40 minutes from Marseille by train
Can you stay in Provence without taking a trip to Avignon? It’s up to you, yet this town is so iconic within national French culture, and in many other ways too, that it’d really be a shame to miss out on it.
At the meeting point of the Rhône and Durance rivers, this is a city with great significance to the church and the world of theatre, as well as having been immortalised by a little tune known the world over. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) naturally evokes the days of the pontiffs who once reigned there. Its courtyard is also one of the key sites of the theatre festival that the city has hosted since 1947. It was set up by the actor and director Jean Vilar in 1947, to create the most visible possible national and international showcase for theatre.
A visit to the Gothic palace from the 14th century will perhaps be just the first act in a busy day exploring the Papal city. The Pont Saint-Bénezet is the bridge of the famous nursery rhyme “Sur le pont d’Avignon”. Built at the end of the 12th century, it was the first crossing over the Rhône between Lyon and the sea. Yet bridging such a furious river is not without risk; carried away by several floods, and rebuilt several times, it has ended up being abandoned with only half of it standing. The river won the battle. Also don’t miss the Musée du Petit Palais (home to paintings from the Middle Age and Italian Renaissance), the walls, the Notre-Dame des Doms Basilica, and of course, the wines of the Rhône Valley. You won’t want to leave!