City Guide Avignon

Provincial charm meets formative heritage in Avignon, one of the great highlights of the Rhône River.

Visiting Avignon is a step back in time.

The beautifully-preserved medieval walls and laidback atmosphere of this commune in south-eastern France retain a sense of antiquity lost in much of the modern, fast-paced world. Emerging from the rural backdrop of rolling hills and fragrant lavender fields of Provence and the Rhône, the first glimpse of the town is simply unforgettable.

While much of Provence underwent urbanisation in the mid-20th century Avignon, within its medieval walls was largely left untouched. Respecting the beauty, significance and grandeur of the ancient city, developers have allowed Avignon to retain its old-world charm – affording visitors an authentic experience in this influential commune.

Boutique-lined streets, leafy squares and wonderful Provencal eateries now make up the majority of beautiful Avignon – creating a delightful place to explore for a day or two. Here, we showcase some of the highlights of the city, and take a look at its formative history and heritage.

Architectural Highlights

For a city of modest size, Avignon punches above its weight, its streets brimming with fascinating architecture and historic civic buildings. Here, we take a closer look at the city’s must-see architectural highlights.
papal palace
Dominating the town, the Palais des Papes is not so much of a ‘must see’, as a ‘can’t miss’. The home of seven popes in the 14th century, the palace has been wonderfully preserved – proudly serving as a performance and arts centre today. The largest Gothic palace in Europe, the Palais des Papes is recognised as one of the continent’s great architectural achievements. The splendour continues inside with delightful works of art – not least the beautiful ceiling murals of the Saint-Martial and Saint-Jean chapels.

Avignon Cathedral

avignon cathedral
Positioned next to the Palais des Papes, and the current seat of the archbishop; the Romanesque Avignon Cathedral was built between the 12th and 15th centuries. Whilst the interior contains many beautiful pieces of religious artwork, the most striking feature of the cathedral is the gilded statue of the Virgin Mary which was erected in 1859. The basic architectural style of the cathedral is Romanesque, though there are subtle Greek and Roman embellishments which tell of the cathedral’s ancient origins. The Baroque makes an appearance too, with exotic wood carvings found throughout the interior of the cathedral.

Musée du Petit Palais

musee du petit palais
Located in a 14th-century building, overlooked by the Palais des Papes; the Musée du Petit Palais is a museum and art gallery featuring an awe-inspiring collection of Renaissance paintings. First opened to the public in 1976, the museum features great works from Italian masters, including Botticelli’s Madonna with Child. The building itself is a fascinating part of Avignon’s history, having served as an episcopal palace under the reign of Pope Benedict XII and later as a Catholic school.

Pont Saint-Bénézet

pont saint benezet
A widely recognised symbol of Avignon, the Pont Saint-Bénézet is a famous medieval bridge with a turbulent history. Dating back to the 12th century, the bridge took eight years to build, and only lasted 40 years before being destroyed in a siege. The bridge was rebuilt on a number of occasions over the next few hundred years, as the arches continued to collapse whenever the Rhône flooded. The Pont Saint-Bénézet was eventually abandoned in the 17th century, leaving just the four remaining arches, which survive to this day, and were thought to have been built around 1345 by Pope Clement VI.

Cultural Features

Avignon’s rich association with the ancient Catholic papacy, coupled with its Provencal locale, have contributed to a distinct culture, quite unlike any other commune in the Rhône department. Discover the city’s cultural mainstays here.

Côtes du Rhône wine region

cotes du rhone wine region
Avignon is the designated capital of the official Côtes du Rhône AOC wine region, so you can expect to sample some of south-east France’s most prestigious vintages on your visit to the city. Within a short distance of Avignon can be found some of the AOC’s most prestigious vineyards, from the Côtes du Rhône Villages to the well-respected Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as well a handful of smaller wineries whose produce is also well worth seeking out. This viticultural heritage is reflected well in Avignon, with a string of wine bars giving you the opportunity to sample the very best of the local offering.

Avignon Les Halles

avignon les halles
Being among the major destinations in the acclaimed Provence region, Avignon is highly-regarded for its cuisine and the quality of its produce. Central to Avignon’s gastronomic scene is Les Halles, a buzzing marketplace with more than 40 stalls offering the freshest, most delightful ingredients found in the region. From the vast selection of cheeses you’d expect from a traditional French city to the most comprehensive choice of peppercorns you’ll ever see; you’ll be captivated by all the aromas and sights of Avignon Les Halles. A great spot to stock up on supplies if you’re planning a picnic during your stay in Avignon.

Festival D'Avignon

festival d'avignon
Each year, Avignon plays host to the Festival d’Avignon – an annual celebration of the arts, which remains the oldest continually-operating festival in France. Soon to be celebrating its 75th anniversary, Festival d’Avignon showcases hundreds of performances over a three-week run, earning itself a reputation as one of the world’s premier performance festivals. Theatre, music, dance, art and entertainment come together for an action-packed programme, transforming the heart of Avignon into a colourful centre for the arts.

A Glimpse into Avignon's Past

Avignon boasts more history and heritage than some world capitals, from its Roman origins to its time as the seat of Western Christianity. Discover the historic highlights of the city in our interactive timeline below.

Culinary Delights

The Provencal people are proud of their culinary heritage, using time-honoured techniques and fresh local produce to create dishes which have captivated for generations. Chefs from all around the world visit Avignon with the intent of learning from the best the region has to offer. Here, we take a look at the city’s best-loved dishes.

Seafood

oysters seafood image
While not on the coast, Avignon has strong associations with seafood, a trend which harks back to its Italian influence in the Middle Ages. Lobster, sea urchins, clams, scallops and oysters are among the most popular seafood plates served here, with fine produce brought directly up the Rhône River from the Mediterranean. Complemented by a glass of local white wine, there’s no finer way to while away a long, sunlit lunch than by spending your time working through a plate of delicious, freshly-harvested oysters.

Provencal Classics

provencal classics
Provence is world-renowned for its fresh and flavourful produce, and many of Avignon’s classic plates make use of this bountiful larder. From classic peasant stews like pot-au-feu to sophisticated plates which incorporate rare cuts of beef and pork; local gastronomy in Avignon leans heavily on simple, honest ingredients cooked well. The Mediterranean influence is also felt in some of the city’s classic dishes, from pissaladière to ratatouille.

Nougat

nougat image
It could be said that Provencal people have something of a sweet tooth, with their go-to treat being nougat. Made from locally-sourced honey, roasted almonds and egg whites, we promise the nougat of Avignon will be unlike any other you’ve tried. Traditionally, nougat was only served in the city at Christmastime, but now its confectioners produce the moreish sweet year-round.

 

 

Avignon is just one of the string of attractive heritage towns you can discover as part of an Emerald Waterways river cruise on the Rhône. For more information or to book your place, visit the homepage or call us on 0808 252 5032.

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