Sur le pont d’Avignon

By | Category: Travel destinations

the remains of the Pont d'Avignon

Most school children were taught the song as they were introduced to French but how many of us have been there or know much of the area? For a start the remains of the bridge of the song – officially, the Pont St. Bénézet – is a World Heritage Site along with the palace that was used as a summer retreat for popes in the middle ages.

Twinned with Colchester in Essex, both towns have strong Roman links. Today, though, it is the mediaeval ones of Avignon that are more obvious. For over a hundred years popes ruled from Avignon and Avignon did not return to being French until the time of the revolution in the 1790’s. During this time walls were built by various popes to protect themselves from all and sundry and much of these remain. The fourteenth century Palais des Papes sits in its own square (like St Peter’s in Rome) and is one of the top ten visitor attractions in France garnering just under three-quarters of million people each year. And from the middle of August there is a light show against the palace every evening until summer ends.

Nearby is the twelfth century cathedral, one of the grandest Gothic buildings you will see anywhere and which towers over most of the buildings in the town. The papal mint is still there although no longer churning out coin of the realm as are a number of remaining Gothic buildings. Making the most of the buildings is the Avignon Festival which is midway through its annual run and attracts over 100,000 people to its performances. And like Edinburgh, there is a “fringe” theatre that takes place at the same time.

Palais des Papes

Avignon sits on the Rhône which, for wine-lovers, means they are in the midst of forty different wine estates, one of the most famous being Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Obviously named to connect it with the papacy, mediaeval popes strongly supported the local wine industry and the castle from which the estate takes its name was built by Pope John XXII.

If the heritage and the wine tasting overcomes you, the answer is simple. Either take a cruise down the Rhône or cross on the cable ferry to the island of the Barthelasse, one of the largest river islands in Europe on Sundays and picnic for the day.

Whatever you try you’ll find plenty to do around Avignon. And I haven’t even mentioned that it is in Provence!

For more about Avignon, click here.

Images © Avignon Tourisme.

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