The Papal Gateway to Provence
At the gateway to Provence, Avignon is a magnificent reminder of the medieval period when it was the capital of Christendom. Artists have been coming to Provence ever since in search of the “magic light” and aroma of lavender.
Just a bit over two hours from Paris by TGV, Avignon is more than papal history. It’s art, activity, life. Stop at a terrace café along the Place de l'Horloge, a long square in front of the Hôtel de Ville. At the top end, take a ride on the “Belle Epoque" carousel.
Avignon is also a city of culture. A theater festival created by actor/director Jean Vilar brings over 120,000 spectators. Dance, music and drama come to life in events staged at historical monuments and in the streets.
Although there are now two train stations in Avignon, most travelers will arrive at the brand new Avignon TGV station at the outskirts of the city. Frequent shuttle bus service is available from the TGV terminal into the city center to the Avignon Centre station, taking about 10 minutes.
From the Avignon Centre station it is a short 15-minute walk to the highlight of the city, the Papal Palace. The ramparts, built by the popes in the 14th century, still encircle Avignon and are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence.
Several fine bridges cross the Rhône, including the famous little Pont St-Bénézet known for the nursery song Sur le pont d’Avignon.
If you would like to find artistic inspiration, follow the painters for short trips into the surrounding area. The Provence of Paul Cézanne is a short, 20-minute train ride south to Aix. You can tour his studio of “light and silence” where he created many important works, including an abundance of still lifes – mainly pictures of fabrics, pottery and fruits, especially apples.
Also twenty minutes away is Van Gogh’s utopia of Arles where he pained his Sunflowers and tortured masterpiece Starry Night. Even the Romans recognized the ethereal beauty of Arles, naming the town a second capital of the empire. There are now a number of monuments still standing and are UNESCO Heritage Sites.
These cities are equal distance from Avignon, but go in a completely different direction – just like the artists themselves. For you, all directions point to a real, traveler experience. Use a France Rail Pass to help you see it all.
To learn more about preparing your trip to France, visit Atout France by clicking here if you’re a US resident or here if you’re a Canadian resident
Contributed by: Eric, Specialty Desk Agent, loves to frequent European events on visits with family in wonderful Kassel and Dortmund.