Avignon is 690 km south of Paris, which is about two hours and 40 minutes by train, and about 6 hours by car. It’s a very convenient stopover on the way down to the Cote d’Azur, Italy or south west France. It has a population of about 95,000 but this is far exceeded by the huge number of tourists, with over 3m people going through the ultra-modern Avignon TGV station alone.
The area of Avignon has been inhabited since before Roman times, but it was in the 12th century that it became a free city when the Pont St Benezet was built. When Pope Clement the 5th decided to make Avignon his residence in the 14th Century the city was owned by the Earl of Provence, but when Palais des Papes was built, the largest gothic palace in Europe, by Popes Benedict XII and Clement VI, the land was then eventually bought from the Countess, and then became the capital of Christianity.
Avignon flourished during the 77 years that the papacy remained in the city attracting merchants, refugees, artists, bankers, religious orders and even political outlaws such as Petrarque. When Pope Gregory died in 1378, the Papacy returned to Rome which marked the beginning of the Schism.
The Palais des Papes now attracts over half a million visitors a year.
Getting to Avignon
By far the most popular way to reach Avignon is by Eurostar and TGV, and during summer months Eurostar operate a direct service from London, which takes just over 6 hours. If you don’t live in the south east of England then you may want to fly from any regional airport with Air France via Paris, or direct with FlyBe from Southampton or Exeter, or if you live in the north of England or Scotland, you might want to consider flying with Jet2.com.
Things to do in and around Avignon
The Palais des Papes is the largest gothic palace in Europe and attracts over 500,000 visitors per year. Built in the 14th century, was home to the Papacy for 77 years. We recommend an audio guide for the Palace which takes you on a tour which lasts for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. They can be bought with the admission tickets. Adjacent to the Palais des Papes is the famous Pont d’Avignon, commemorated by famous children’s song. You can buy tickets at the entrance, which is just under the first arch of the bridge.
Avignon Festival, is an annual arts festival founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar. It is the oldest extant festival in France and one of the world’s greatest. The festival consists of two parts, “In” and “Off”. Some 950 shows are performed during the three weeks of the festival.
You can see the medieval walls of the city as soon as you walk out of the Avignon centre rail station, and its well worth taking a walk around them. It’s a walk of about a mile and half.
The Musée du Petit Palais is a museum and art gallery, opened in 1976. It has an exceptional collection of Renaissance paintings, which reunites many “primitives” from the collection of Giampietro Campana. It is housed in a 14th century building at the north side of the square overlooked by the Palais des Papes.
The Maison Jean Vilar is the depository of the work of the Avignon Theatre Festival’s creator and testifies to his contribution to contemporary theatre.
Barthelasse Island, the largest river island in France, covering 700 hectares, which offers magnificent views of the St Benezet Bridge, the Palais des Papes and the city walls. You can get to it by river taxi or by walking over the road bridge.
Rhone River Ferry. This free service operates every 15 minutes connecting the two banks of the River Rhone. Get on close to the Pont St Benezet. The are a large number of river cruises from Avignon, with durations anything from a week to a half day. if you are interested in a river cruise holiday try Great Rail Journeys.
No visit to Avignon would be complete without a visit to the Chateauneuf du Papes wine growers. You can get organised tours from the tourist office situated in the centre of town.
Visit the contemporary art collection of Yvon Lambert at the Caumont city mansion, or the Calvet Museum with prehistoric, Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts, or the theAnglodon Museum with works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani. Finally, try the Louis Vouland Foundation Museum with decorative arts from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Where to stay
*****Hôtel d’Europe. Ideally situated in the centre of Avignon, located in the former home of the Marquess of Graveson. Built in 1580, Hôtel d’Europe has, since 1799, welcomed guests including Napoléon Bonaparte, Victor Hugo, Tenessee Williams, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.
****Hôtel Cloitre Saint-Louis. Situated in a historical building dating back to the 16th century, the hotel offers an extremely quiet and serene environment. Initially a religious school for Jesuits, the Cloister saw its function changed over the centuries to a military hospital, a home for the elderly, and now a top luxury hotel.
****Les Agassins. On the outskirts of Avignon, nestling in the heart of a century-old park, discover the latin charm and magical atmosphere of a beautiful Florentine residence. “La Table des Agassins” is brimming with the flavours of southern France, accompanied with a first class cellar full of the finest wine.
****l’Auberge de Cassagne. The perfect place for your next France vacation, L’Auberge de Cassagne is a delightful four-star hotel in Avignon. This charming France hotel is set in a former 19th-century Provençal bastide surrounded by lush green gardens which create a relaxing atmosphere.
***Mercure Cite des Papes. A privileged location in the heart of the city. The Hotel Mercure Cite des Papes is situated on the Place d’Horloge with it’s theatre and numerous cafes. The Palais des Papes is adjacent.