The magical heart of Provence

Forget Disneyland: the magical kingdom lies in Provence. Once the richest court in Europe, Avignon, the great city of the Popes, shimmers in the sunshine. Inside its immaculately preserved medieval walls, the delights of the present compete with the wonders of the past. 

Arrive early. In summer, Avignon is perhaps the most fashionable place in France and only by staying ahead of the herd can you make the most of your visit. The best place to park is underneath the Palais des Papes, reached on the circular road outside the city walls by way of the gate close to the Pont St. Bénézet, the Pont d’Avignon in the famous French nursery rhyme. When Friar Bénézet and his Brotherhood of the Bridge completed their life’s work in 1185, it had 22 arches, stretched almost 1,000 yards and spanned the river Rhone. Alas, most of the bridge was swept away during a flood in 1668 and only four of the original arches remain.

From the car park a spiral staircase leads directly into the place des Palais, providing visitors with their dramatic first sight of what seems more like a Gothic fortress than a palace. Built in the fourteenth century by the third of Avignon’s nine Popes, Clement VI, its menacing square towers reach a height of 150 feet. 

Under Clement Avignon at last became the legitimate property of the Popes. In 1348 the Countess of Provence, Jeanne de Baux, accused of murdering her husband, set out by galley for Avignon to strike a bargain with Clement. Aged twenty, strikingly beautiful, she disembarked beneath the Pont St. Bénézet and rode on a magnificent white horse up to the palace, her long golden tresses flowing in the breeze. Jeanne’s proposition was simple: if the Pope declared her innocent, he could purchase Avignon for the derisory sum of 80,000 ducats. Assisted in reaching his decision, it was widely believed, by certain more intimate favours, Clement VI sent Jeanne happily on her way.  

From the Place des Palais a land train runs precariously through the city’s narrowest alleyways, providing a 20-minute flavour of Old Avignon and an entertaining ride for children. But for them the irresistible magnet will be a huge, two-tiered roundabout in the place d’Horloge, called after its fourteenth century clock tower. Once the Roman Forum, this square is the epicentre of Avignon society, full of open-air cafes and restaurants. Here each July, during the international drama festival, the actors drum up audiences by staging hilarious little cameo performances. 

Once the festival is over, many of Avignon’s shops slash their prices and even those offering luxury goods have occasional startling bargains on their shelves. Try the rue Joseph Vernet, the rue St. Agricol and the district of la Balance rather than the readily accessible and expensive rue de la République. Of course, nothing in Avignon will ever be truly cheap but the delightful experience of visiting the city will linger long in the memory.

Avignon historic centre map

The 4 walks of Avignon
“Promenades des Doms”
A historic circuit of the main monuments at the heart of the old town - “one of the most beautiful sites in the world”.
“Promenade des Teinturiers
Discover the picturesque and lively pedestrian network
of the old streets - great for window shopping.
“Promenade Joseph Vernet”
Named after the famous Avignon painter, this artistic
walk links the many museums of the town.
“Promenade de la Carreterie”
Leads you through the social history of the town with the contrasting aristocratic residences and workers’ quarters.

Getting there

By air (Marseille, Avignon, Toulon, Nîmes, Montpellier)
Airlines and flights >>
By car
Cross-Channel ferries >>
Motoring tips >>
Driving through France >>
By rail
Eurostar/TGV >>

Place de l'Horloge
© Avignon Tourisme – C. Rodde

Palais des Papes
Avignon Tourisme – C. Rodde

Le Pont d'Avignon 
© Ville d’Avignon – JP Campomar

Le Pont d'Avignon
© Ville d’Avignon – JP Campomar

Palais des Papes
© Ville d’Avignon – JP Campomar

Our villas within 50km of Avignon