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Bridge not the only beauty in France's Avignon

The French town of Avignon, on the banks of the Rhone, and its bridge are well-known as the inspiration for the children's song Sur la pont d’Avignon, but if you look around you’ll see Avignon is dripping in history.

Why go now?
Avignon sits on the left bank of the Rhone in the south of France and enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with temperatures in September and October in the mid 20s. It’s a lovely open city with a great history. Watch out for the mistral winds though — one historical jibe runs ‘windy Avignon, pest-ridden when there is no wind, wind-pestered when there is.’ Which we can assume won’t be appearing on any tourism posters anytime soon.


It’s my first time – what should I do?
Most of Avignon’s historical monuments date from the 14th century, when for 70 years the papal seat was moved there from Rome. The massive Palais des Papes is the centrepiece: a vast Gothic confection of banqueting halls, crennelated towers and soaring ceilings but the city overflows with palaces, castles, museums and churches. The absolutely unmissable sight however is the Pont St-Benezet, the famous bridge of the folk song Sur le Pont d’Avignon. Only four of the original 22 arches remain but they have an atmosphere all their own.

I’ve been there before – what should I see this time?
The city walls provide exquisite (and free) views of the vineyards of the Rhone and the Rocher des Doms park. Other A-list attractions include the mediaeval paintings of the Petit Palais, the Romanesque cathedral Notre-Dame-des-Doms, and the Renaissance church of St-Pierre.
The area around rue de la Banasterie has a higgledy-piggledy collection of 17th and 18th-century town houses, with mullioned windows and tiny courtyards.

Where’s the best shopping?
The street alongside the Sorgue canal, where huge wooden waterwheels still turn, and has become something of a bohemian quarter, with inexpensive restaurants and arts and crafts shops. The Avignon Festival runs in July (festival-avignon.com) and is a fantastic shop-window for the foods, traditions and crafts of this city. It can get busy but if you can stand the crowds it creates a real buzz.

What’s the nightlife like?
Tends to be restaurants and bars rather than banging nightclubs. The Place de l’Horloge is lined with cafés like La Civette with friendly courteous staff who don’t mind if you stop for a coffee rather than the full menu. Try La Grille (25 Place de l’Horloge) brasserie where three-course set menus starting at about $39. La Cour du Louvre (23 rue St Agricol, 90 27 12 66) is tucked away in a stone-sided courtyard: its bourride fish stew is a Provençale speciality: $150 to $180 for two with wine.

Where should I stay?
Hôtel De Mons in Avignon centre (hotel-demons.com) is an amazing converted 13th-century chapel which, while it may not be everyone’s taste, is great value at around $120 per night.
Dig a bit deeper and you might try the sumptuous La Mirande, an 18th-century former family home close to the Palais des Papes. Secluded and gorgeous. Not cheap but ask about deals.

 
 
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