AVIGNON et Villeneuve les Avignon

Avignon et Villeneuve Les Avignon, France! Here you will discover the history of a Papal aristocracy seated within haut couture, medieval architecture, art museums, culinary and wine delights; everything one might expect in a UNESCO Heritage Site. We had read books and heard much about Avignon, drunk with Chateauneuf de Pape-like expectations. A friend who had lived in France for three years, when asked where she would live in France if given one choice? Clearly, Avignon. But would it be like hearing about a must-see movie? Would heightened expectations leave us disappointed? Au contraire!  And as a bonus? The quieter village across the Rhône, Villeneuve Les Avignon… fit our relaxed pace, as did much more on our discoveries within the Luberon.

Ramparts of Avignon
Elena on Avignon street
Walking the streets of Villeneuve Les Avignon.
Golden Virgin Mary Statue
Golden Virgin Mary Statue
elena with door
View of Avignon
Hotel in Avignon
Maybe we should just stay at a hotel. Complet!
Avignon is the capital of the Vaucluse department and as a UNESCO Heritage Site, one of the few French cities to have preserved its city walls. But let’s take a step back across the fabled bridge, to when we were weaving our way through the Luberon vineyards, on a scavenger search for our AirBnb:

In Search of our AirBnb

Indeed, we had spent much of the day discovering not ancient ruins, but that our Bnb was far where we had been led to map, there being two streets by the same name. Our Jeep Compass voiture swerved this way and that, buffeted by something we had heard less associated with the area, the mistral winds. So much for reading. As a windsurfer, Toby’s master would have enjoyed this wind on the coast, but while driving through unknown territory with objects flying, not so much. At what second were we to be bludgeoned by a flying medieval Sycamore branch?

The Mistral Welcomes Us

When we finally found the place, we stepped out into a blow dryer set on high. Our host assured us this was quite normal for the area, the mistral winds a necessary evil to dry out the vines. Sure, it grates on your nerves for a few days and then it dies out for a few of the most pleasant on the planet. A bit of rain, and then the Mistral returns to do its job on the terroir. Drink up, mange les fromage, the resulting wines are brilliant.

Once we had dropped our luggage, something we always do before parking anywhere in any country because we like our too much stuff, we drove to Avignon and parked outside the ramparts. We parked outside the walls of the city as we also like free parking and detestè paid underground tightly squeezed spaces. We had parked there once before and suffered a smashed taillight.

With Toby dog securely strapped into the backpack (the cobbles we’d learned were too brusque for a stroller) we made our way across the Edouard Deladier bridge, hanging to the railing at times to avoid being blown off. Completing the task, like the building of the city itself, a miracle. It was April and quite cold, with the white stuff flying, but was it cold enough to snow? Alas, it was only the Cottonwoods blowing dander, the one thing that shuts Master J down with allergies.

Master E quickly suggested someone please shut the grumbling dander coming from Master curmudgeon’s mouth and take a gander at that view. From the bridge one can see the skyline of the Papal Palace, the golden Virgin Mary rising above the Cathédrale des Notre-Dame des Domes, along with many other structures built to stand the test of time (to be fair, while the 12th-century bridge’s better half remains on Avignon’s side, time has not. As well, the bell tower was reconstructed in the 19th century and the Virgin Mary golden gilded in 1989).

Entering the Avignon Ramparts

We did not enter the ramparts by the entrance near the historical bridge, where the tour buses drop their clients. From there, a road winds through ticky-tack souvenir shops. Being independent, we entered through a more remote entrance near the modern bridge with the modern cars and paralyzed traffic. After you’ve taken our advice and parked in the free lot and walked from the other side of the Edouard Deladier bridge, take a quick jag to the right, and you will find the more pleasant entrance through the ramparts.

Though we’ve returned many times over for weeks at a time to qualify as travelers, we did not come with such gems of advice and arrived as proper tourists. Thus, we wasted precious time stressing to find parking, rushed our way past high fashion boutiques, zipped by smaller more charming churches, buzzed too quickly through quirky neighborhoods with cafes full of local life, and headed straight to Place d’Horloge where the Palais des Papes hovers. Toby took a dump, Master E grabbed a sandwich and Master J took his pics that have been taken millions of times and more, without improving on the take by much.

Make no mistake about it, the Place d’Horloge is a wonderful place (Place, the French word for plaza) in which to check off the list, brimming with both local and tourist life. There are some outstanding buildings such as the Hotel de Ville (town hall), a row of brasseries, and yes, ice cream (every town is judged by its ice cream). Some of the best street performers in France are found here.

Here, we fully bridged the concept that there is so much more to see in Avignon than the Papal Palace. Instead of wasting time imagining what the empty rooms of the palace were once filled with, head to the Musée Du Petit Palais on the far end of the plaza for a more cultural experience. Once done, move along, people. Head to the Rue Des Teinturiers, the street of the waterwheels, where old mills turned.

popes view villeneuve avignon
From this point above Villeneuve, the Pope deemed Avignon worthy of his tables and wine.

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!

History of Avignon

The first Avignonnaise blew into town between the Copper Age and Early Bronze Age, with the naming of the city traced back to 6th Century BC; Avenionsios. The name is interpreted as “city of violent wind” or “lord of the river.” The Rhone River flows between Avignon and its smaller, quieter, neuere sister village, Villeneuve Lès Avignon. Avignon became a city under Roman law in 49 BC, the first 49ers in history.

In 472 AD, Avignon was sacked by the Burgundians (not Bryant Young, the lead sacker on the 49ers). One can’t help but to think the sacking was over who grew the better grape. There must have been something more to it than wine, suggesting it may have had something to do with Avignon being on the trade route. Yet, there is a long medieval history of this King and that Bishop playing tug of war with the region.Regardless, there is a volume of long and interesting history leading up to the event where most begin paying attention, when in Rome, the pasta hit the wall. Pope Clement V fled the schism for Avignon in 1309.

In 1348 Pope Clement VI bought the town from Johanna, Queen of Naples. 7 Popes ruled Avignon until the storming of the Bastille in 1791, i.e. the French Revolution. Once democracy took a firm grip, Avignon became part of France.

Avignon Weather and the Seasons

Provencal. Cold winters when the wind blows. Hot summers. However, if you want to take in the oldest festival in France, you have to grin and bear it as it takes place in July. Though the sugar coaters say the average temps are 75 F in July, it can get fing hotter than that. But the real weather event here is definitely the mistral.

It is said that even murder is forgiven after a week of mistral. We’d like a mistrial!

The mistral can reach speeds of more than ninety kilometers an hour and its average speed during the day can reach about fifty kilometers an hour, calming noticeably at night. We have seen small children blow across the plaza, and parents shrug.

The mistral can blow anytime, but usually blows during winter and spring. Without mercy, it can blow during all seasons, as we’ve seen the worst of it in September. With its relief often felt during summer, the flies might seem bad. There is a Latin proverb said of the city: Avenie ventosa, sine vento venenosa, cum vento fastidiosa (Windy Avignon, pest-ridden when there is no wind, wind-pestered when there is). The worst may still be in Spring if you have allergies, as my how the cottonwood dander flies.

The mistral may last just a few days but can last more than a week. Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be blown away today. And don’t let all that put you off going to Avignon, as you as well may be blown away. As well, suggest visiting between April and the end of October, as that’s when the markets are open for the full French experience.

pont avignon
The mistral winds blowing from Pont Avignon
Villeneuve Park Gate
Locked in Villeneuve Park!

The Friendly People of Avignon

Whomever said the French are rude and unfriendly has not been to Switzerland! We found the people of Avignon, and Villeneuve les Avignon in particular, to wreak havoc on the reputation of the French. They are far too nice of fellows. In Avignon, you will typically find that everyone is warm as pie. Sure, the older people are tourists, and the younger, students; but many French of all ages come here, as this is where they as well quench their longing for the France of old. As do the Italians!

Par example, we sat on the hillside park above the latter town admiring the sunset, the same hill where the Pope gazed upon the valley and thought, “Gee, what a nice place to have my subjects build my new home, my new little Rome.” 

In the meantime, somebody had locked the gate, and it seemed we were stuck for the night with stones for a pillow. Fortunately, we found a friendly French family walking their dog, who showed us the secret way out, plus handing us valued information along the way including the story about the Pope, sitting on that same hill, gazing upon the same view. Nobody locked the gate on him, as there wasn’t one yet built.

villeneuve street
Street in Villeneuve Les Avignon

Avignon Architecture

Avignon Papacy created incredible buildings, unlike any others in Europe.  Here you will find both Gothic and Romanesque architecture, all classically constructed of regional sandstone.

Walking through the city, many buildings lack the ornateness of say, the buildings in Nancy, but that is all part of the charm and elegance. Many of the doors are real show stoppers, or should we say, door stoppers (you can’t pass one without whipping out the camera).

Street of Avignon
Chapelle de la Oratoire, on Joseph Vuarnet street, a beautiful Roman cathedral finished in 18th century.
church door
Elena and Toby at restaurant on Rue de Teinturiers
Elena and Toby at restaurant on Rue de Teinturiers
Villeneuve Les Avignon Market
Villeneuve Les Avignon Market
Jonathan eating in Hotel
Budget Michelin; potato chip salad in hotel room.
Chateauneuf de Pape wine
Wine discovered and well drunk after Airbnb disaster
Market by the Papal Palace
Italian Market by the Papal Palace
Drinking Aperol
Toby doesn't drink much, but when he does, Aperol.
Macarons
Avignon Macarons. Not to be confused with Macaroons or Macron.

Avignon for Foodies

Tucked Away as your Tummy

Here’s the meat and potatoes on eating in Avignon. We wouldn’t recommend eating in any plaza-facing restaurant… anywhere with a view or by a monument. Like everywhere, the better the scenery, the worse the food and the more you’ll pay. But if that’s what you like to do, knock yourself out. They’re all at least good for an overpriced Apero, provided they serve alcohol. Most do. If they don’t, go straight for the ice cream. Why not?

We like to frequent the restaurants on the lesser plazas, in the hidden alleyways, the hole in the castle wall. That written, we don’t eat out much, nor often enough, as remember; we are travelers, not tourists. There would not be much budget left if we ate at a Michelin restaurant day and night. If we did, we’d need reservations before the season even started.

Home-ish Cookin’

More likely, we grab something prepared or to cook at “home,” gathering first from markets, a local shop, or at Les Halles. 

When the market is closed, there’s always Carrefour, which we also frequent to stock up on condiments, milk, that sort of thing. You can get cheese and all sorts of things cheaper, but there is cheaper and there is better. Pick one. Toby’s Master recommends Tyrell’s Truffle Oil chips, and bottles of water. Lots and lots of water. Volvic is Toby’s favorite brand. And don’t forget the ice cream.

A Good Grenache to Pair

Though not Burgundy nor Bordeaux, this area of Provence might be third on our list of world glass terroir.  Though admittedly having only scratched the cork on Domaines for the Grenache, our day-tripping from Avignon has taken us on a beeline to Chateauneuf de Pape. There, you will find a small town surrounded by wineries and a Wine Museum as well. The tour was only of exhibits where you listen to an audio tape, but some interesting information and a tasting at the end (a much more impressive one we have not visited is in Bordeaux, learned from the V is for Vino show. It was here that we learned of the benefits of the mistral winds, on a day when there thankfully were none.

Of course, beauty is in the eyes of the bottle holder, so if Grenache is your thing, you’re in luck. It’s not as pricey as any Grand Crus, though they do have their own Grand Crus-type hierarchies. Chateauneuf de Pape is right up there at the top of the pyramid. Drink up, let your hair down, as the Pope said it’s okay unless you’re driving anything but a chariot.

Markets – Villeneuve Les Avignon

One of the best marché, or farmer’s markets in the area is found not in Avignon, but across the river in Villeneuve Les Avignon. Also happening there seasonally on Saturdays is the brocante, one of the best in the south (Toby prefers the name brocante to flea market). If hunting for bargains on antiques or are a collector/hoarder of stuff, this is your place.

While the prices have gone up and the quality of finds gone down over the years so the locals say, the regular flea market of Villeneuve-Lès-Avignon is enriched by two annual antique fairs: the Brocante Passion in May (duration: 2 days) and the antique dealers day on the second weekend of October. There is also a lot of farm fresh food on display, which is better eaten than collected.

In Avignon, Les Halles is an indoor market open Tuesday – Sunday where the locals go to foodie. Most bigger towns and cities have an indoor market, all called Les Halles. Here, it’s more on the janky side of town, but worth a shop. Here, you’ll find everything fresh under the Avignon sun. Toby recommends the duck patè, always, no matter where he travels. And the poulet roti. Rabbit stew, a dish favored by the French. Miam miam.

Tuesday and Thursday, there is the smaller Brocante market, located just outside of Les Halles An evening farmer’s market also takes place in Avignon on Mondays from 5:00 – 7:00 pm, from April through October. There you have it, all subject to change and misinformation.

Elena slowly enjoying her morning coffee in Avignon
Shot with iPhone 14. Everyone should believe in something. Elena believes she will have another coffee
Chateauneuf du Papa wine shop
Chateauneuf du Papa wine shop

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!

Avignon for Art

There are quite a few art museums in Avignon, many of them free. Which ones you may desire to visit will of course depend on your taste.

Musée Du Petit Palais

One of us was enamored with the aforementioned Musée Du Petit Palais, a vast collection of art from the middle ages to the Renaissance, chock full of Italian religious icons (go figure). There is even a Boticelli here and the building itself is a monument to Avignon’s history. Like the Mistral wind, it’s free.

Musèe Angladon

To see inside the Musèe Angladon, you will have to cough up a few euros (finally. being curmudgeon aged has its advantages) to see what is advertised as major works of art. In reality, there is one fine Modigliani, and one each of Picasso, Degas, Cezanne, and what’s that fellow’s name, oh yes, Van Gogh. But aside from the Modigliani and perhaps Cezanne, these are all what the curmudgeon’s cur calls second-tier or stuffed-in-a-basement art. The rest of the art is from Provencal artists, none of them who truly benefitted from dying.

Musèe Calvet

The Calvet Museum is the wretched curmudgeon’s favorite (free), housed in an 18th-century hotel, hotels meaning houses… more like a mansion. Though admittedly the old dog is stuck in his love of Impressionism, of which here they have none, the building itself and the marble sculptures were eye-watering attractions. There is also a large collection of what one typically finds in European museums from 16th to 20th-century paintings to tapestries, archeology, and furniture (not made from you fumbling with instructions from IKEA). As always, it’s good to learn about the history of the place one is visiting, and here you may learn about Esprit Calvet, who devoted his life to medicine and the arts. And about the prior owners of the building, the Villeneuve family. And all this time, we struggled to make sense of the sister town’s name.

Avignon has many other galleries and privately owned art galleries as well, all worth a visit. These were just the ones in which we became enamored.

Musée Du Petit Palais
Musée Du Petit Palais Icon
Cèzanne painting, Musee Angladon, Avignon
Cèzanne, Musee Angladon
Degas, Musee Angladon, Avignon
Degas, Musee Angladon, Avignon
Museo Calvet stairs, Avignon
Museo Calvet stairs
Museo Calvet sculptures
Museo Calvet
Angels sculpture, Museo Calvet
Angels, Museo Calvet
Modigliani, Musee Angladon, Avignon
Modigliani, Musee Angladon, Avignon

Avignon Haut Couture Shopping

The main shopping street of Avignon is Rue de la Republique. Large department stores and small fashion boutiques offering exclusive designer clothes are based here. The street itself is a thing to admire, where you can buy literally everything from fashionable items from recent collections to jewelry and oddities such as vinyl (talking records from the Beetles Ages here). 

Rau Joseph-Vernet Street is popular with enthusiastic fashionistas. Here, the most expensive and prestigious boutiques are located. There are shops for both men’s and women’s clothing, as well as a huge number of pavilions with accessories. All the shops are distinguished by fairly high prices, so many just visit them simply out of curiosity, to see how the 1% in France live. For something more affordable, visit one of the flea markets.

The city is also famous for its ceramic products, which are best chosen in Terre et Art store. Here, they sell wonderful dishes with hand-made paintings, elegant sets, and decor items. Frugal customers can also choose some great things in this store. 

One of the most unusual stores in the city is Camili Books & Tea bookshop, where you can choose a unique book and have a cup of fragrant tea. By its design, the store looks more like a reading room, decorated in the manner of the past. Almost all interior items and furniture are made of natural wood. And oh yes, they have books, something from the Hemingway ages. There are more bookstores in France than anywhere in America, and none are chains.

airBnb near Avignon
This was the perception of where we were to stay in an AirBnb near Avignon.
AirBnb photo
This the reality, about 200 sq ft. Master did not fit on bed. Owner spoke no English but AirBnb let us bail.
San Remy Bistrot
St Remy Bistrot and shutters

Where We Stayed

We have not been altogether lucky with our Bnb experiences in Avignon, though we have never dare stayed actually inside the ramparts. We’d learned our lesson from being in the middle of it all in Vence and Sarlat. We’d also here learned our lesson about getting a more accurate pin on the donkey, a definite map, before booking. While it’s an AirBnb thing to not give you the address until booked, make sure you have the right address when given by staying in firm contact with the owner. More than once we had to bail on places where the picture did not meet the place, like a bad internet date. When this happens, it’s tough to find another Bnb, so we stayed twice in a hotel, fortunately finding a good one at Logis Hotel Les Cedres in Villeneuve. Avignon itself was completely booked, even if Booking said there were vacancies. So yeah, Avignon is a tough nut to crack, best rewarded by doing ample research, scrutinizing reviews and photos, mapping the location, and reserving far in advance.

Getting Around

You don’t need a car here unless going outside of Avignon, so arrival by train is doable. We’d still recommend renting one to get outside and explore the other towns.

Les Baux-de-Provence
Les Baux-de-Provence
Van Gogh St Remy
Oh to get towed by Van Gogh, St Remy

Is Avignon Safe?

As in any city, you have to stay on your toes in Avignon. However well you have followed any advice about not standing out as non-French, stand out you will. And you will be asked at times for your spare Euros, mostly passively, at times with more panache. Don’t fall for getting into a conversation. More on this… but while wandering down some alleyway in search of that hidden gem with a camera or the latest device, stay alert. There are some areas in Avignon we’ve found the drunks and crazies like to hang. Place Pie is one of them. It’s a beautiful plaza like all of them in Avignon, with some nice cafes and eats, Pokawa Poke Bowl being one of them, so it’s hard to avoid. Nothing ever happened to us there, but observations keep one nervous.

Beware of Pickpockets while being Petitioned

Pickpocketing is not as rife here as in other cities, but always be aware when someone bumps into you by “accident.” Be careful around the Palais des Papes area of people trying to convince you into signing a supposed petition. These are all scammers posing as students or working for the palace. This is a lie, and if you happen to sign the petition, they will ask for money. When such people approach you, ignore them.

Gold Ring Scams – Blowing in the Wind

The common scam is Avignon involves a gold ring. A thief will supposedly discover a gold ring in your path. Another one is to leave a newspaper on your restaurant table and ask if you speak in English. Do not pay attention to children with clipboards, especially the ones pretending to be deaf. Children may accidentally blow into your path but could be a setup, depending on the wind. Just be aware and enjoy a place where there are thankfully more bookstores than phone zombies. There’s just too much here to divert attention away from screens. But if not in Avignon, keep reading this one.

euros flying in wind
Pickpockets
Don't get distracted. Always be aware that something is going on when people approach you. Be street wise!

Trop cool video, man...

Papal Palace Avignon
Click on photo for video of plaza with street musician.