Avignon City Guide

Of all the Provençal towns, cities and villages of the Rhône, Avignon is the prettiest and most captivating of the lot.

Boasting a historic timeline to rival cities four times its size and status, not to mention a café culture that Paris would fail to better; the city is the perfect place to stop, relax and enjoy a snapshot of the beauty and history of southern France on the waters of the Rhône.

For history lovers and architecture buffs alike, Avignon proves a melting pot of antique heritage buildings and charming cobblestone streets. The city is wrapped in fortified medieval walls complemented by a string of ancient bridges, and its historic center, with its enchanting monuments, is protected by UNESCO on account of its irreplaceable heritage, beauty and culture.

All this comes before we'e mentioned Avignon's true highlight, the enigmatic Palais des Papes. As one of the largest medieval Gothic buildings in Europe, this sweeping fortified palace served as the papal residence for a string of popes in the 14th century, placing it at the very heart of Christianity in the Western world.

Architectural Highlights

With much of its ancient center still visible, Avignon boasts a rich collection of architectural wonders which help tell the story of the city. Explore a handful of Avignon’s unmissable sights below.

Palais des Papes

Originally built as a fortress in the 13th century, the magnificent Palais des Papes became the official seat of Western Christianity, housing a succession of popes within its near-unassailable walls. But it isn’t just the palace’s history which makes it so impressive; it’s also one of the most striking Gothic structures on the continent, famed for its architectural feats, which include fortified walls and towers designed to withstand heavy siege warfare. Travel with Scenic, and you can enjoy an exclusive Scenic Enrich classical concert in one of the palace’s great halls at no extra cost.

St Bénézet Medieval Bridge

While several captivating bridges criss-cross the Rhône in Avignon, one of the most beautiful is St-Bénézet, a medieval bridge which collapsed during the great flood of the 17th century. Despite being ruinous, St-Bénézet has come to typify the historic grandeur of Avignon, and is still among the city’s most visited attractions. The bridge comprises of three limestone archways, with a narrow road passing beneath an imposing guard tower. Visitors are able to walk right to the very end of the bridge, where fine views of the Rhône can be enjoyed at your leisure.

Basilica Notre Dame des Doms

Positioned on the banks of the Rhône, the Basilica Notre Dame des Doms is an exceptional architectural highlight of Avignon’s ancient skyline. Built in the 1100s, the monumental church is a fine example of the Romanesque style, echoing the powerful stance of the Palais des Papes which stands close by. The church is famous for its golden statue of the Virgin Mary, which is perched high on its spire, as well its collection of wonderfully characterful statues and gargoyles, there to ward off evil spirits.

Cultural Features

With a thousand years’ worth of history and heritage to unearth, Avignon punches far above its weight in the culture stakes. Add to that a handful of museums, theaters and art exhibits, and the city proves one of the finest stopping-off points during a Rhône river cruise.

Collection Lambert

With not an Old Master in sight, the Collection Lambert is essential for those with a penchant for the post-modern. Housed in a beautiful 18th-century chateau, just steps from the center of historic Avignon, Collection Lambert houses modern art from a range of French and international artists, with many of the works selected for their off-beat, stunning and provocative style. Artists whose work regularly features in the Collection Lambert include Andres Serrano, Amos Gitai, Patrice Chéreau and Adel Abdessemed. The center is open every day, and is located close to the center of the city on the charming rue Violette.

Barthelasse Island

To enjoy a different aspect of Avignon, make for Barthelasse Island, a small islet in the middle of the Rhône passage. Accessible only via a free ferry service (which can be boarded near the St-Bénézet bridge), Barthelasse is a lush river island whose charm is overshadowed only by the historic skyline of the city, which rises beautifully above a line of trees on the opposing bank of the river. From the footpaths of Barthelasse, which weave through a thicket of woodland, visitors can enjoy captivating views of the Palais des Papes, St-Bénézet bridge and many of Avignon’s other famous sites. If you choose to cross the Rhône to this delightful island, don’t forget the camera.

Musée Calvet

If you’ve little interest in post-modern art, favoring the works of Europe’s iconic Masters, Musée Calvet may be your preferred museum of choice during a visit to Avignon. Housed in the elegant Hôtel de Villeneuve-Martignan, Musée Calvet hosts a collection of European artworks dating from the 16th to the 19th century, including dramatic oil landscapes from Joseph Vernet. As well as art, the museum also houses a vast collection of compelling prehistoric pieces, unearthed in Avignon and the surrounding Rhône Valley. From the Celts to the Romans, the Goths to the French; the Musée Calvet collection can help you unravel Avignon’s long and fascinating timeline.

Experience Beautiful Avignon with Scenic

If learning of Avignon’s heritage and culture has piqued your interest in a Rhône river cruise, click here to browse our complete collection of upcoming itineraries on this peaceful waterway. Or for further information, call us today on 0808 278 7213.

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