Avignon – The Palais & The Pont

A delicious homecooked breakfast awaited us on the terrace of our gorgeous B&B along with this view! After five hectic days in the Côte dAzur, the thought of lingering in this beautiful terrace was very,very tempting. But our time here was limited and we had to reluctantly admit that we needed more time to master the Provencal art of doing nothing.

View from Terrace

My pride in my ability to escape crowds was severely tested outside the massive building adjacent to the  Cathedrale Notre Dame des Doms, that was once the bishop’s residence and where the first of the Avignon popes – Pope Clement V – set up residence in 1309. Occupying an area of 2.6 hectares the Palais des Papes is the largest Gothic palace in all of Europe, and seven Popes reigned over the Christian world from here, for over a hundred years until the return of the Papal seat to Rome in 1417.

Palais des Papes

The interiors are missing most of their lavish ornamentation so lovingly commissioned by Pope Clement VI and executed by Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, but the sheer scale of this enormous palace was worth the struggle with the audio guide, which kept redirecting me back to the entrance before sputtering off.

We ditched the plan to climb up to the Rocher des Doms – the garden overlooking the Rhone – because of the press of tourists ahead of us, and decided to explore the narrow streets behind the Palais instead, ending at the ramparts surrounding the city. Rue des Teinturiers with its ancient water wheels was particularly atmospheric.

Across the road from the ramparts was the abandoned Pont St Benezit, made famous by the French nursery rhyme ” Sur le pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse, l’on y danse…….” This was once the only fixed river crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean sea!

We hopped on to a ferry and crossed the river for a panoramic view of the palais and the pont.Avignon Bridge, Avignon.It was peaceful here with just the odd jogger and a few discerning tourists. We hung around till dusk waiting for the coachloads to leave town and then returned to our beautiful B&B on a quiet street, just minutes from the Palais. Later we walked to a sensational Moroccan restaurant, recommended by our hostess, well away from the touristy cafes around the main squares. A lesson well learnt after a pricey, greasy pizza the night before.

The Place de L’Horloge was buzzing with activity even at that late hour and it became a daily ritual for the duration of our stay, to linger in the square after dinner and watch the locals congregate with their families. And another, to stop at the Amorino outlet on the walk back ‘home’ for my daily gelato fix.