Bonjour from Avignon
Avignon is on the left bank of the Rhône River in northern Provence. It is 229 km due south of Lyon and just over 100 km north of Marseille.
Avignon is in the perfect position for day trips up the Rhône Valley and throughout Provence, including Orange, Le Mont Ventoux, Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. Avignon shot to prominence in the 13th and 14th centuries as it was the home of the sitting pope. The Catholics certainly splashed the cash in this era and much of the infrastructure remains. Avignon has always attracted the big hitters and has acted as a vortex for Roman, Spanish and Mediterranean culture.
As you’d expect from this rich history, the cuisine is equally mixed: pork charcuterie, terrines, steak tartare, confit duck, game meat (so common in Rhône cuisine), along with the fresh fruit, vegetables and salads so popular in Mediterranean cooking.
Truffles are in season from November to March. For one of the best omelettes of your life (served with shaved truffles) make the drive past Orange to La Beaugravière à Mondragon. For a superb wine list and fresh, seasonal plates do not miss AOC. If you are heading up Le Mont Ventoux to watch Le Tour, make sure you grab some of the local goat’s cheese to eat with crusty bread.
A rosé is a must (it is Provence after all) but there are punchier wines round these parts! Châteneuf-du-Pape wine in the southern Rhône region is a half-hour drive or train north of Avignon and made from a blend of up to 13 varieties, but mainly grenache. The wines are bold, strong and rustic and it is said this robust flavour is the result of the vines growing out of ground covered completely with “pudding stones” (galets roulés). Apparently the stones keep the ground warm and contribute to the round, ripe flavour in this wine. Often the vineyards are walled, or sheltered from the strong winds called the Mistral that rip through Provence. Top drops include Vieux Télégraphe and Domaine Marcoux.
Best food souvenir
Wine enthusiasts probably couldn’t resist grabbing a smooth pudding stone – about the size of a toddler’s fist. Just remember to ask the vigneron first! Shop for new or vintage bottle openers in Avignon’s Saturday markets.
Getting there and around
It’s all too easy in Avignon as it is halfway to everywhere in France! Avignon–Caumont airport is 10 km south-east of Avignon. The TGV (check out the ultra-mod station) is 2 hours 40 minutes from Paris and just over an hour from Marseilles. There is a good bus/tram (navette) system within Avignon and the local SNCF train network and bus network can take you pretty much everywhere in the region. Parking can be tricky outside the wall, but it is worth hiring a car if you want to visit the smaller villages in the mountains. You could also have a crack at the mountains on a bike or simply meander along the river flats! Day-trip and commuter ferries are also available up the Rhône.