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Avignon, France - Part 1 - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Travelling

If you fancy getting away what better than a trip to the historic and gastronomic Provençal city of Avignon. It is an easy train journey or short flight away and is ideal for that long weekend break you have been promising yourself.

While flying from the UK to Avignon can be done very easily my advice would be to catch the train. It takes from just five and a half hours to speed down to the Provençal hub from St Pancras. It offers a greener and possibly swifter option than flying, since there are almost n direct flights from the UK to Avignon’s airport. If you plan to leave London before sunrise then by lunch you can be drinking a glass of Côtes du Rhône by the banks of that very river.

The city is tucked into a bend on the right bank of the Rhône. Avignon has been occupied for around 5, 000 years. Its strategic position made it a key Roman trading post, but it was a group of popes who really put it on the map. In 1309, with Rome in political chaos, Pope Clement V moved base from Italy to the safety of southern France. Six subsequent popes used the city as their base until 1378, when a split in the church ended the Avignon Papacy, although the city remained papal property until 1791’s revolutionary upheaval.

The church left quite a legacy with their residence, the Palais des Papes. Work on it begun in 1335 and it was constructed in less than 20 years and it is still the biggest Gothic palace in Europe. Now the city’s must see sight, its 15, 000 sq. m of floor space is enclosed within bulky crenelated ramparts that still dominate the city today.

However, it is still a city of several parts. Labyrinthine old Avignon intramurros, protected within still-intact medieval walls, is home to the Palais, many museums and innumerable bars and restaurants. These range from tourist bland to Michelin starred. There’s also a profusion of theatres, though cultural activity really peaks during July’s three weeklong Festival d’Avignon, when 1, 000 performances are held across the city.

On the opposite bank of the Rhône, and in a different region of France, the Languedoc-Roussillon rather than Provence is Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. The only this ‘new’ town is pretty old as well. It was granted city status in 1293 to guard the western side of the 900m-long Saint-Bénezet Bridge. This is the famed 22-arch ‘Pont d’Avignon’ that once spanned the river. The popes would retreat here for some peace and Pope Innocent VI founded an impressive monastery here.

Villeneuve is still a quiet alternative to Avignon, though the bridge has mostly gone with just four of its arches still standing. In modern Avignon suburbs now sprawl around these two old centres. Further beyond that is a landscape striped by vineyards and dotted with hilltop towns.

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