There are many good reasons for planning to arrive in France a few days early. And even more for spending a few extra days in Avignon. Not only is there loads to see and do with-in the city walls, there are sights to see and things to do just a short drive away. With that in mind, we’ve put together a few pre-trip options for you to consider.
Though our barge adventure doesn’t begin until Saturday evening (May 21), I recommend arriving a few days earlier to get straight on the time change and make sure you have an opportunity to see and experience some of the things Provence has to offer that won’t be included in the barge itinerary. To that end, I’ve put together few pre-trip options for you to consider.
Let’s begin with a stay at the lovely Hotel le Magnan, a small boutique located just inside the city walls, an easy walk to and from the train station and within walking distance of just about everything else you’ll want to see and do in Avignon.
Hotel le Magnan
I first stumbled upon the Hotel le Magnan a couple of years ago, and all I could think was that I wanted to come back. The rooms are charming, well appointed, and clean. The staff is friendly, helpful, and accommodating. And best of all, the hotel has a lovely outdoor courtyard where we can gather as a group and play and sing. Or where you can simply enjoy some quiet time with an aperitif or little snack.
The hotel has offered us a special group rate of $110/room/night that includes a traditional (and ample) continental breakfast. (Remember this is France. You’re not going to get powdered eggs, questionable sausage, or pre-packaged, indestructible, “blueberry” muffins.
You can also book extra nights at the Hotel le Magnan for after the trip on the barge when you register for the trip.
Time in Avignon
Besides giving you an opportunity to deal with jet lag and the change in time zones, a few extra days in Avignon before the barge trip will give you a chance to get to know this lovely town. . . . .even if all you do is explore it’s narrow streets and back alleys. There are hidden treasures everywhere, from hidden galleries and sheltered gardens behind ancient stone archways to stunning views from the top of a series of heart-pounding stone steps.
One of the most charming corners of Avignon is quite close to our hotel: rue des Teinturiers, the “street of the waterwheels.” Once the heart of the town’s textile industry, this narrow arm of the Sorgue River once turned a series of waterwheels. Though only four remain, today, it makes for a charming walk.
We will actually be meeting our barge right next to the iconic, Pont Saint-Bénézet (often simply called Pont d’Avignon). The original bridge, some 900 meters long, was made of wood and served as an important connection over Rhône River between the papal state of Comtat Venaissin and France. It was replaced with a 22-arch stone bridge that was also partially destroyed. Four arches and the Chapel of Saint Nicholas are all that remain.
And of course, no visit to Avignon would be complete without a visit to the majestic Palais des Papes or Pope’s Palace, the largest gothic palace in the world. You can certainly appreciate its grand towers and angular battlements from the huge plaza in front, but a tour of the interior is well worthwhile. The histopads (included in the admission price) reveal what the empty rooms and chapels of the palace once looked like and makes the tour much more informative and enjoyable. You’ll also be able to scale one of the palace’s towers for incredible views over the city, the river Rhône, the île de la Barthelasse (where we begin our bike journey) and beyond.
Near the Palais des Papes a challenging stone staircase leads to the lovely Rocher des Doms, an enchanting hill top garden where you can pause for a drink or snack and take in some of the best views of the city.
Saturday would be the day to visit Les Halles, a food market brimming with an astounding array of local delights, from delicately prepared pastries to produce still speckled with the dirt it was plucked from hours before. I say Saturday because that is the day when when local chefs give live demonstrations at Les Halles. It’s also the day we meet L’Estello in the evening to begin our Uke, Bike & Barge Adventure.
Out and About
While there is plenty to do and see within Avignon, there are also some nearby sites and experiences you don’t want to miss. So, working with a local guide and tour operator, we’ve put together a couple of optional side trips to fill in some of the gaps and make sure we are in the right place at the right time.
For example, the half-day trip through the Luberon (southeast of Avignon) on Thursday will take us to the charming and must-see villages of Fontaine de Vaucluse, Gordes, and Roussillon, where we’ll also have an opportunity to visit the local weekly market.
We also have a full-day trip planned for Friday that will take us along the panoramic wine road north of Avignon and through les Dentelles de Montmirail. This one will include a cooking lesson (and lunch) in the medieval village of Séguret in the morning or a hike, depending on what the group prefers. There will also be two wine tasting experiences in Chateauneuf du Pape, a historic village between the towns of Orange and Avignon, in France’s southern Rhône Valley in the afternoon. This region is famous for powerful, full-bodied red wine, made mostly from the classic southern Rhône grape trio: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
We don’t have prices yet for these extra excursions, but I wanted you see what the opportunities were to help you decide how many extra days you might need in Avignon. I’ll be arriving Wednesday.