Did you know that for a while during the 14th century, the Catholic church picked up everything and relocated its seat of power from Rome to Avignon? It was all because of politics (some things never change!), and for 70-something years the popes took up residence in France instead of Italy. Obviously, it was a pretty short-lived stint in the history of the church, but it left behind the grand Palais des Papes as well as a pretty impressive claim to fame for Avignon.
We were visiting on Easter, so I wasn't sure what exactly we'd find in terms of crowds, restaurants being open, and so on. We'd lucked out in Arles with the Easter Feria drawing big numbers into the streets and to the arena for the annual bullfight, and it turns out that Avignon, while not as busy, wasn't exactly a ghost town either. I was happy to find Ginette et Marcel, a bistro serving open-face sandwiches and an incredible array of pies and tarts for dessert, open for lunch. Recommended here by a blog I love following for all things London and European in general, we didn't leave disappointed, and may have had our first legitimately French meal of the trip there. An Easter lunch to remember, that's for sure!
D - Oh man, this was a good meal. While the sandwiches didn't photograph too well, they tasted extraordinary! And the Speculoos pie wasn't anything to moan about either! I'd go back to Ginette et Marcel in a heartbeat!
Because we wanted plenty of time later on in the day to visit the Pont du Gard, we didn't do much else in town besides visit the Palais des Papes, or the Pope's Palace. The walk from the restaurant to the palace, though, hinted at the pleasures of spending more time in Avignon - stately buildings mixed with more humble yet equally as pretty ones, mature, green trees shading wide pedestrianized streets, and a calm river in the middle of town that we had a hard time not taking a walk along.
This may not be a popular opinion, but I feel like the Palais des Papes may be more impressive from the outside than the inside. I'm sure that wasn't the case while it was inhabited by the popes, but nowadays the interior is mostly drab, gray walls and as we walked from room to room, listening to the fairly dull audio guide we exchanged glances with one another that said, "Nothing to see here!" No doubt, though, that the palace is imposing and impressive, and has been very well-preserved throughout the years.
D - Agreed! Though lacking interesting innards, the palace is really cool from the outside and quite intimidating. If I remember correctly, the pope (one of them anyway) actually sacrificed security for style by making the towers flat fronted rather than round. What a newb.
We may have enjoyed the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon, or Avignon Cathedral, just as much as the Papal Palace. It's located just next door to the palace, but the interior is surprising and unusual (but serene and beautiful!). It was built before the popes came to town and built their own extravagant compound.
D - There's also a big (I, mean BIG) golden Mary that sits atop the Cathedral (see two pictures up) which I think is pretty special, but alas, the exact details have slipped my mind.
Nearby both the Palais des Papes and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon is the Rocher des Doms, a park atop a hill with views over Avignon, including the famous Pont Saint-Bénézet, of which only half remains - it was destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout history but in the 17th century it was finally just left the way it is seen today, stretching only about halfway across the Rhône River. And with that we called it quits in Avignon for this trip, and headed to our final stop of the day - the Pont du Gard!
See more from our road trip around southern France: our day in Toulouse here, and all of our stops on our first day: Cahors, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, Bouzies, Rocamadour, Padirac Cave, Loubressac, and Figeac. We began our second day in Marcillac-Vallon and Belcastel, made a stop at the Viaduc de Millau before heading into the Gorges du Tarn, and finally checked out the lovely Sainte-Enimie. That night, we stayed in Le-Pont-de-Montvert.
We started our third day in Labeaume before driving through the Gorges de l'Ardeche and stopping afterwards in Aiguèze and then spending some time checking out Roman remains in Orange and staying the night in Vaison-la-Romaine. The next morning we explored Vaison-la-Romaine, drove on to Sisteron and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and through the Gorges du Verdon and stayed the night in Castellane.
The morning of the fifth day of our road trip, we drove to Grasse, onto Saint-Paul-de-Vence, and then to Antibes and finally onto Nice for the night. On our first morning in Nice we took the train to Monaco and then started explored Nice in the afternoon.
We started our second day in Nice by taking the train along the coast and visiting different towns, the first being Villefrance-sur-Mer, traveling onto Menton, and then to Ventimiglia and finally Èze. After our third night in Nice we packed up and drove to Cannes and then to Aix-en-Provence where we stayed overnight and in the morning we drove onto the Arles, and then Avignon.