Early November 2018, I decided for a last minute day-trip to Avignon. From Nice, it is a three and a half hours train ride with TGV (one way), but with a good book, a camera and a small picnic basket, I didn’t mind the long return journey, though I must say I had a pretty full day. I both wanted to visit the famous Palais des Papes, and reconnect with Olivier, one of my best friends from University who’s originally from this little town in Provence, and that I hadn’t seen since he got married in China over 10 years ago.
When I got there mid-morning, we went for coffee in the suburb area of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, a charming little town that hosts a really special place called Maison Bronzini, Moulin de la Chartreuse. It is an old oil mill that has recently been restored, and where the working space has been arranged so that there’s the oil mill (obviously) mainly operating in October when all mature olives have been picked (sometimes November), an artisan shop, a coffee ad tea salon, as well as a bar and a gourmet bistrot. It is sort of a “secret place” for locals, because one must know his/her way to reach it through old medieval streets! I was walking with a local guy, so no problem for me! :)
Then we went for a very nice lunch a few little streets away from there, in a cosy and friendly restaurant called Aubergine. I had a delicious beef and goat cheese burger with tartare sauce and chips, while my friend chose the generous vegetarian platter. A really nice time chatting over lunch, after so many years not seeing each other, though we often chat online. Then it was time to split, my friend went to visit his mother who lives in the countryside in Rochefort-du-Gard, while I came in Avignon intra muros, as is called the part of the city inside the Walls.
The Palais des Papes – Popes’ Palace – is the largest Middle-Age construction in Gothic style that dates back to the 14th Century. Several popes lived and worked in this fortress before the HQ of Christianity moved back to Rome. The Popes’ Palace size allowed at that time massive changes in the way Church was organized as well as the creation of an administration adapted to serve the new pontifical needs.
The inside of the Popes’ Palace was really impressive, though one must keep in mind when visiting that the style is very nude. It’s all about the architecture. No golden ornaments nor any sculpted columns or ceilings. First because the style of the 14th Century was mainly about using bare stones, but second of all because the palace suffered several fires throughout history, and only the walls and a couple of statues survived. I got very much interested in the banquet hall where there still was an old and huge fireplace that used to be dedicated to roasting meats, and next door a room solely dedicated to cooking other foods.
At the end of the visit, there’s an art gallery that stands for a museum that can be visited with the same entrance ticket. But my interest got attracted by the rooftop of the Palais des Papes from which I could have a stunning view over the square at the bottom of the palace.
The point of being up there was as well to get a good view further away over the famous Pont d’Avignon, the broken bridge of Saint-Bénézet that stops half-away across the Rhone river, and on which “on y danse tous en rond” according to the children’s song (that could be translated by holding hands and dancing in a ring, although it was said that the bridge actually was too narrow to form such thing as a ring and possibly danse in crowds ; in my opinion, a small ring could work though, but back then rings were to be danced by many people altogether).
Finally, being on the rooftop allowed watching the Popes’ Palace from a different perspective and with a view over the only gold statue still in place at the top. And then it was already time to walk across the city and reach the train station to go back to Nice.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2018 All Rights Reserved.