AVIGNON - THE CITY OF POPES
Avignon, the French city of Popes and capital city of the Cote du Rhone vineyards is famous for its UNESCO world heritage city centre, home to the incredible Pope’s Palace, the world-renowned Saint Benezet bridge - also known as Pont d’Avignon, origin of the famous song - and finally its wonderfully preserved ramparts, dating back to the 14th century. The city is a perfect start to your Provence walking holiday as it is the gateway to many walking itineraries heading towards the Alpilles mountains & the perched villages of the Lubéron.
A little bit of history:
Following the anarchic feuding going on in Rome at the beginning of the 14th century, the Pope Clement V decided to flee the Vatican city and head to Avignon - close to Chateauneuf du Pape, a papacy territory - and stayed with the local catholic landlord of Avignon. Later, the fourth pope Clement VI bought Avignon from Queen Jane of Naples and Provence against her absolution in her involvement in the murder of her husband. Clement VI then started the construction of the Pope’s palace that would later be embellished and fortified by the following two popes.
In 1377, after years of negotiation with Catherine of Sienna, the seventh pope Gregory XI decided to move the Papacy headquarters back to Rome. The anger at this decision was the origin of a schism - known as the great schism - which was a division in the Catholic church that lead to the presence of a Pope (Gregory XI) and an Antipope (Clement VII). In 1403, the successor of Clement VII, Benoit XIII, was chased from Avignon by the King of France.
Avignon, however, remained a Papacy territory up until the French revolution. Its rich religious history is still present today as many churches, chapels, icons and of course the Pope’s palace are very well maintained.
Present day :
Avignon is a vibrant city that has preserved its amazing cultural heritage. The city centre intra-muros is home to nearly 100 000 inhabitants and has become -for the most parts - a pedestrian area, with many streets unaccessible to cars. Perfect for wandering through the streets! It is also the birthplace of the Festival d’Avignon, a prestigious festival of contemporary theatre, founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, a famous French actor and director, and has become one of, if not the, world’s biggest theatre and live performing arts festival. A unique and memorable experience on your walking tour of Provence!
How to get there :
Avignon is very easily accessible with 2 train stations. The high speed train (TGV) takes just 2h40 from Paris , 1h from Lyon and 30mins from Marseille. The city is centrally located in Provence, ideal for heading off on your France walking tour into the heart of the Luberon, with its medieval villages, dry stone walls and huts, Provence lavender fields and cherry orchards. Or towards the Côte du Rhône vineyards and wine making villages at the foot of the Mont Ventoux, the famous mountain considered to be one of the most difficult stages of the Tour de France. You can also head towards Nimes and the Pont du Gard on your Provence cycling holiday, a breathtaking Roman aqueduct and a World heritage site that you can visit.
Avignon enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and very hot summers, reaching up to 40°C. This is the case for most of Provence! There is also the "mistral", a strong cold wind that travels through the Rhone Valley at a speed of up to 100km/h!