Avignon is undoubtedly one of the prettiest towns in France. From its impressively imposing skyline to the verdant Ile de la Barthelasse opposite, it’s a delight to simply amble along aimlessly, perhaps stopping at a sidewalk cafe or two en route. Countless hidden gems crop up along the way, including the sun-dappled courtyard of the Hôtel d’Europe (www.heurope.com). This luxury hotel has been in operation since 1799, welcoming luminaries from Charles Dickens to Jacqueline Kennedy.
Every French child knows the ditty “Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse” (“On the bridge of Avignon, we dance, we dance”). The bridge in question, Pont St-Bénézet (www.palais-des-papes.com; tel. 04-90-27-51-16), was constructed between 1177 and 1185. Once spanning the Rhône and connecting Avignon with Villeneuve-lèz-Avignon, it is now a ruin, with only four of its original 22 arches remaining (half of it fell into the river in 1669). On the third pillar is the Chapelle St-Nicolas (www.avignon-pont.com), its first story in Romanesque style, the second in Gothic. The remains of the bridge are open daily, June 9am to 8pm, August until 8:30pm, March through June, September, and October until 7pm, and November through February 9:30am to 5:45pm. Admission to the bridge is 5€ for adults, 4€ for seniors and students, and free for children 7 and under. Entrance to the chapel is included.
Outlying Attractions in Villeneuve-Lez-Avignon
While the popes lived in exile, cardinals built palaces, or livers, just across the Rhône in sleepy Villenueve-lez-Avignon. Many visitors prefer to stay or dine here—it’s quieter and less modernized, while still convenient to Avignon’s major attractions. Take bus no. 5, which crosses the larger of the two relatively modern bridges, the Pont Daladier.
Avignon’s Office de Tourisme can provide further information, as can the local branch in place Charles David (www.tourisme-villeneuvelezavignon.fr; tel. 04-90-25-61-33).
One of the most interactive ways to gain insight into Avignon’s rich history is through a guided tour. Avignon's Office de Tourisme organizes a range of themed tours around the city. For non-French speakers, the "When the Popes lived in Avignon" tour winds through the medieval part of the city and includes a visit to a 17th century private mansion and to the famous Palais de Papes (adults 20.50€, 16.50€ children 8 to 17, free for children 8 and under).
Or be bold and dust off that phrasebook: Many of the Office de Tourisme tours are offered only in French, including "Once upon a time at the Popes' Palace" (adults 16.50€, 11.50€ children 12 to 17, 6.50€ children 8 to 11, free for children 8 and under), "Avignon hors des sentiers battus" (adults 15.50€, 10.50€ children 8 to 17, free for children 8 and under), and the evening tour "A la table du Pape d'Avignon" (adults 16.50€, 11.50€ children 8 to 17, free for children 8 and under).
Most of the above tours are offered several times a week throughout the months of June through November. For further information, contact the Avignon Office de Tourisme (www.avignon-tourisme.com).
Alternatively, Provence Panorama (www.provencetours-avignon.com; (tel) 04-90-22-02-61; from 55€ per person), Provence Réservation (www.provencereservation.com; (tel) 04-90-14-70-00; from 60€ per person), Avignon Prestige Tour (www.avignon-prestigetour.com; (tel) 06-11-04-22-34; from 60€ per person), and Occitania Provence Tours (https://occitania-provence-tours.com; (tel) 06-65-12-60-67; from 55€ per person) organize bilingual tours, although they tend to concentrate on Avignon’s surrounding countryside, rather than the historic town center.
For self-guided bicycle tours of Avignon, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, and Île de la Barthelasse, contact Day Tour (www.daytour.fr; (tel) 04-90-63-50). Bike rental costs 15€ per person for a half day, 22€ for a full day, and 95€ for a week.
Epicureans may partake in Avignon Gourmet Tour (www.avignongourmetours.com; (tel) 06-35-32-08-96). These 2.5-3.5 hour walking tours discuss local culinary history and visit Provençal shops, where participants will taste traditional products, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. Tours start at 35€ per person.
And, like many French cities, Avignon’s own petit train crisscrosses the city center. The circuit starts outside of the Palais des Papes, then cruises up to the Jardin du Rocher des Doms, and past the Pont St Bénézet. It takes around 40 minutes. Tours cost 7€, 4€ for children 5 to 9 years old, and are free for children 4 and under. For further information, see www.petittrainavignon.fr or call (tel) 06-10-32-85-24.
Avignon’s cooking schools
The Avignonnaise are justly proud of their seasonal, fresh, enthusiastically local cuisine. Learn how to recreate a few of the delectable dishes you’ve tasted here by signing up for a lesson at one of the city’s popular cooking schools.
There’s a rotating schedule of superb regional chefs at Ateliers de Cuisine Le Marmiton, La Mirande, 4 place de la Mirande (www.la-mirande.fr; (tel) 04-90-14-20-20). Rare is the visitor who can boast that they have perfected duck breast stuffed with foie gras from Michelin-starred chef Jean-Jacques Prévôt. Or how to make pâtissier Pierre Hermé’s quirkily flavored macaroons, with hints of rose and raspberry, or apricot and saffron. Lessons, which start at 80€, are held in the hotel’s 19th-century kitchen. Most ingredients used are organic.
Seeking a class with a little less commitment? La Petite Cuisine des Halles also takes place at Les Halles (www.avignon-leshalles.com). Every Saturday morning (except August) at 11am, famous chefs from different local restaurants take turns preparing a favorite dish, answering questions from the general public, and passing out free tastings.
Also decidedly hands-off is La Mirande’s Table Haute, or Guest Table, held on the days when the on-site gastronomic restaurant is closed. However, not only are diners privy to a private cooking demonstration from Chef Séverine Sagnet, cooked on the kitchen’s ancient wood-fired oven. You’ll also indulge in a four-course gourmet meal, paired with regional wines from La Mirande’s superbly stocked cellar. Participants are limited to 14, and the one-off experience is priced at 95€.
Further afield, At Home with Patricia Wells (www.patriciawells.com) is a Provence-based cooking school taught by Patricia Wells, cookbook author, and famed former restaurant critic for the “International Herald Tribune.” The extremely popular 5-day classes take place in Vaison-la-Romaine. They are limited to 8 students and cost $6,000 (accommodation not included).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.