Avignon is a historical and cultural centre that makes for a fascinating day out – with lots to do. It’s not, in my opinion, particularly good for children (though I’m sure there are things for them to do) and I would certainly check on the meteo as the mistral can roar down the Rhône and make the place fearsomely cold. But, on a sunny day, adults will find plenty to enjoy in the town.
Take advantage of a free passport - ‘Avignon Passion’. You pay full price at your first visit where you get your passport. You then present this at each of the places you visit for a discount of 20-50%. This covers you and up to 5 people for 15 days.
Walking Tours: The Office de Tourisme offer 3 different tours: Papal Avignon (Tu, Fri), Italian Avignon (Th, Sat) and Historical Avignon (Mo, Wed), 10 am, til end Oct. Avignon is hilly and hard on the feet: why not take le train touristique which does 45 minute tours, every 20 mins, from the Place du Palais des Papes, til 15th Oct.
Palais Des Papes: The huge, impressive Palais des Papes, built when the Popes decamped here from Rome in 1309, dominates the town. It’s the world's largest Gothic palace but the opulent trappings of papal power are long gone and its 25 rooms are mostly bare. The exception is the papal bedroom, with frescoes of vines, animals and birds, and laid with a subtly patterned tiled floor. The palace was ransacked during the Revolution – even the statues around the church door had their heads hacked off – and then the building became a barracks; but the rooms have explanatory panels and audio-guides in 7 languages are supplied free. Don’t miss a visit to the roof for a magnificent view of the town and the mighty Rhône with its famous Pont d’Avignon. For more info www.palais-des-papes.com
Special tours: now the festival season is behind them, the tourist office are offering special behind-the-scenes tours, giving insights into the pontiffs’ lives and taking you to rooms normally off-limits to the public. Sats 12.30, Suns 10.30. French only. Reserve through www.avignon-tourisme.com.
Parc Rocher Des Doms: This is another good viewpoint: when it’s clear, you can see Mont Ventoux—at 6,263 feet, the tallest mountain in Provence. A good place for a stroll or picnic.
Le Pont Saint-Benezet: The ancient bridge was swept away by the Rhône so often that, in the 17th century, the good citizens gave up, and left the remains we see today. Visit it for 4 euros and gain a magnificent view of the papal palace. ‘That song’ will now be jangling in your head so why not head off to the video area and record your very own DVD. The challenge is to get the machine to work, insert special effects and sing along with the backing, all at once. We drew an audience. Toe-curling!
Musee Angladon, 5 rue Laboureur. www.angladon.com
This antidote to the crowded museums of London and Paris has a tiny collection but you can enjoy it at your leisure. There are a few small Picassos plus paintings by Degas, Derain, Modigliani, Van Gogh, Manet, Cézanne, and Sisley in the elegant home of collector Jacques Doucet (1853–1929) – he made a packet in the fashion trade and bought whatever took his fancy. The Signac exhibition is open until the 15th October. Closed Mondays.
Collection Lambert, 5 Rue Violette. Tel: 04 90 16 56 20
A splendid 18th century building houses a collection of 350 avant-garde works. Paintings and installations range from the fun to the funky to the deeply strange – but very stimulating. Closed Mondays.
Parcours de l’Art en Avignon, Tel: 04 90 89 89 88
From 7th – 29th October there will be free exhibitions of 45 different artists in 37 central locations.
D’Ici et d’Ailleurs, 4 rue Galante, Tel: 04 90 14 63 65. This small restaurant, in the pedestrianised shopping area, is a good bet for lunch. Friendly atmosphere with jazz at weekends.
Driving: there are a number of large car parks in the town so parking shouldn’t be a problem. (See too recommendation from Freda Pink). Bus: the express bus from Aix (gare routier) to Avignon which takes 1 hr 15, 22 euros return.
Eating: ‘La Cour du Louvre’: very central, near the Palace. Lovely inner courtyard with restaurant terrace. Slightly pricy but good quality and presentation. Booking highly advisable. 23 rue St Agricol, tel: 04 90 27 12 66.
Parking: Follow city walls westwards till Porte St Dominique, then take first opportunity to slip into parking area and park at walls. Small entry in the walls, leading into Passage de l’Oratoire will take you straight into the rue St Agricol.
Many people see the over-industrialised outskirts of Avignon without realising that within the walled town it is amazingly bejewelled with architectural beauty. A walk around the key sites takes just an hour: one of the most picturesque is the rue des Teinturiers (cobbled streets running along the Sorgue with paddle wheels, where the dyers worked.)
The Palais des Papes is immensely more impressive from the outside, than the confusing inside. There is a great little free navette ferry that crosses the Rhône to the island (just by Pont St-Benezet) where you can wander down the towpath admiring the views of the ramparts and the broken bridge. Best value tip in town. In summer it's 11h-21h, so you can do the sunset. Off season hours 1st – 30th Sep daily 10-12:30, 14:00-18:30: Oct - Dec Weds 14:00-1730, weekends 10-12, 14:00-17:30, closed Jan - Mar.
Avignon has easily the best tourist office in Provence – if you email them in advance they’ll send a good info pack.