Avignon: The Heart of Provence

I knew after leaving Paris, I needed to head south towards Italy to meet my mom. So I tried to figure out where I’d want to go in France on my way to Italy. And then I remembered Avignon.

I remember learning about Avignon in school – specifically, the Avignon Captivity where the papacy moved from the Vatican to Avignon. Avignon is also the heart of Provence, and is well-served by rail and public transit (yes, still too chicken to rent a car in Europe!).

So I headed down to Avignon! I found a little studio to rent in the heart of the old town, and spent a few days exploring. It also didn’t hurt that I found a train service called OuiGo, which runs a high-speed train service from Paris to Marseilles, and stops at a few places including Avignon. I was able to get my train ticket for only 10 Euro!

I spent my first morning taking a walk along the Rhone, which runs through Avignon. As I was walking to the river, the scent of fresh lavender wafted through the air. I was thinking to myself “You HAVE to be kidding. There’s no way this place smells like lavender! This is straight out of a movie or a novel about Provence!”

While it was a perfect welcome, I realized quickly the whole town does not, in fact, smell of lavender all the time. There were workers just around the bend from me who were trimming it bak for the winter! But still, it was a novel-perfect introduction to Avignon.

The old papal palace is one of the centerpieces of Avignon, and it’s quite a sight to behold! It’s interesting because in so many ways I associate the papacy with the opulence of Vatican City, not with the image of a warring pope.

The palace in Avignon definitely fits the image of a pope at war – it’s more of a castle than a palace, and it’s defensively placed at a bend in the river and up on a hill. It’s a good and interesting reminder that the papacy has not always been about peace. (In fact, a good reminder that that’s a relatively new development!)

Provence looks exactly like all the paintings of it. I know so many of the impressionists were especially inspired by this region, and I can see why. I was there in September, and the fields were golden with an almost-harvest, the hills were rolling all the way in the distance, and the trees were like soldiers, all lined up and pointing to the heavens. It was a magical place to be.

Near the papal palace, there’s also a park up on the hill. It’s such a fun park, with a number of different viewpoints, a few ponds, and statues around. The views on a clear day (and luckily I was blessed with clear days!) stretch for miles around. It was such a great place to relax with my book and spend a few hours just enjoying life outside.

As something of the “breadbasket” of France, the food in Provence (and Avignon especially) was AMAZING. I can’t even begin to describe the succulent meats and fresh vegetables. And the bread. Oh the bread! I think I owe about seven pounds around my waistline to the food in Provence!

Avignon was a wonderful place on its own, and if you’re willing to rent a car, I’ve heard it’s the perfect place to head out to the vineyards and lavender fields of Provence. Next time, that’s my plan! (And yes, there WILL be a next time!)

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