If you’re planning a trip to Europe and want to include France on your itinerary, consider making an excursion to the South of France. The southern region of France is home to warmer temperatures and beautiful beaches that make it a great French holiday destination. You’ll quickly discover its Mediterranean climate and amazing food is the perfect combination for relaxing and unwinding. But if venturing out and exploring is more your speed then there are a plethora of cute, little French villages for you to discover. These towns offer a wonderful opportunity to take photos and understand French history. Your photos will definitely make you the envy of your friends as you share the incredible towns you discover. One of my favorite towns in the South of France is Avignon. The walled city is beautiful and filled with history and culture. Let’s explore the best things to do in Avignon so you can start planning your own trip.
Where is Avignon, France?
Avignon is the capital of the Vaucluse department located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. More importantly, the city of Avignon is located in the southeastern region of the country which means you can easily add it to your itinerary should you decide to tour the South of France (which I highly recommend). Avignon is approximately a 3 hour train ride from Paris and about a 1-2 hour train ride from Lyon. If you’re in the South of France, it is even more accessible. You can also drive to the city or take a bus but the train is, by far the easiest option.
When to Visit Avignon, France
Given Avignon’s proximity to the Mediterranean coast, the city has a that wonderful Mediterranean climate for a large portion of the year. However, temperatures can vary widely with half the year experiencing cold temperatures and half the year experiencing warmer temperatures. The best months to visit are June, July, and August because summers in Avignon are dry and temperatures are warm and pleasant. Summer is also when you’ll find lavender in full bloom which makes the city and region even more pleasant to explore. However, since summer months offer the best weather, you’ll find the highest prices for things such as hotels and tourist attractions.
June-August: As stated above, this is the best time to visit Avignon. Temperatures are warm and flowers are in bloom which makes exploring the city all the more enjoyable. However, prices are at their highest during this time of the year and you will meet the largest crowds.
September-November: Fall in Avignon can be pleasant with lower prices and moderate crowds. Of course, flowers are dying at this point so you won’t get to experience the lavender but it may well be worth it to save a few bucks. Just bear in mind that night time temperatures can dip as low as the 40s (4C).
December-February: From December to February is winter in Avignon. Temperatures are at their coldest ranging from approximately 65F (18C) in October to as low as 48F (8C) in January. You’ll definitely need to pack your winter coats. However, this is by far the most affordable time to visit Avignon. Hotels offer their lowest rates during this time of the year. But some hotels shut down for the low season and so do some attractions. You’ll want to phone ahead to confirm they’re open.
March-May: Spring in Avignon is similar to Fall and is a great option if you’d like to save a bit of money but experience warmer weather. Some businesses and attractions may still be closed in early Spring so you’ll need to figure that out but if you head to Avignon in mid to late Spring then you’re bound to find businesses open and offering lower rates then Summer. Temperatures during Spring in Avignon range from 56F (13C) to 68F (20C).
History of Avignon, France
Avignon has a long and storied history since people have lived where the city now sits for nearly 5000 years. The city itself was once one of three Gallic cities, which was called Aouenion, of the Celtic-Ligurian tribe of Cavares which included Cavaillon and Orange. In 120 BC, Roman Legions arrived and the city was renamed Avennio making it part of Gallia Narbonensis, the first Transalpine province of the Roman Empire.
However, Avignon’s historic importance primarily occurred in the 14th Century. At this time it did not belong to France but instead to the Duke of Anjou, a vassal of the Pope. In 1309 Pope Clement V chose to move the papal residence to Avignon because the situation in Italy was unstable. As a result, Avignon was the seat of the Catholic church for 67 years until Pope Gregory XI moved the seat of the papacy back to Rome. During this time 7 Popes ruled from Avignon (greatly influenced by the French) and the city was purchased by Pope Clement VI in 1348 from Joanna I of Naples, the Queen of Naples and Countess of Provence for 80,000 Florins. This allowed the papacy to expand their power greatly and the city would belong to the Catholic church until the French Revolution.
Things to see and do in Avignon
Palais des Papes
Construction on Palais de Papes in Avignon began in 1252 AD and served as the Papal residence for 68 years. It is the largest Gothic style building in Europe and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can choose to admire it from the outside or take a tour of the 25 interior rooms that are open to the public. Price of the tour is €12 per person.
Address: Place du Palais, 84000 Avignon, France
Musée du Petit Palais
Musée du Petit Palais in Avignon, France is located just to the left of Palais de Papes and originally served as fortress during the Western Schism. It was during this time Pope Julius II remodeled the building and added his coat of arms to the south facade of the building. The museum houses over 900 painting and sculptures by Italian and French artists from the Gothic and Renaissance periods; many of which were comissioned for churches in the region and date to the 14th Century during the Avignon Papacy.
Address: Palais des archevêques, Place du Palais, 84000 Avignon, France
Legend has it that in 1177 a shepherd named Bénézet was instructed to build a bridge over the Rhône River connecting France with Papal territory. He went to church authorities to tell them but no one believed him so he was blessed with superhuman strength to lift a giant stone for its construction. After this “miracle” authorities heeded his requests and agreed to build the bridge which originally included 22 arches and spanned a distance of 915 meters. At the time, this would have been an engineering marvel. However flooding in 17th Century damaged and eventually washed away most the bridge leaving behind a small segment including a few arches, the gatehouse, western terminal, Tour Phillippe-le-Bel, and the Chapel of St. Nicholas. The bridge is know more widely as the Pont d’Avignon and inspired a French children’s song called Sur le Pont d’Avignon.
If you visit Palais de Papes, your ticket to the Palais also grants you admission to the bridge.
Address: Pont d’Avignon, Boulevard de la Ligne, 84000 Avignon, France
Notre-Dame des Doms
Also located next to Palais de Papes, Notre-Dame des Doms is a Roman Catholic Church which serves as the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon. The beautiful Romanesque building was built in second half of the 12th Century and is prominently topped by gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. Inside you can discover many works of art and even view the mausoleum of Pope John XXII.
Address: Place du Palais, 8400 Avignon, France
Place de l’Horloge
The main square in Avignon is known as Place de l’Horologe and is named after Avignon’s Gothic clock tower. However this clock tower is difficult to see as it is hidden behind neoclassical buildings today. The square is a great place to grab a bite to eat, have a coffee, or sit and people watch. You’ll see a carousel for kids and in December this is the location of a Christmas market.
Outside Avignon, France
If you care to venture outside of Avignon, you’ll discover a few interesting places. So be a little adventurous and check out these three if you get the chance.
Les Baux de Provence
Located about 18 miles (30 kilometers) South of Avignon lies the small village of Les Baux de Provence. The town sits atop a rocky outcrop in the countryside known as Alpilles. The total population of the village is just over 400 people and it has been designated as one a Plus Beaux Villages de France or one of the most beautiful villages in France. Surrounded by steep limestone slopes and crowned by the ruins of Château des Baux, built in the 900s, this town is sure to get your travel juices flowing.
To visit the city of Arles from Avignon, it is as easy as hopping on a train and taking a 20 minute ride. That’s right, you can get to Arles in no time at all and enjoy Roman ruins and explore art history. Arles is home to a number of Roman and Romanesque features including an arena dating back to 90 AD, a theater, and an obelisk. The city also lays along the Chemin d’Arles which is a classical road used by pilgrims traveling from Italy and the South of France on their way to Santiago de Compostela. While visiting Arles, be sure to stop by the Cloistures of St. Trophime which are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Finally, Picasso, Chagall, and Van Gogh all spent time in Arles with Van Gogh painting some of his most famous works while in the city. You can visit many of the places which inspired their work.
Nîmes & Pont du Gard
One of my favorite cities in France is Nîmes which is located a short 33 minute train ride from Avignon. This city is brimming with Roman ruins including a huge arena still in use, temples, walls, towers, and gates. If you want to learn more about this city check out the Best Things to Do In Nîmes, France. Just a short bus ride outside of Nîmes, you can visit the Pont du Gard which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This aquaduct is the largest ever built by the Roman Empire and is stunningly beautiful.
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