Market at Les Halles, Place Pie (Tues.-Sun.)
Distance from Uzès: 40km (45minutes)
I have lost count of the number of times that I have been to Avignon over the years and have stayed in the historic centre as well as on the periphery especially when taking an early morning TGV train to Paris. It is one of those places that you need to see as part of your France education, particularly if you have been brought up on the “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” ditty.
It is a large city with extensive commercial centres and has all the traffic issues associated with peak periods even though there are ring roads that help to some extent depending on where you are heading. Use your GPS and be patient! Recently the bridge approach from Uzès has been having upgrade work done over a long period and car lanes blocked off so often have to factor this in if heading towards the TGV station.
The old city sits beside the beautiful River Rhône encircled by the high stone wall of the historic centre and is dominated by the austere presence of the former Papal Palace (Palais des Papes) since the 14th century. While it is sadly devoid of the magnificent furnishings and decoration that would have once embellished its vast spaces, it is an interesting place to explore.
Just in front of it, there is often a little tourist train Le Petit Train which is really good value and especially nice if you need to rest your weary legs for a bit.
The train takes you into the little back streets and you can listen to the history of various buildings and events in your own language and pick out a place to eat which is off the beaten track.
It will also take you to the beautiful gardens of Rocher des Doms with fantastic views from its high vantage point. It leaves every 20 minutes and the tour lasts for 40 minutes but times and days vary seasonally.
Check www.cars-lieutaud.fr for up to date information.
After visiting the Palais du Papes follow the signs to Pont Saint-Bénezét where you need to allow plenty of time to listen to your audio-guide and to explore all the different aspects.
Many people are quite surprised to see that it is only a partial bridge, having been washed away in the mid 17th century after being restored and reconstructed several times. There is now a 3D representation of what the original bridge with 22 spans would have looked like.
Other sights to see: Place de l’Horloge and the theatre and town hall (Hôtel de Ville) and old style carousel for children. Hotel Mirande – a very beautiful old hotel where you can also take lessons on French Cooking in an amazing kitchen below ground level.
Avoid the tourist restaurants if you can and instead explore the back streets behind the Papal Palace and the little “places” or squares with several cafés having both indoor and outdoor eating possibilities. Parking just outside of the wall can be a smart move as it is easy to just walk around the main tourist areas as much of it is pedestrianized. The tourist bureau is excellent and the city has a wonderful theatrical festival in July when accommodation is pricier and often sold out but if you stay in our house it will not be a problem!