Avignon

Travel Guide Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Avignon

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Introduction

Pont d'Avignon

Pont d'Avignon

© Erik85

Avignon is a city in the Vaucluse department, located in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in southeastern France. The city itself has around 90,000 inhabitants, though the total metropolitan area is more than three times as big regarding the number of inhabitants. Avignon is famous as the city to which the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century. Le Palais des Papes (Palace of Popes) which was built then is the world's largest Gothic building. It was largely emptied over the centuries, and its vast stone rooms are filled with little more than old frescos, but it is still an imposing building. The Ramparts themselves were erected to keep the plague and invaders out during the turbulent Middle Ages, when Avignon belonged to the papacy and not the French crown.

Its early history is much older than the popes, however. Avignon occupies a strategic location for several reasons - it is at the confluence of two once-mighty rivers: the Rhône, still one of the biggest rivers in France, and the now largely-dammed Durance. Both were important routes of trade and communication even in prehistoric times. In addition, there is a long island in the Rhone that made it possible to ferry people and goods across, and later bridge the river, more easily than in other places.

It is estimated that about 200,000 people live in Avignon, 16,000 of which live 'intra-muros,' or within the ramparts built in the 14th century.

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History

Avignon has been continuously inhabited since the stone age, when inhabitations were built in caves in the “Rocher des Doms”, a massive outcropping of rock rising over the banks of the Rhône. Today, a public park with benches, views over the surrounding countryside, a café and playground is on top of the Rocher.

The Romans had a presence in Avignon, though the walls they built lie buried somewhere under the modern streets. Vestiges of the forum can still be seen, lying unassumingly near the Rue Racine and the Rue Saint-Étienne, to the west of the city.

Then, in medieval times, the town grew to an important center of communication and trade. The stone bridge spanning the Rhone was one of only three between the Mediterranean and Lyon. It was undoubtedly for its strategic location and ease of travel that it was chosen by the papacy as home within the then kingdom of Provence. The presence of the papacy made Avignon into a city of great political and economic activity. The old city wall, now visible only as a street that circles the very center of the town (changing names 5 times in the process!) was much too small and a larger wall, still visible today, was necessary to protect its bulging population. Wealthy Cardinals built extravagant palaces known as livrées both within Avignon and across the river, in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

The city teemed with activity and building as architects, builders, artists flocked to the town. At that time, within the city walls there were over 100 churches and chapels - many of which have been transformed since then into everything from shops to a movie theater! The wealth and activity generated by the presence of the papacy spilled out into the region, so that even small villages nearby boast a rich architectural past.

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Sights and Activities

Papal Palace (Palais des Papes), Place du palais des papes. This is the palace where the Popes of Avignon ruled, during a period when the Papacy was divided, with a Pope in Rome and another in Avignon. Most of the artwork inside (statues, frescoes) was destroyed during the French Revolution, but the impressive building still stands, and little bits of artwork, such as those that were too high to be convenient to ruin, remain.
Le Pont Saint-Bénezet (Le Pont d'Avignon). It is a ruined bridge not far from the Palais des Papes. The bridge was built in the Middle Ages — before the arrival of the Papacy — perhaps partly to allow the local bishop to cross the river to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, where the church authorities had installed themselves because of Avignon's then-infamous dirt and lawlessness.

The legend of the bridge's building is that a local shepherd, Benezet (a dialect form of Benedict) was inspired by angels to build a bridge. When his appeals to the town authorities proved fruitless, he picked up a vast block of stone and hurled it into the river, to be the bridge's foundation stone. Convinced by this demonstration of divine will, the bridge was swiftly built. The poor shepherd boy was canonised, and his chapel remains on the surviving portion of the bridge.

If the bridge was divinely inspired, the Deity must have quickly changed his mind, because before long the bridge became unsafe and, following numerous floods, mostly derelict.

Originally, the bridge had 22 arches, reaching across to the tower of Philippe le Bel via the mid-stream île de la Barthelasse. Only 4 of the 22 arches now remain. A multilingual audio tour of the bridge explains some of the local history.

A well-known song Sur Le Pont D'Avignon (on the bridge at Avignon) refers to the bridge. The bridge itself is far too narrow for dancing or festivals - the original text of the song was "Sous (under) le pont d'Avignon", referring to the festivals and entertainments staged on the île de la Barthelasse. The current version was popularised by a 19th-century operetta, whose librettist clearly assumed that 'sous le pont d'Avignon' would have meant in the river.

Other popular tourist destinations include: the Place du Palais, just next to the Place de L'horloge, though someone may find these places shockingly expensive, and overcrowded in season. Within a short distance in just about any direction are some smaller squares frequented by the locals, and much lower prices. Like Place Pie, with its covered market (open 6AM to 1PM everyday) which sells fresh produce, cheeses, wines, and produits du pays.

Avignon has its share of museums, ranging from Modern Art Museums to museums housing artefacts from the Roman and pre-Roman days.

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Events and Festivals

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Weather

Avignon has a typical Mediterranean climate though with slightly bigger temperature differences between summer and winter and rain is possible during all months. Summers last from June to September when average daytime temperatures are between 28 and 31 degrees Celsius and nights are around 14-16 degrees. Winters are from December to February when it's between 9 and 12 degrees during the day, with chilly nights of just 1-3 degrees Celsius on average. Occasional frost and even snow are not unheard of, but usually won't last long.
Precipitation is highest during autumn (October-November) and also in May. Summers, but also winters are relatively dry.

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Getting There

By Plane

Avignon-Caumont Airport (8 km from the city) has a few services. Flybe flies to Southampton and seasonal to Exeter. Jet2.com flies to Edinburgh and Leeds.
For a much wider choice, the airport near Marseille is a good alternative.

By Train

The French Railways provides TGV (highspeed) trains to and from a number of places including Paris (just over 2,5 hours!). They all arrive/leave at the Gare Avignon TGV 4 kilometres southwest of Avignon in the suburb of Courtine. From Gare Avignon Centre the TGV to Paris arrives/leaves as well. Also from here, Transports Express Régionaux provides regional services. These include trains to Arles (20 minutes) and Nimes (30 minutes). During July and August, there are direct services from London (6 hours) and Ashford (5 hours) by the Eurostar train.

By Car

From Paris or Lyon, you can reach Avignon by the Autoroute du Soleil and take the Avignon-Nord exit and follow the N107 then the D225 towards AVIGNON Centre. This urban road leads straight to the famous Avignon bridge just before where you have a large pay car park (car park the Palais des Papes), which leads directly onto the Place du Palais des Papes in the heart of the city.

Other parking solutions, the municipality has set up 2 ' relay ' parking + free shuttle " ' , with one bus every 10 minutes from 10:00 to 22:00. The first "Parking Italians" , accessible the D225 road which runs. Circuit the shuttle drops users directly in the intramural centre , near the Town Hall Square ; the second is located on the Ile de la Barthelasse ( head Villeneuve lès Avignon and follow the signs). The shuttle drops users to Gate Oulle , about 200m from the bridge of Avignon (Saint Bénézet bridge).

From Montpellier or Nîmes, exit on the A9 (exit Roquemaure, the first after the junction with the A7), then follow the direction Avignon.

By Bus

There are bus connections with Aix-en-Provence (1 hour), Arles (1,5 hours), Marseille (35 minutes) and Nimes (40 minutes), among other regional services. Long distance services are with Linebus and Eurolines.

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Getting Around

The old city centre is not very big and can be easily explored on foot. An automatic bike sharing scheme called Vélopop' allows you to ride along. Smartcard needed.

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Eat

Avignon has a wide range of restaurants, including several with Michelin stars:

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Drink

Le Vin Devant Soi (wine shop), 4 rue Collège du Roure (just off of Rue de la République, south of the Place de l'Horlorge), ☏ +33 490820439. Until 7PM or 8PM. This wine shop has a permanent tasting machine set up with 32 wines. You purchase tasting credit for however much you like, they give you a card that you can put in the tasting machine to select the wine you want to taste. Tastes come in three different sizes, with different prices for different wines. The staff is very friendly, and there is a nice atmosphere.

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Sleep

Auberge-Camping Bagatelle, Île de la Barthelasse. This Hotel/ Hostel and Camp Site is situated on Ile de la Bathelasse in the centre of the Rhone . This is perhaps the best place to stay on a budget. It has great facilities and offers perhaps the best view of the center of Avignon. Carries a basic menu restaurant. Another benefit is that is placed directly between Avignon and the opposite town Villeneuve-les-Avignon, both begin within 10 minutes walk. €16.56 with complimentary breakfast.
Hotel d'Angleterre, 29 Boulevard Raspail (10 minutes walk from bus and trains station). some rooms with bathroom. Small hotel located within the city walls. Has a small private car park. Its use is free of charge if you can find a place for your car. €40.
Altera Roma Hotel, 13-15 Avenue Monclar (just behind the central station, which faces the main avenue of downtown and the bus station), ☏ +33 4 90 86 20 14, fax: +33 4 26 23 68 31, ✉ contact@alteraromahotel.com. Family run hotel overlooking a flowered garden, within a private carpark. Internet wi-fi available in the whole building. Recently renovated rooms with the typical Provencal style. 7 languages spoken. Private taxi service. Double room with ensuite shower and bathroom €30-60, studios and apartments from €75, breakfast €7 can be taken in the garden in season 7:30AM 11AM.
Hotel Boquier Avignon, 6 rue du portail Boquier (in old city, near the tourism office), ☏ +33 4 90 82 34 43. Check-in: 1PM, check-out: 11AM. A charming hotel in a XVIIIth-century house. 55-69.
Hotel Danieli, Rue de la République. very centrally with air conditioning and a good breakfast. €80 per night for a double during the summer, more expensive during the Festival d'Avignon.
Mas du Clos de l'Escarrat Route de Carpentras chemin de l'Escarrat. €80 Bed & Breakfast
Hotel Le Colbert, 7 rue Agricol Perdiguier, ☏ +33 4 90 86 20 20. Individual air conditioning room from € 78.
Au Saint Roch, 9 rue Paul Mérindol, 84000 Avignon (South West from the middle age city), ☏ +33 6 90 16 50 00, fax: +33 4 90 82 78 30, ✉ contact@hotelstroch-avignon.com. Nice hotel with a very quiet garden. From €48 to €65, €7.50 for breakfast.
Hotel d 'Europe, 12 Place Crillon. 5-star €350.
'La Mirande Hotel, 4 place de la Mirande. 5 star hotel housed in a 700-year-old converted townhouse €400 and up.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Keep Connected

Internet

France is one of the best connected countries in the world, with data speed for upload/download ranked among the top 5 in the world. Most hotels and hostels would have in-house facilities to provide free internet access. Many major cities also have initiatives put in place to provide free wi-fi connection in public spaces. Alternatively there are internet cafés available in most cities/towns at a reasonable rate. Some private businesses, such as local cafés (or even the Starbuck's chain), may also provide wi-fi connectivity - keep an eye out for the signs by the shop windows/doors. Also look for the @ symbol prominently displayed, which indicates internet availability. However, with most homes now wired for the internet, cyber cafés are increasingly hard to find, especially outside the major cities.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

To dial an international number from France, the IDD is 00, followed by the country code that you wish to dial, the area code and the phone number.
To call France from abroad, start with the international direct dialing (IDD) code from the country you're in, followed by French country code 33, the area code (drop the first zero in front of the area code), and the phone number. French telephone numbers are rarely given without the area code. The telephone number, including the area code, is made up of 10 digits. They are written in a set of 5 pairs of digits (i.e. 01 xx xx xx xx xx).
In France, the area code designations are: 01 - Paris Area ("Région Ile-de-France"), 02 - northwest, 03 - northeast, 04 - southeast, 05 - southwest, 06 - mobile phone providers. From 2010 onwards, 07 will also be assigned to mobile phone providers in order to cater for the surging demands for mobile phones.

Emergency numbers are 15 (medical aid), 17 (police station) and 18 (fire/rescue). You can also use the European emergency number 112 (perhaps a better choice if you don't speak French). These calls are free and accessible from virtually any phone, including locked cellphones.

France uses the GSM standard of cellular phones (900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands) used in most of the world outside of the U.S. There are several companies (Orange, SFR, Free, Bouygues Télécom and some others MVNOs like Virgin Mobile) offering wireless service. The country is almost totally covered but you may have difficulties using your mobile phone in rural or mountainous areas. If you stay for some time, it may be advisable to buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 MHz bands. Then incoming calls and SMSes are free.

Post

La Poste in France is also referred to as the PTT (short for postes, télégraphes et téléphones). The mailboxes are painted bright yellow and often there is a slot for local city mail and another slot for "outside mail". Normally there is a queue in the post office, but most of the post offices have the self service machine installed which is quite easy to operate. Nowadays many of the tabac and even some of the souvenir shops also sell postage stamps. Normally an overseas postcard costs almost as much as sending a letter. Mails sent in France also have a zip code. The first two numbers represent the administrative department (e.g. in Paris' case that would be 75).

Post offices are generally open from 8:00am to 7:00pm Monday through Friday, and 8:00am to noon on Saturdays. Apart from the basic job of mailing letters, most of the post offices do some banking activities also and some even have photocopy machines and cyber cafes for internet access.

For international package services, you might also check options with companies like DHL, UPS or TNT, which have competitive services and prices and might be faster in most cases.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 43.9486126
  • Longitude: 4.8059666

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This is version 16. Last edited at 14:24 on Nov 26, 19 by Utrecht. 14 articles link to this page.

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