A world-famous arts festival, an ever-thriving wine trade and a lively student population ensure Avignon isn’t just a showcase of medieval architecture, but a buzzing Provencal center as well.
Day 1: Pont and Palace
Start at the Palais des Papes, the spot which was once the center of the Western world when the Popes made Avignon their home-away-from-Rome in the 14th century. The forbidding stone walls still exude an air of chilling authority. The palace’s Grand Chapel is an imposing bare space, but if you want decoration, the beautiful chapels of Saint Martial and Saint Jean are where it’s at. Stop in at the Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral with its squat, square spire on your way to the original bridge to nowhere, the Pont d’Avignon (actually Pont St-Bénézet). Dancing optional.
Day 2: Town and Country
The morning is devoted to epoch-hopping art appreciation. Walk along Avignon’s charming winding streets and take your pick from antiquities reflecting Avignon’s Roman roots at the Musée Lapidaire, the Petit Palais, which displays art from the Popes’ Avignonian sojourn, and the Musée Angladon which boasts a Van Gogh among its small but impressive collection concentrating on Post-Impressionists. Then for a complete change of pace, head for the Collection Lambert, whose elegant stone building houses up-to-the-minute contemporary art. In the afternoon, head out to the countryside and its lush lavender bounty beyond the confines of Avignon’s medieval walls.
Day 3: Stones and Rocks
Ah yes, the walls. They’re an attraction in their own right, with exhibits at various points. Spend the morning on these medieval ramparts with their sweeping views of the city within and the countryside beyond. Duck into the narrow streets at will and you might come across the university, founded in 1303, or ecclesiastical treasures along the Promenade des Teinturiers. Finally, enjoy a well-earned rest in the landscaped park on Rocher des Doms, an outcrop which enjoys stunning views of the Rhône and surrounding countryside.