Exploring Around Avignon – Popes and Bridges
We would be using Avignon as our base to explore for this stop on our 3 week tour of France. After our wild trip through the Verdun Gorge, we settled into our hotel and got a reservation for an Italian restaurant (La Strada) just down the street. We were told it was walking distance but by now we had come to distrust the French sense of distance. The directions seemed clear – but we missed the turn into the mall, ending up on the round about and then took the wrong exit on the roundabout trying to get back where we came from. So off we headed with no clue where.
We took the first exit thinking we could turn around but ended up lost in some medieval fortress exploring around Avignon with yet more single car width roads – David showing he too could manage these narrow paths. We finally got on “town” roads and managed to find a larger road with a gas station. On asking for directions, David was told he was “almost there” but we still did one more large loop before coming again to the same gas station and right after that our hotel – from which we knew directions. Walking certainly would have been much faster!!
The bed in this hotel was no softer than the others – and we had only a shower so no way to soak. The window had lace curtains – ensuring we would be up with the sun and not hiding behind black out curtains.
After a full breakfast at the hotel (squirrelling away pastries for snacks later in the day), we assessed the options we had for our day – old things, more mountain things (Mount Ventoux is the largest peak in the region) or a trip back to the sea.
It was drizzly in the morning so we decided to head into the old town as our first stop exploring around Avignon. Since we seemed to like to walk to our sightseeing destinations, we parked on the outskirts but of course the shuttle bus was not yet running – so off we walked. This walk allowed us the first of several dozen views and angles for the Pont du Avignon for David’s photographic zeal.
There would be over 70 images of the bridge to sort thru to one or two perfect pics before the day was done. The only pics we didn’t get were on the bridge itself because we would have had to pay for that pleasure.
After the bridge we started to walk up (again) to the Palais du Papes. The popes had temporarily located here – building both in the old city and across the river by Les Angles at Villeneuve de Avignon. The palace was closed so we just strolled the grounds.
We visited the Musee du Petite Palace, packed with very old religious paintings, amazing in their detail and colour. This first view of art for the day would contrast sharply with the bright airy watercolour art we would see later in the day. As we were wandering through we found ourselves being shuffled to the exit so they could close.
The ramparts provided us with views in many directions – a higher perspective on the Pont, a view of Villeneuve across the river (including the fort) and mountains in the distance we would see later that day.
Everywhere David would stop to set up a unique picture angle, the “sheep” tourists would scurry in. We took to “baa-ing” when it became evident it was happening again. While we searched to add it to David’s growing sign collection, we never did find one of the “beware of sheep” signs we had seen while driving in the mountains.
We would have to make do with the stone sheep “gargoyle” that watched over us as we walked the grounds.
The ramparts led us down the spiral staircase – an engineering curiosity to me.
By this time it was now past 2pm again and we had yet to find lunch as we were exploring around Avignon. We found a charming courtyard and were entertained by Tony. It turned out he had a restaurant close to our hotel and knew the receptionist there. He continued to correct our French and teach us Italian thru our lunch – ensuring we ordered “due cappuccini”. David sent me with the camera to the bathroom to meet the girl with the big boobs adorning the bathroom wall. I tried to artistically get him a comparison shot.
Seeking Chocolate in Wine Country
We headed off exploring around Avignon, map in hand to the other side of the old town, passing thru a quite interesting built up part, teeming with visitors shopping at chain stores housed on ancient streets. The Musee housed a special large collection of art by Paul Signac. He was impressionistic in most of his work, with an odd scattering of other styles. His work was bright, colourful and depicted many scenes familiar from our trip around the south of France. Much different from the darker religious art we had seen at the Palace Musee earlier i the day. I really liked this stuff. The rest of the museum included some other Impressionist work, all housed in the original house of the patrons.
It was late in the afternoon but with brochures in one hand and a new map in the other, we plotted our next stop exploring around Avignon. David had been drooling over the brochure for the chocolate factory outside of Chateauneuf du Pape, so off we headed in that direction. It was easy to see we were headed into wine country. It was approaching harvest season and many of the fields had vines hung heavy with grapes. We could see the large conveyor belt that would take the grapes from the field. Wine making in this region was a serious business.
The new map we had picked up had lots of detail, so David’s navigation was precise. A quick ride thru town revealed a ton of wine tasting cellars that didn’t draw us in.
But were not finding a hint of chocolate. We decided to park the car and walk thru the little town. The lady at the convenience store sent us back to the car, saying the chocolate factory was out of town. After one wrong turn we finally found the shop and got there just before closing – begging to be allowed our shopping spree. David was indeed a kid in a candy store. We left the town famous for its wine, having sampled and shopped only for chocolate!
Sunset At Gordes
There was one more “site” on my list for this day of exploring around Avignon, so we checked the map and decided we could fit one more stop in. We headed for higher ground.
The route was easy – follow D100 at toute le choix. It was a race to beat the sunset. David thought he was off to see an aqueduct – but we were visiting the perched ancient town of Gordes and not the aqueduct at Pont du Gard. It became evident as we turned the corner and saw the steep rocks with the town cascading down the sides. It was a marvellous sight but we found no place on the narrow road to stop until we were well up the hill in the town. We parked and headed off at a fast pace down the hill, trying to beat the quickly fading light. We walked all the way down to the start of town and got our pics – in fading light and then as lights slowly illuminated the town. And then we had to climb back up the hill again – of course!
We were both growling as we searched at 8:30pm for a spot for dinner in a place that was not full. We found a near empty place with lots of character – although its emptiness caused us to wonder why. We ended up with the full attention of the owner, serenaded by the Brazilian band, with the staff dancing on the patio trying to draw in more diners. It was a cautious drive home on dark, narrow, twisty roads until we hit the main N7 route into Avignon. It had been a full day exploring around Avignon.
Touring the Mediterranean on the Water
The next day dawned warm and sunny so our destination choice was easy. We were heading back down to the Mediterranean coast. The first stop on this day exploring around Avignon was the village of Cassis. We hopped on the Autoroute until we got close to the shore then wound our way through the steep part of town. It was Sunday and there was a bike race along the coast – so parking was a challenge – leaving us to park on the hill (beside yet another cemetery) and walk down to the port.
It was a busy bustling port. We watched several dive boats returning or leaving – heading to explore what we believed would be walls and caves. David found a “Juliette” boat – to go with our hotel Juliette shots.
We wanted to take a boat trip to see the famed “calanques” or cliffs – so settled for the one hour trip which proved to be more than enough. The cliffs and inlets were indeed very cool, with evidence of caves and caverns above and likely below.
It was a very nice boat ride for us – more so than for the keeners who had chosen front seats near the water line, who all ended up scurrying back for shelter from the waves. Back on shore we posed for the obligatory lighthouse pics and David decided he would brave the water for a quick swim to cool down. Heading out on the water had provided an interesting perspective on exploring around Avignon.
Finally grabbing take-out baguette sandwiches for lunch, we headed along the coast road in the direction of Marseille.
Marseille Views From On High
The last stop in our day exploring around Avignon was Marseille. Entering the city we could immediately see our destination – the gleaming Notre Dame on high – but it was a navigation challenge to get through the busy large port city of Marseille.
When we finally picked up the tourist signs pointing us to the site, we made our repeated mistake and parked the car to walk. We misjudged just a little and ended up with a long climb up city streets – only to be confronted with yet another vertical ascent on the Notre Dame site itself and then of course we could not pass on a climb to the top observation deck. It was like visiting Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur in Paris – all wrapped in one – all over again!
Legs and heart pumping – we did get the great views we had come to see – the brilliant sea, the bustling port, the city sprawl and the mountains back in the direction of Cassis. It was truly an amazing sight.
This would likely be our last big city stop on this 3 week tour of France so we thought we should do a sightseeing tour. David beat the old ladies for two seats on the Petit Train – only to learn we could only board it at the port. We saw the “hop on hop off” bus and even followed it for a bit – but we would again miss this experience. In the end we just drove through Marseille and the harbour and left it at that.
While there may have been more destinations exploring around Avignon, we decided to settle for a slow drive home thru Salon and no more stops. Enough was enough! We even managed to make it to dinner that night at 7pm for an early quiet night.
It had been a busy few days exploring around Avignon. On our final day, we got up early and packed to leave Avignon. We were heading to spend our last days visiting French wine country.
What was your favourite thing exploring around Avignon? Did you stay within the city or range far and wide as we did? Did we miss anything you things should have been on the list?