Located in the lush vineyards of the Rhone Valley, the ancient walled city and university town of Avignon is rich in history, artistic brilliance, and Provencal life. From churches and chapels to film festivals and street musicians, Avignon was named the European Capital of Culture in 2000, and the city has been one of Frances major artistic centers for centuries. Whether youre exploring the scenic waterways of Provence on our Roi Soleil (Sun King) or Le Phenicien barges, Avignons mix of culture, gastronomy, world-class wine, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites create a memorable travel experience.
The Palace of the Popes and Other Historic Attractions
When the popes moved from Rome in the Middle Ages, the city of Avignon became the capital of Christendom. This is illustrated in the churches, chapels, convents, and ornately decorated buildings and monuments you'll find in Avignons old town and main tourist drag. The Palais de Popes (Palace of Popes) is the grandest and most opulent of the religious attractions from the Middle Ages. Built in the 14th century, the Palace of Popes sits at the highest point in Avignon, a white granite majesty that rivals St. Peters Basilica in Rome.
Originally built between 1350 and 1370, Avignons ramparts, or protective walls, give the city its defining architectural aesthetic. Within the walls there's a wealth of museums, 17th and 18th century mansions, and botanical gardens. The ramparts were restored in the 19th century; dont expect to see
Sur le Point d Avignon is a famous 15th century French nursery-rhyme that commemorates Avignons Saint-Benezet Bridge. "Sure le Point d Avignon, Lon y danse, lon danse." Translation: On the bridge of Avignon/ we all dance there/ we all dance there. In other words, dont be shy about breaking into a folk dance as you walk across this celebrated viaduct. And dont be surprised if you see other tourists dancing as well. In Pisa, tourists snap photos of one another holding up th Leaning Tower; in Avignon, tourists snap pictures of each other dancing on the Saint-Benezet Bridge.
Art Museums and The Festival dAvignon
Avignon has 10 art museums, which is proof the city is a hotbed for culture. Theres a reason why Picasso named his game-changing work of cubist art Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, right? Art lovers can find Middle Age paintings at the Calvert Museum and works by Impressionists at the Angladon Foundation. Looking for something a little more cutting-edge? The Lambert Collection showcases a selection of contemporary art. The Exposition d Art Contemporain is currently holding an exhibition of five of the art worlds most influential female artists, and it includes works by Camille Claudel, Kiki Smith, and Louise Bourgeois.
The Festival d Avignon is one of the city most famous cultural attractions. Founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar and held every summer in July, the theater festival highlights everything from avant-garde plays and Gregorian chants to all-night readings of The Odyssey. Over 950 different shows were performed in 2008. Avignon also puts on a contemporary dance festival (Hivernales de la Danse), and a varied program of theater productions, opera, and film make up everyday cultural life.
Gastronomy and Wine
Provence and the Rhone Valley are known around the world for their food and wine. Meat, game, fish stuffed with basil, thyme and rosemary, drizzled with olive oil and served with a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape -that, as the French like to say, is art de vivre. Avignon is the center of Provencal cookery. Whether you want to dine at a budget friendly café or an upscale restaurant in a charming courtyard, you can always find Provencal specialties.
Les Halles is the oldest covered market in the city, so if youre the type who enjoys an impromptu picnic by the water, head over to the famous stalls and peruse the local products. Some of the citys most famous gourmands go to Les Halles to buy ingredients for their Michelin Star restaurants. Be sure to wash it all down with a Cote du Rhone wine. If youre unsure of what kind of wine you like, you can sample a few in the Palace of Popes wine cellar.
Traveling Outside of Avignon
Provence is known for its beautiful countryside. The landscape is dotted with Poplar trees and fields of lavender. Yes. It looks just like a painting by Van Gogh. However, a day trip will also bring you to Mont Ventoux, the ocher rocks of Roussilon, as well as a handful of Roman and Gothic churches and abbeys. Depending how long youre docked in the City of Popes, a quick side trip might be a possible.
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