48 Hours: Avignon

Reaching this fascinating Provençal city is easy, and there are plenty of reasons – from food to festivals – to visit, says Mary Novakovich

Click here for 48 Hours in Avignon map

Travel essentials

Why go now?

The sunny Provençal city gets more accessible than ever as CityJet (0871 663 3777; cityjet.com) starts direct flights from London City airport this weekend. From 9 July, accessibility is augmented when Eurostar (08432 186 186; eurostar.com) restarts direct trains from London St Pancras. These summer services coincide with the opening of the annual Festival d'Avignon, one of France's largest theatre festivals (6-26 July; 00 33 4 90 27 66 50; festival-avignon.com) and its Fringe-like offshoot, Le Off (00 33 4 90 85 13 08; www.avignonleoff.com; 8-31 July). The historic streets will fill with actors, musicians and revellers.

Touch down

Avignon's Caumont airport, 8km south-east of the city, is served from London City by CityJet and from Birmingham, Exeter and Southampton by Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com).

Bus 21 ( tcra.fr) runs almost every hour on weekdays from the airport to the main post office (1) for €1.20 each way. Taxis charge about €20.

Until Eurostar's direct service resumes on 9 July, connecting high-speed trains are available from the UK via Paris or Lille (book through Rail Europe; 08448 484 064; raileurope.co.uk). Avignon TGV station is 3km south-west of the city centre, and shuttle buses run from here to the main post office (1) for €1.20. From 9 July-10 September, Eurostar trains will arrive at Avignon Centre station (2) on Saturdays, east of the ancient core of the city, from £109 return.

Get your bearings

Avignon's magnificent 4.3km of stone ramparts circle the old town, neatly containing all the major sights. The Palais des Papes (3), the world's largest Gothic palace and former home to nine popes, presides over a large square in the northern part of the old town. Here the Rhône river flows down to the western side, where the remnants of the Pont d'Avignon (4), officially known as Pont St-Bénézet, jut into the river. Just south of the Palais des Papes is the plane-tree-shaded Place de l'Horloge (5), with its numerous cafés, restaurants, town hall and opera house.

The tourist office (6) is at 41 cours Jean Jaurès (00 33 4 32 74 32 74; avignon-tourisme.com; Mon-Sat 9am-6pm; Sun 9.45am-5pm). Ask for a free Avignon Passion tourist pass, which gives you discounts on all the sights after you've paid for the first one.

Check in

Avignon's only five-star hotel, La Mirande (7), at 4 place de l'Amirande (00 33 4 90 14 20 20; la-mirande.fr; doubles from €330, room only) is in a former cardinal's palace beside the Palais des Papes. Behind the elegant 16th-century façade are 20 sumptuous rooms, a cookery school and a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Renaissance dining room, and spacious shaded terrace.

The bustling Place de l'Horloge (5) is on the doorstep of the smart 19th-century Hôtel l'Horloge (8) at 1 rue Félicien David (00 33 4 90 16 42 00; hotel-avignon-horloge.com; doubles from €115). The extensive buffet breakfast for €14 is particularly good value.

The rooms at Hôtel d'Angleterre (9), 29 boulevard Raspail, are simply furnished but the hotel offers a rare thing within Avignon's walls: free private parking (00 33 4 90 86 34 31; hoteldangleterre.fr; doubles from €50, room only).

Day one

Window shopping

Once you get over the sight of the bright green lawn covering the façade of the food market at Les Halles (10) on Place Pie, step inside for a heady whiff of superior Provençal produce. Time your visit for 11am on a Saturday (except in August) and you can watch cookery demonstrations by local chefs. The market opens at 6am every day except Monday, to 2pm at weekends and 1.30pm on other days ( avignon-leshalles.com).

Stock up on lavender products from Pure Lavande (11) at 61 Rue de la Grande Fusterie (00 33 4 90 14 70 05; lavandeandco.fr), which specialises in natural ingredients harvested from the Château du Bois lavender estate in Haute Provence.

Lunch on the run

A stroll through the Square Agricol Perdiguier park beside the tourist office (6) leads you to Place des Corps Saints (12), a small square with cafés shaded by plane trees. Ginette et Marcel at No 25 (00 33 4 90 85 58 70) specialises in tartines: slabs of toasted country bread covered in anything from cold meats and cornichons (€3.80) to warm goat's cheese and honey (€6.20).

Take a hike

Begin at the bottom of Place de l'Horloge (5), named after its 14th-century clock tower. To the left is an attractive tangle of pedestrianised streets full of shops and cafés hidden in small squares.

Turn right into Rue St-Agricol, past the 14th-16th-century church of the same name, and right again into Rue Joseph Vernet, where upmarket boutiques now live in its aristocratic 18th-century buildings. A left turn into Rue Mazan takes you to the lively Place Crillon (13) and its row of patio restaurants. Make a right outside the ramparts where you'll see the 12th-century Pont St-Bénezet (4). Both the bridge and its museum open daily from 9am; closing times vary, tickets €4.50, but reduced if you buy a combined ticket with the Palais des Papes.

Head into the Porte du Rhône and down the stately Rue de la Grand Fusterie before turning right into Rue Puits de la Reille. This leads to the broad expanse of the Place du Palais (14), dominated by the Palais des Papes (3) and the Petit Palais museum – with an impressive collection of Italian and Provençal paintings from the 13th to 16th centuries. Open 10am-1pm and 2-6pm daily, except Tuesday, €6.

An aperitif

The latest addition to the bar scene is Cave Avitus (15) at 11 Rue du Vieux Sextier (00 33 4 84 15 82 71; avituslacave.com). This stylish wine shop in one of the pedestrianised streets near Place de l'Horloge doubles as a bar, which offers cheese and charcuterie (€6) to go with its large selection of wines (from €4 a glass). On Place de l'Horloge (5) itself, Le Cid Café is a relaxed place for an early or late drink (00 33 4 90 82 30 38; lecidcafe.com).

Dining with the locals

Book a table in the pretty 17th-century courtyard of Restaurant l'Essentiel (16) on Rue Petite Fusterie (00 33 4 90 85 87 12; restaurantessentiel.com). The three-course €28 menu is extremely good value for the innovative and delicious dishes including ballottine of rabbit and red mullet with calamari and tapenade.

Many of the brasseries in Place de l'Horloge (5) are better suited to a drink than dinner, but La Civette (00 33 4 90 86 55 84) at No 26 serves generous portions of steak-frites for €9 and large pizzas for €9.90.

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

You can't miss the distinctive gilded statue of the Madonna that adorns the top of Nôtre-Dame-des-Doms (17), an imposing 12th-century cathedral beside the Palais des Papes. Within its elaborate Baroque interior is a Romanesque dome covering the chancel. Open 8am-6pm daily, with Sunday mass at 10am (00 33 4 90 821 221; cathedrale-avignon.fr).

The small 14th-century church of St-Didier (18), in Place St-Didier, offers a more intimate experience within its Gothic interior. Open 8am-7pm daily, Sunday mass at 11am.

A walk in the park

The hilltop gardens of Rocher des Doms (19), the site of Avignon's first settlement, are well worth a stroll. Perched over the Rhône, with far-reaching views of the valley and neighbouring Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, the gardens feature a tree-shaded duck pond, landscaped terraces, playground and even a tiny vineyard.

Out to brunch

You don't have to visit the Petit Palais (14) to enjoy the international flavours at Autour d'un Thé, Un Voyage... (00 33 4 90 86 44 58; autourdunthe.com). This elegant salon de thé offers a Sunday buffet (€22) by reservation from 11am to 3pm in its shaded garden or within the stone walls of the Petit Palais.

Cultural afternoon

The opulent lives of the 14th-century popes are evoked within the enormous rooms of the Palais des Papes (3), where the papacy decamped when things became too unstable in Rome (00 33 4 90 27 50 00; palais-des-papes.com; 9am-7pm; €10.50, including a very useful audio guide). The elaborate interiors have disappeared over the centuries, but the sheer scale of the ceremonial rooms, chapels and private apartments decorated with frescos, more than makes up for it. The main courtyard is the magical setting for many of the Festival d'Avignon's stage productions.

Follow the signs to the rooftop terrace and café: from a stony lookout post you can catch sweeping views of the Avignon's terracotta rooftops, the Rhône and the hills of the neighbouring Gard region over the border in Languedoc.

Take a ride

Boat cruises along the Rhône can range from short jaunts to full evening affairs with dinner and dancing until 1am. Compagnie des Grands Bateaux de Provence (00 33 4 90 85 62 25; mireio.net) runs 45-minute trips from the Allées de l'Oulle dock (20) for €8 in April and September at 3pm and 4.15pm, and hourly from 2-6pm in July and August.

The icing on the cake

Across the Rhône is Ile de la Barthelasse, the largest river island in Europe. A free ferry shuttles back and forth from just north of Pont St-Bénezet (4); 10am-12.30pm and 2-6.30pm daily, and 11am-9pm July-August. Luxuriate in the calm of city's green lungs. There are campsites, restaurants, a youth hostel and a municipal outdoor swimming pool, but many Avignonnais just like to picnic by the river's edge on organic produce bought directly from the island's farmers.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits