I first remember hearing the song “Sur le pont d’Avignon,” during my grade school French class. After I announced that I would be majoring in French in college, my dad, a professional musician who’s only contact with French has been through music, would jokingly begin most phone conversations by singing “Sur le pont d’Avignon” (or if he was feeling really motivated, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from Bizet’s famous opera, Carmen). Now, whenever I hear the name “Avignon,” I have an uncontrollable musical response and the song lyrics flood my mind, making it impossible to hear the rest of what is being said! Despite this fact, I had never been to Avignon before my most recent trip to France. Let’s just say both the “Pont”and the city itself live up to their international fame garnered by the song.
Avignon’s architecture is marked by centuries of papal history. One of the main tourist attractions is Le Palais des Pâpes (The Palace of the Popes), which was built in the 14th century and now overlooks a lively square. The museums housed in the Petit Palais and Palais du Roure (not far from The Palace of the Popes) are also worth a visit. Of course, the famous Pont d’Avignon (Le pont de Saint Bénézet) is a must see. Stop a few kilometers out of the town for the best photo opportunities.
I simply enjoyed wandering through Avignon’s winding streets, admiring the private mansions and lovely facades. One of the most beautiful streets is rue Joseph Vernet, near the Calvet and Requien Museums. The Place de l’Horloge is a great spot for people-watching. However, if you want great food at better prices, it’s best to seek out a brasserie on one of the low-key side streets off of Place de l’Horloge (not on the touristy rue de la République). The “clock square” houses the grandiose Hôtel de Ville with its large animated clock, the Opéra, and a lovely carousel. From this central location, tourists can access routes to the Palais de Pâpes, and Pont d’Avignon.
While you’re near Place de l’Horloge, look for a handsome gentleman selling silver jewelry. If it’s Sarl Demiurgos, you’re in for a treat. His creations are lovely and very reasonably priced. Sarl is a great conversationalist in both French and English. I have fond memories of our chat and I’m still enjoying the unique sterling pieces I purchased from him.
Avignon is famous on an international scale for it’s annual theater festival, Festival d’Avignon , in July and August. The tradition began in 1947, and now Avignon welcomes nearly 120,000 spectators and theater aficionados each summer. Running parallel to the Festival d’Avignon is Festival Off d’Avignon (The Off Festival), a series of street shows and labs set up by aspiring actors. These performances typically take place late at night after the plays sponsored by the theater festival have finished for the evening.
If you’re looking for a charming city with a grand history and thriving arts scene, you will surely not be disappointed by a stay in lively Avignon.
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com