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Avignon, the Heart of Provence

Appreciation in Avignon
“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark”  John Muir

 

To travel, is one of life’s luxuries. But it is a luxury that can fill the heart with such peace and joy. To look, take in, be and let go.

If you feel a mini-break would do you good, then Avignon, a city in southeastern France’s Provence region is perfect. Good food, friendly people, beautiful sights and healing sounds.

Immerse yourself among the olive trees, vineyards and lavender and just meander.

 

How to Get There

For someone who doesn’t enjoy the experience of flying these days I decided it was time to take a train.

Catching the Eurostar from Ashford we travelled direct to Avignon, taking just over 5 hours.

It takes around 15 minutes to reach the tunnel and then 19 minutes to emerge in to France.

I took three books thinking I would read on the way, but the countryside was so enchanting I just gazed out of the window, watching the landscape change as we traversed France moving further south.

The trees, wildlife, waterways, beautiful buildings and agriculture kept me content all the way, with a cup of tea and snack from the onboard Cafe Metropole.

It was almost soporific and just so relaxing.

 

Avignon, The Quiet French City
For The Love of Avignon
Medieval stone ramparts surrounding Avignon

We arrived in Avignon mid afternoon. The train arrives at Avignon TGV, a station about 10 minutes outside the city so we picked up a taxi to transport us there. You can catch another shuttle train which takes you the few minutes into the central station but not able to speak French, we couldn’t quite work out how to do it…..

The outskirts of the city fade away as you reach the centre, which is surrounded by a medieval stone wall.

From here you can walk on foot through the lovely cobbled streets, passing the cafes, wine bars, bakeries and shops, deciding which ones you might return to.

The longer you stay, the more discoveries you make.

 

 

Avignon in History

Set on the Rhône river, Avignon is famous for the huge Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), one of the largest medieval buildings in Europe sitting magnificently over the city.Palais des Papes

Avignon was the seat of the Catholic popes from 1309 – 1377, and remained under papal rule until it became a part of France in 1791.

The Pont d’Avignon is the famous medieval bridge which spanned the Rhone between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. At first, this was a wooden bridge erected between 1177 and 1185, but was eventually destroyed 40 years later during the Albigensian Crusade.

Beginning in 1234 a new stone bridge with 22 arches was built, but was abandoned in the mid-17th century as every time the Rhône flooded it would collapse and was just too expensive to maintain.

Four arches and the gatehouse have survived at the Avignon end.

 

Where to Stay

We stayed on Barthelasse Island, situated between Avignon and the beautiful village of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, between the two branches of the Rhone.

Much of it is farmland, and covered in 700 hectares of peaceful greenery with only around 1000 residents.

Mas Chataeu BlancMas Chateau Blanc has been lovingly restored and opened for business two years ago. With a garden full of pear and cherry trees, and the soothing sound of bird song it is the perfect place to relax and unwind.

It offers a salt water pool, continental breakfast, comfortable and quiet bedrooms and bike hire. The friendly owners want to make your stay enjoyable and will advise on where to go and places to eat.

We decided not to hire a car and instead hire bikes, which was the icing on the cake. Cycling through the quiet roads with green fields and fruit trees either side was just enchanting. The famous Mistral wind keeps the air fresh as the temperatures rise, the delicate poppies scattered throughout the region wave gently in the fields. The only sound, birds and the soft wind rustling the leaves. Mas Chateau Blanc

The roads feel safe, with cycle tracks and thoughtful drivers.

The property is a good hour’s walk to the courtesy ferry that takes you the few minutes crossing from the island to Avignon, so you need to think about car hire if you choose to stay here and don’t want to walk miles every day.

 

 

What to See

The area is beautiful with an abundance of fruit trees and wild flowers, green fields and pretty buildings.

We wandered through the streets of Avignon and visited the must see Palace of the Popes, which is worth a visit purely to experience the vastness and hear the story of this historical place.

There is also a garden within the grounds with lovely views over the river and famous bridge.

Avignon is a wandering city, either on foot or by bike. Enjoy a delicious cake or a glass of local wine and day dream in the sun.

A must see is the famous Les Halles food market. It cannot be missed as it is covered in a living wall. It is frequented by the locals who drink wine and eat bread on a Sunday morning and leave fairly merry before lunch time.

Open from early morning until around 2pm you can peruse the stalls of local cheese, vegetables, meat, fish and bread or take a seat at one of the eateries and enjoy the produce. A great place to collect some snacks for the train journey home. At the time of our visit it was closed on a Tuesday.

VillineuveMy favourite place was neighbouring Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, a few minutes ride away, built on the hills facing Avignon.

A fortress town, the Benedictine monks built the St André Abbey around 1000AD which towers over this pretty town.

It is quiet and peaceful with some lovely places to eat and watch the world move throughout the day.

It is really worth visiting St André abbey with its beautiful garden, interesting history and stunning views of the Provence countryside. You can enjoy a refreshment, sit on a deckchair and contemplate the beautiful surroundings. Take your time, be still and take it all in.

Villeneuve Villeneuve

 

Where to Eat

Finding places to eat when you are away can sometimes be tricky. TripAdvisor can be helpful but I prefer finding little gems by accident or getting a tip from a local.

For simple, tasty and quick food on the trot we visited Vivotto a few times. Choose from risottos, simple but delicious salads, pasta dishes, and lovely desserts, well-made and good value for money.

I almost cried at Naturabsolu.

This vegetarian/vegan restaurant run by a husband and wife team offers organic, locally produced food and bio-dynamic wine.

I was bowled over by the sheer love and brilliant minds that went in to making this Naturabsoluexquisite food. It doesn’t matter if you don’t follow a vegetarian lifestyle the flavours were mind blowing, beautifully executed and the memories will remain with me for a long time.

You conclude that when something is made with care and a joyful heart everything is better.

We gave them a nice tip and he was genuinely moved. It was worth every penny and more. If you don’t mind the friendly cat roaming around and are open to something new please go.

The highlights for me were the date chutney made from dates fermented in Chardonnay and the roasted nettles with fenugreek. Trust me it was awesome!

We also enjoyed a meal at La Petite Cuillère, as recommended by our hosts. Frequented by the locals with a refreshing wine list.

Look out for Violette, for delicious cakes and bread in Avignon.

 

Avignon will not disappoint. Be prepared for changeable weather in the spring, the famous Mistral wind, nature in abundance, birdsong and friendly locals.

 

Poppies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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