Dame des Doms or the Avignon Cathedral, and lovely park, Jardin des Dom, up the stairs and beyond the church. From the park you will have a beautiful view over the Rhone river and onto the Isle de Barthalasse.
Plan your day in Avignon with a tour of the palace followed by lunch or dinner at the La Mirande Hotel, which sits right at the palace exit. In the summer you can sit on their lovely patio for a casual lunch or in the garden for a Michelin star dinner. In the winter, the dining room has a roaring fireplace and is both cozy and luxurious. The La Mirande itself is fabulous to see. A former Cardinal’s home it is a beautiful building that has been lovingly restored and decorated by the current owners. It is worth a stop for a drink even if you don’t have time for a meal. They have a cooking school in their charming old kitchen near their wine cellar and for an especially lovely local meal try dinner in the chef’s kitchen. Chef Severine cooks in front of you while you sit around her table. Severine sings, answers questions about Avignon or what she is cooking and it is a very charming dining experience.
No visit to Avignon is complete without a walk (or dance) on the Pont d’Avignon, or Pont Saint-Benezet. Pont d’Avignon is a famous medieval bridge, built in the late 1100’s that spanned the Rhone River between Avignon and Villeneuve-les-Avignon. Buy a ticket that includes both the palace and the bridge.
Avignon is a bustling city with a vibrant college scene. There are a large number of casual restaurants both in the square in front of the palace and in the square in front of the Town Hall. Avignon is a stop on many river cruises and the shopping is very nice. Passage de l’Oratoire is a small road accessed through an opening in the old city wall near the ferris wheel and just beyond the river cruise port. If you head into town from that side, walk down Passage de l’Oratoire until you reach Rue Saint Agricol and Rue Joseph Vernet. Stroll along both Rue Joseph Vernet and Rue Saint Agricol where you will find many lovely French shops like Souleiado, Petit Bateau, Facconable, Villebrequin, Comptoir des Contonniers, Maje, Sandro, Longchamp and more. Stop for a gelato at Amorino, pick up a very French Tropezienne cake at La Tropezienne or a pastry or sandwich at the lovely local boulangerie, Violette.
If you would like to dine casually next to the Rhone river with a view to the old wall and Pont d’Avignon you could try Le Bercail. I especially like their honey goat cheese pizza. Be sure to make a reservation and tell them that you would like to sit on the river.