Our next stop via train was Avignon. Our lovely host greeted us at the train station and drove us free of charge to our fully equipped apartment for the next few days. Along the way she pointed out a few of the sights and helped get us acquainted with both the neighborhood and the apartment. The apartment was modern and located within walking distance to the main downtown area. Staying in a fully equipped apartment has its advantages, including the ability to make coffee at our leisure, and cook our own meals. Our fist stop in town was to the local Carrefour grocery store.
If going to the fresh market ranks number 1 on my list, the next best thing is checking out the local grocery stores. I’ve been to mini markets where you have to open a deep freezer in the front just to check for cold beverages, or ask the store owner what day of the week does the fresh vegetable truck arrives. These are the places that have a few odd dusty cans on their shelves. In comparison France is very well equipped, but I’ve also made some mistakes. Purchasing sour cheese (fyi – it was not expired), and butter that turned out to be something green (also not expired), milk in a milk jug to add to coffee that was actually sour creme (oops) the list goes on . . .
The most fun at a grocery store occurs in the produce section. Most produce in chain grocery stores come with a sticker that tells you exactly where each product was produced. Imagine how excited we were to see Mexico represented with its limes all the way across the Atlantic in France!
The City of Avignon
Avignon is located along the banks of the Rôhne River in the Provence region of Southern France. The city itself is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site for its architectural beauty and historic importance. Its strategic location allowed trade to flourish between Spain and Italy. Avignon was a trading post for the Phonecian’s, a flourishing Roman town, and the seat of the papacy.
The city is completely fortified behind very impressive stone walls dating from the 13th and 14th century. The walls have been built, rebuilt and even expanded to include people that found themselves settled outside of the city walls. The main purpose of the walls was to protect the city and the inhabitants from attacks by roving bands of Grandes Compagnies, a group of unemployed mercenary soldiers. Enter the inner city through one of the large seven gates.
Inside you’ll find a mix match of streets that cross and intersect each other with no apparent logic except to confuse the foreigner. The inner city covers approximately 373 acres. Here you’ll find square upon square, with narrow quiet streets, and alley ways that start and then end abruptly. Usually I’m ok with wandering aimlessly, I mean we can’t get lost right? We’re inside fully enclosed walls.
In one instance we were taking a short cut to get to the next street over, only to be met at the end of the street by a wall of houses. Because the buildings are so very close together, looking left or right appear as dead ends, that is until you walk all the way to the front door of the house at the far end of the street. Here is where you see the street continues. The maze of streets continues like this until you finally emerge onto a square where you’ll search for anything that looks remotely familiar.
Palace of The Popes
The papal palace is the cities most famous landmark and also another UNESCO world heritage site. Inside its 165 foot walls protecting the palace is a chapel, cardinals residence, knights barracks, court house and tax office. During the second half of the 13th century the pope had regularly taken residence outside of Rome. The choice to reside in Avignon was the result of political considerations. The city of Rome during this time was also prone to constant riots and uprisings by rival clans.
Inside the palace you have the option of an audio tour or just to roam on your own. Various cards throughout the palace describe the purpose of each room. Nature was an inspiration for the painted decors of the palaces, as well as the papal garden. The garden was a source of food for the papal table which included spinach, white and green cabbage, chard, leeks, parsley, aromatic and medicinal herbs. Today the garden looks like work in progress for a new green space.
Museum of The Petit Palais
This 13th century residence was once the home of the Archbishop of Avignon and has since been converted into an art museum. The museum features a large collection of Italian Primitive paintings that were collected by the Marquis Giampietro Campana di Cavelli of Rome. In the 19th century Napoleon III bought the collection, and I guess that is how they ended up in France. Also on display are Roman and Gothic sculptures, paintings of the Avignon and Italian schools, and works by Botticelli and Carpaccio.
Where To Stay In Avignon?
We used Airbnb to find our apartment in Avignon. The apartment was clean, had complimentary Wi-Fi with a complete kitchen and a coffee maker. Our host was above and beyond great giving us a free lift to and from the train station. In fact, for our entire time in Europe we are mainly using Airbnb. If you’ve never used Airbnb we highly recommend it. You can make your experience what you want it to be. Choose a price point, read all of the reviews and look closely at the pictures, mainly for the coffee maker. Click here for $25 off your next stay on Airbnb!