Avignon, the beautiful corner of France where the country's ubiquitous atmosphere of romance gives way to the feeling of calm admiration of the city's rich history and cultural heritage. A place like no other, a clearly French town with the distinctive Italian feeling, Avignon is a treasury of interesting things to see and unusual things to do. And the choice of what to do during an Avignon getaway is nothing but wide. You can explorу its numerous tourist attractions, get lost wandering along the narrow streets, enjoy a cruise along the Rhone River, or treat yourself with a wine tour. Sounds amazing, right? And these are just a few of the most popular options. So, let's have a closer look at the best things to do in Avignon, France's not so hidden gem.
What to Do in Avignon?
Enjoy Sightseeing Tours
The Palace of the Pope
Of course, you've heard about the most famous Avignon tourist attraction, the legendary Palais des Papes. Every child knows that the Pope and the Papa Curia encamp in the Vatican, the very core of the catholic religion. But it wasn't always the case. At the very beginning of the 14th century, Pope Clemen V moved to Avignon himself and relocated the Papa Curia afterward due to the conflict between the papacy and the French Crown. For the following seven decades, the small French town suddenly became the new heart of catholic religion, and this time is known as the Avignon Papacy.
Clearly, the Pope needed an impressive official residence, and Avignon didn't have much to offer at the time. So the new palace was commissioned. Grand and imperial, the Pope's residence was build in medieval style and even nowadays is a real head-turner.
Its interiors are splendid. As you can imagine, the papacy wouldn't settle for anything less than luxury and royalty. There are 25 rooms open to the public, including the Pope's private apartments, and a tour covering them all takes a bit more than an hour. This excursion is among the most popular in Avignon, so it's better to come early in the morning or late in the evening when the famous sight is not overcrowded with fellow tourists.
Another famous Avignon attraction, the beautiful bridge across the Rhone River leading to nowhere is definitely among the sights you shouldn't miss during your getaway. This site prides itself on the interesting history and worldwide recognition (Pont Sain-Benezet was even mentioned in one of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes).
The fact that the Pont Saint-Benezet doesn't lead anywhere has nothing to do with expressing any philosophical idea of the essence of a dead-end or anything like that. The reason why the bridge ends in the middle of the river is quite simple and unimaginative, the merciless time is to blame. Originally, this Avignon attraction served a very distinctive purpose. It was the only connection between the city and nearby Villeneuve-Les-Avignon, the high-end resort of the cardinals during the Avignon Papacy.
But the bridge collapsed several times over the centuries and became rather difficult (and expensive) to maintain, so it was abandoned in a half-destroyed state in the middle of the 17th century. The peculiar attraction was the inspiration behind the highly-popular medieval song called Sur le Pont d'Avignon that put it on the map of the most important historical sights in France.
Yes, scenic Villeneuve-Les-Avignon mentioned above is definitely worth stopping by. As you now know, it's impossible to reach the City of Cardinals via the old Pont Saint-Benezet bridge nowadays, but there are plenty of other bridges, although less renowned, connecting the beautiful historical cities.
Although Avignon and Villeneuve-Les-Avignon are separated by the Rhone River, their histories are tightly intertwined. During the Avignon Papacy, the Pope did his best to make his stay as comfortable as possible. Apart from the grand Palace of the Popes, a lot of striking medieval complexes were built in the city upon his request.
But the cardinals didn't fall behind and were setting up their city, Villeneuve-Les-Avignon, to match the high status that was bestowed on it. The beautiful examples of medieval architecture are scattered all around the town, so take a couple of hours and allow yourself to get lost exploring its scenic cobbled streets. The most famous sight of this French gem is the Fort Saint-Andre, a magnificent medieval fortress dominating the city views. It's past is very diverse, and over the centuries, the fortification housed the Benedictine Abbey, was a military fortress, prison, and a chapel, so an extensive guided tour promises a lot of exciting stories.
Explore the Natural Wonders of Avignon
If you run out of the interesting places to visit in Avignon, you can always extend your sightseeing to the nearby area.
For example, the Camargue National Reserve is a great place to visit if you want to explore the wildlife of the region. Locked between the Rhone River and the Mediterranean Sea, the amazing park boats an incredible diversity in terms of landscapes, offering fantastic views and plenty of unique photo opportunities. If you are a cooking buff, you might have also heard about this amazing place in a different vein. Interestingly, the renowned Fleur De Sel, sea salt famously used as a finishing touch to enhance the flavor of any dish, comes from the Camargue region, and you can even visit the ruins of the former salt works on the territory!
Another great place to put on your Avignon travel bucket list is the Luberon Natural Area, boasting some of the most remarkable landscapes in France. Dramatic mountain ranges, scenic vineyards, seemingly endless green valleys, and fast winding rivers are all can be found in Luberon, making it a perfect place for a hike. There is a wide range of hiking trails to choose from in the area, suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels, so anyone can find the one that works best for him and set off to admire the breathtaking sceneries of the Luberon Natural Area.
Dive Into the World of Local Delicacies
French cooking traditions are centuries old. We tend to associate them with something of the highest quality and exquisite taste. After all, the word "gourmet" came from the French language. And Provance offers so much in this regard. There is no better place to explore the renowned world of French cuisine than this beautiful region, famous for not just its traditional foods, but also for its excellent wines. A gastronomical paradise, Avignon is a perfect starting point of a delicious journey across France.
Of course, when it comes to classic cuisine, there is always a debate. Because all regions boast their own interpretations of the traditional recipes, and there is a certain beauty in it. Wherever you go in France, the locals will promise that they have the best, the "rightest" Bouillabaisse, and neither of them will be wrong. So what are the dishes you should try during your Avignon vacation?
It's hard to make the wrong choice when it comes to trying something in Avignon, but there are certain foods that are considered to be must-tries for all newcomers. The list is quite long, and it takes a certain amount of determination to cross out everything on it, so we've picked a few the most interesting options to start with. Toro steak, crudités, salade de chevre, and, of course, the ratatouille, the renowned classic that became iconic thanks to the eponymous Disney movie, are all definitely not something you want to miss on your trip.
As you can see, it's impossible to get bored in Avignon just as it's impossible to get bored of this remarkable city. It deserves an honorable place on anyone's France travel bucket list, especially considering that it's conveniently located within a three-hour train ride from Paris, so it doesn't take much planning to carefully add it to your itinerary. You probably expect us to say that Avignon, with all its wonders, will steal your heart. But it's not true. Stealing means taking something without permission. And you will be happy to offer your heart to this ancient and beautiful city willingly.