Where to start
1 The main avenue within the walled city, Rue de la République, with its many shops and restaurants, merits an inquisitive stroll. On this street is the Tourism Office, where you can ask for a free Avignon Passport, which provides discounts at various tourist sites. 41 rue de la République, 04.32.74.32.72, www.avignon-tourisme.com. Pick up the free magazine Lylo, available in most bars and restaurants, for tips to all Avignon’s events.
North of Rue de la République is Place de l’Horloge (Clocktower Square), a vast rectangular place in front of the 19th-century City Hall with a beautiful 14th-century tower in its midst. The Belle Époque Carousel occupies one end of the square, which is lined with convivial, shaded terrace cafés.
2 On the square’s northeast corner you’ll find La Civette, probably the best place for a strong espresso in the company of locals. The friendly staff will happily serve you a simple baguette with jam instead of the more costly full breakfast. Open daily. 26 place de l’Horloge, 04.90.86.55.84
3 For a more chic, brasserie-type breakfast, try L’Opéra Café. It’s a tad pricier but distinguished from its neighbors by its sober and refined design. This is the hip place to see and be seen. Also great for a drink at night in a lounge-music atmosphere with a resident DJ. Open daily. 24 place de l’Horloge, 04.90.86.17.43
What to do? What to see?
4 The famous Place du Palais, alarge square directly in front of the Palais des Papes,is easy to find and an entertaining place to be during festivals, due to the endless lineup of street performers.
Most of Avignon’s historical monuments were built in the 14th century, when Pope Clement V and his court fled political chaos in Rome and settled here. Seven French-born popes ruled during the 70 years that the Holy See was based in Avignon. Huge sums of money were invested in building the massive Gothic papal palace that still dominates the city-a must-see! €7.50 in low season; €9.50 high season. Open daily, 9 a.m-7 p.m., until 9 p.m during the festival. We highly recommend the audio tour, available in English, with very thorough and interesting explanations. www.palais-des-papes.com
5 From there, head to Maison Jean Vilar for exhibits about the history of the annual theater festival (simply called Festival d’Avignon) and information on the work of producer Jean Vilar (1912-71), the actor and director who created the festival in 1947. Free. Tues-Sat, 9 a.m-5 p.m; closed in August. 8 rue de Mons, Montée Paul Puaux, 04.90.86.59.64, maisonjeanvilar.com
6 The Collection Yvon Lambert is one of the best and most original contemporary art ensembles, boasting pieces by Robert Ryman, Brice Marden, Anselm Kiefer and Andres Serrano, among others. Many artists not seen in national collections-such as Cy Twombly, Nan Goldin-have a place of choice here. €5.50. Tues-Sun, 11 a.m-6 p.m.
Hôtel de Caumont, 5 rue Violette, 04.90.16.56.20, www.collectionlambert.com
7 You can’t leave without a look at Avignon’s big medieval attraction, commonly called the Pont d’Avignon,although its official name is Pont St-Bénezet. The famous bridge-yes, the one in the children’s song “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (On the Bridge of Avignon)-was built around 1175 and suffered frequent collapses. After several reconstructions, it was finally put out of commission by a catastrophic flood in the 17th century. €3.50. Open daily, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Rue Ferruce, 04.90.27.51.16
8 Leave behind the tourist-filled restaurants near the Place du Palais and head to LeBazou Avignon, where you’ll feel at home right away. All the decorations-cleverly chosen at flea markets-are for sale, from an old piano to avant-garde objets, old books and statuettes. Located in an old monastery, it has a singular atmosphere with a jukebox playing jazz standards and French songs. €13 for a full lunch. Open daily.24 rue du Chapeau-Rouge, 04.90.27.95.60
9 If you prefer an outdoor setting, go for L’Épicerie, a charming popular restaurant perfect for lunch under the plane trees. You can enjoy the ornamentation and architecture of St-Pierre Church, right in front of the restaurant. The food is fresh, inventive and modern. It’s totally out of the question to order a steak-frites-instead try the delicious apricot confit d’agneau or the bourride Provençale. €14 to €21 à la carte. Open daily. 10 place St-Pierre, 04.90.82.74.22
And for dinner?
10 Ready for a culinary trip? Chef Élie Gandon invites you to discover Asian dishes topped with his secret spices in a bewitching monastery from the 14th century at La Compagnie des Comptoirs. Its bar-lounge is also open every night for an intimate drink after dinner. €40-45 à la carte. Open Tues-Sat. 83 rue Joseph Vernet, 04.90.85.99.04
11 A cheaper option is WoollooMooloo, a real “bobo” (bourgeois bohemian) atmosphere with world cuisine at great prices. It’s a good starting point for exploring the rehabilitated Quartier des Teinturiers (the old dyers’ quarter) that is now Avignon’s bohemian and increasingly trendy part of town. €20 for a three-course meal. Open daily.16 rue des Teinturiers, 04.90.85.28.44, www.woolloo.com
12 From sunset to 2 a.m., the Delirium Tzigane cultural salon features live music and all kinds of art performances, daily during the festival, only on weekends the rest of the year. This high-end Avignon spot has a strong gypsy feel. You need to be a member (pay €2 at the door). 23 rue de la République, 04.90.85.44.56,www.ledelirium.net
13 In a different style, Les Passagers du Zinc, sited in an old train station, always has a great program for concerts. 23 route de Montfavet, 04.90.89.45.49, www.passagersduzinc.com
Where to sleep
14 Traveling to Avignon outside the busy festival dates makes it easier to find a room, but it’s always a good idea to reserve in advance. For a local experience, try La Vigne, a bed-and-breakfast in Villeneuvelès-Avignon, just outside the city. A beautiful house with an incredible view of the Palais des Papes. Double room €77 in low season; €93 high season. 28 rue de la Monnaie, 04.90.89.50.31, www.avignon-et-provence.com(click on Chambres d’Hôtes)
15 For a central location, try the Regency-style hotel La Mirande, located right behind the Palais des Papes. Doubles start at €295. 4 place de la Mirande, 04.90.14.20.20, www.la-mirande.fr
How to get there
16, 17 Two train stations serve Avignon: From the TGV station, a bit farther out, a shuttle train takes you to Gare Centre-Ville, right across the boulevard from Porte de la République. About a two-hour TGV ride from Paris. 08.36.35.35.35, www.sncf.fr
Le Festival d’Avignon
One of Avignon’s best-known attractions is its festival of dance, music and theater, which takes place in venues all over town every summer. Plays are often staged at historical monuments, even in the streets, with close audience rapport. For dates and program: www.festival-avignon.com
If you’re in town during the Festival…
- By all means, go see a show at La Cour d’Honneur du Palais des Papes, inside the palace-the décor is breathtaking.
- Check out the fringe theater festival, called the OFF Festival, at www.avignon-off.org
- Every year a different unofficial Bar du Festival is chosen as a meeting point for organizers, performers and viewers. Ask locals for the address.