Thursday, March 8, 2012


After Pont du Gard it seemed that the rest of our trip would be anticlimactic, but it turns out the five of us were in for a Provence adventure worthy of a Peter Mayle book, beginning with the day spent in Avignon. Upon arriving we checked in at the Hotel Bristol, recommended by Sara as an affordable hotel just a short walk from the center of Old Town. A fair price with a convenient location, but not optimal if you are looking at spending a lot of time in the room, so thankfully the weather was nice during our stay. After a dinner just across the street we turned in for the night.

The next morning we awoke to beautiful sunny weather and temperatures ideal for a long stroll through the city. Breakfast was a croissant from the closest boulangerie and our little group set out. We started with a coffee on Place de l’Horloge, bordered by the Hôtel de Ville and the theatre, soaking up some sun and doing a little people watching. On the north end several artists had set up shop and we admired their vivid paintings and watercolors of Provence lavender and sunflower fields on our way to the famous palais des Papes.

In the early 14th century the pontifical court was exiled to France; the court in Rome had become impossible for the popes, and Pope John XXII established the papacy in Avignon where from 1309 to 1377 seven French popes succeeded each other. The city was transformed, not only physically with the construction of the palace of the Popes, but also with a swell of population, from 5,000 to 40,000. Along with the historic center of Avignon, the palais des Papes has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Just to the north stands Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Doms, which has been rebuilt many times since its original construction in the mid-12th century. And to the north of that, Rocher des Doms with its gardens and spectacular views of the Rhône, Avignon and the Luberon hills. We spent at least an hour in the gardens with a stop in the children’s playground before descending the long staircase down to the river walk.

For lunch we returned to Place de l’Horloge, as it seemed that not many restaurants were open off the main tourist path due to it being off-season. The food at the sidewalk restaurant was good, but the man had me seriously doubting what little French I know; instead of the magret de canard I thought I ordered I was served a beef dish, when I asked directions to the marché he gave instructions on how to reach Port St-Michel, and when I ordered desert the waiter looked at me like I was speaking ancient Latin. Or maybe I’m going crazy, although it was my mother that ordered coffee before the meal…

Next on the itinerary was Pont St-Bénezet, which actually was a narrow foot bridge before the flood in the 17th century that reduced it to the pier it is today. According to legend it was built after a young shepherd was commanded by voices from heaven to build a bridge at that very spot in 1177. He was thought crazy until he lifted a huge block of stone, and then volunteers and funds appeared and the bridge was built within eight years. The popular children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon l’on y danse tous en rond!” sings of dancing under the bridge, but we did our dancing on the bridge while taking in the view of the Rhône, the palace and the city from a different perspective.

In the 14th century the Popes ordered the fortifications around the city built, and much of the old ramparts still exist. We strolled along them down rue du Rempart-du-Rhône to Place Crillon before taking our leave of this beautiful city. Had we a little more time we might have visited the Fort St-André (the 14th century fort that is prominently visible across the river in Villeneuve-lès Avignon) and stayed to watch the sunset, but we had a two-hour drive ahead of us that evening, to the small fishing port of Cassis


  1. Don't you love it when you try and they can't understand you? It's the worst. The hotel Bristol should start paying Sara a finders fee. It's a great hotel for the money and location.
    Thanks for the history of the bridge. I didn't know about the ordained, magic rock. I can't wait to hear about cassis. I've never been. And I wish you could have stopped by on your trip. Next time. Pretty please.
    Aidan x

  2. I am enjoying your trip so much. I must confess that when I read you went to Avignon, that song popped right in my head. The history of the popes was very interesting. Thanks for all the background information.

  3. Mother's coffee deficit is a serious condition! And maybe tha waiter was the one with the language problem? Can't get the Avignon song out of my heat - and made the mistake of mentioning it to Gunārs, who promptly started singing it...!

  4. This is actually one of my favorite places8 I loved so much the Palais des Papes.

  5. I KNEW the head of the catholic church was located in France at some point, I've just never taken the time to research it. Thanks for the quick history lesson and I look forward to hearing about Cassis, I'm dying to visit that area!

  6. Aww, I admire your effet to include such great information about our I am feeling really home sick :)


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