We departed Annecy on the 12.45pm train for the five hour journey to Avignon, with one change at Valence Ville. Our decision to go to Avignon was made at the same time we decided at the very last minute to leave Switzerland and head to Annecy only a few days prior, so we didn’t really know what to expect apart from some very quick online research. The fare was about AU$150 for the two of us, and as usual, Jack travelled for free.
Our digs for the night, the Ibis Budget
We arrived in Avignon and walked the 500-600 metres to our hotel, the Ibis Budget which was located on the outside edge of the 800-year-old stone wall which surrounds the Old Town. Sarah took over the job of finding our hotel for this stay, and she did a fine job. The Ibis Budget cost about AU$165 for the two nights, had great Wi-Fi throughout and was obviously very close to the Old Town and train station. We dumped our stuff in the room, which featured a double bed with a single bunk running perpendicular over the top. I ended up sleeping here while Sarah and Jack shared the big bed below.
Finding dinner in the Avignon Old Town
It was almost dinner time so we decided to head into the Old Town to find somewhere for Jack to have a run around and something decent, but inexpensive for dinner. We walked back towards the train station and entered through the gate in the wall onto Cours Jean Jaures, the main the road that connects with Rue de la Republique to the main square, Place de L’Horloge. About 100 metres into our walk we came across a playground at Square Agricol Perdiguier right next to the Tourist Centre. After Jack blew off some steam for 30 minutes we kept walking into Place de L’Horloge to find some food, but after a bit of looking about ended up back at O’Neill’s Irish Pub, right opposite Square Agricol Perdiguier! Isn’t that always the way, you search for somewhere to eat and end up back where you started at the place across the road.
I give you the worst paid tourist attraction ever – Pont d’Avignon
Before heading back to O’Neill’s for a meal, we managed to sneak in a visit to the famous Pont d’Avignon, also known as Le Pont Saint-Benetez. It was built in the middle ages supposedly after a local shepherd, Benetez, was inspired by angels to build a bridge. He was knocked back by the town’s authorities, so he threw a boulder into the river (sounds plausible) which became the foundation stone, demonstrating ‘divine will’ and the rejection was quickly reversed. Benetez was canonised and a small chapel was built on the bridge in his honour. After being told at the exit door it was going to cost us €5 to walk on bridge, and we’d have to wait until the following day as it was about to close, we went around to the entrance gate and the lovely lady let us in for free right there and then! Once you get past the boulder throwing story, the bridge is without the doubt the most pathetic ‘attraction’ you have to pay for we’ve ever come across. Without the story it would just be another stone bridge extending halfway across a river, that doesn’t even have great views. Unless you’re religious and want to experience this bridge with the ‘divine’ past, don’t bother paying the entrance fee. Just check it out from the ground and you’ll be satisfied.
The biggest meals ever at O’Neill’s
When we got to O’Neill’s we ordered some nachos for me, Sarah blew the budget on a duck dish, and Jack got an enchilada. We were tossing up whether to get Jack a meal of his own or just eat some of ours, and when the meals arrived we realised we’d made the wrong decision. They were probably the biggest meals we’ve ever seen, or at least Jack’s and mine were. Sarah’s was also a good size, and for a total of about €35 including drinks, it wasn’t too badly priced. I got through about half of the nachos before I couldn’t stomach another corn chip, while Jack barely made a dent in his enchilada.
Exploring Avignon on foot
After a good night’s sleep we headed off to check out the old town with over 5,000 years of history, but the truth is I wasn’t that excited. From our initial taste of Avignon the night before, I wasn’t very impressed at all. I thought it was hugely overrated, but this was a new day and we hadn’t really explored much at all. Our first stop was the Tourist Office to collect a map, and after explaining that we just wanted to walk around and explore as much of the city as possible, we were given a map with four separate walking trails. If your goals are the same as ours, I encourage you to get this map which also has a passport to explore the city’s monuments and museums. You pay full price for your first visit where you get your ‘passport’ stamped (it’s just a piece of paper), and then you get discounts at all participating monuments and museums, as well as many excursions and guided tours.
Each walking trail is a different colour, so we decided to kick start our exploring on the red line. I’m so glad we got our hands on this map because it showed us that Avignon is actually a really beautiful city, and over the next day and a half we managed to complete three of the four walking trails. Sure there are some worthwhile places you must visit, like the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), the largest gothic edifice in the world and where the Popes fled to from the corruption of Rome in the 14th century. They built this palace and the ramparts to keep the plague and invaders out during the middle ages, when Avignon became the epicentre of the Christian world. It’s an impressive building, and the Rocher des Doms, the massive outcropping of rock rising over the banks of the Rhine next to it, is a quiet spot away from the crowds with a public park, views over the surrounding countryside, a playground and coffee shop. Perfect to have a rest while the Jack had a play.
The Place du Palais (square next to the Palais des Papes) and the large, central Place de L’Horloge, are where tourists congregate for a bite to each as there’s plenty of restaurants and open spaces to sit and do a bit of people watching. But Avignon is much, much better when venturing away from these places in pretty much any direction. There are loads of little squares, far more appealing and delightful than the two main squares, and the food is cheaper as well. The little back streets were full of character, and a lot more interesting than the main tourist thoroughfares.
However, with every turn I was as equally impressed as I was disappointed. Avignon has the potential to be one of the great European destinations for tourists and locals alike, but for whatever reason, it isn’t living up to its full potential. Whether the locals or powers that be simply aren’t interested in improving the look of the city, I’m not sure, but if the local vandals just stopped painting graffiti all over the walls and they picked up the rubbish off the streets it would be so much more appealing. And I’d like to meet the person who decides where the street signage and enormous recycling and rubbish bins are located, because they couldn’t be placed in more inappropriate locations if they tried. You want to take a photo of a beautiful street scene, square or tourist attraction, and there’s advertising signs or great big rubbish bins in the way. With a little more thought and effort, this city could go from a 7.5/10 to a 9.5/10.
Take a look at the photogallery below to see images of our stay on Avignon…