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Avignon city breaks

Speed south to the sunshine

Avignon holidays and city breaks

As the one-time home of the pope (hence the name of the local tipple, Châteauneuf-du-Pape), this compact city in the south of France is a surprisingly big hitter when it comes to historic monuments, art and culture. The glorious weather, fresh Provençal food and abundant supply of delicious wines goes a long way to attracting in-the-know travellers, too. And that's before the annual arts festival kicks off.

Things to do in Avignon

A must for history-lovers, sun-seekers and foodies in search of a Provençal fix, Avignon offers an appealing blend of sight-seeing and laidback café-hopping opportunities. For the ultimate Avignon experience, visit during July, when the festival (and its offbeat fringe spinoff) hits town. From dance and theatre to music and art, it's a joyous, city-wide celebration of all things creative.

Stroll within the city walls

Avignon’s beautifully preserved buildings, lit by the bright Provençal sun, give the city the feel of a living theatre set. So, where better for a stroll?

Meander through the medieval architecture and 18th-century mansions, taking in the imposing Palais des Papes, then head uphill to the Jardin des Doms for an ice cream and expansive views.

Once you've caught your breath, weave back to the river bank and the Pont d'Avignon (although it's more pier than bridge these days), before making tracks to Rue des Teinturiers.

Grab a table in the dappled shade and sip a sundowner beside a cooling millstream, complete with ancient waterwheels.

Enjoy a taste of Provence

The holy trinity of food in Provence is tomato, garlic and olives, and most local dishes will include at least two of them, if not all three.

Add a warm baguette, some tangy goat's cheese and a bottle of local wine and you have yourself a picnic.

You'll find a market somewhere every day of the week, so go for a browse and a banter as you stock up on apéro essentials.

Join in the fun at Festival d'Avignon

The Festival d'Avignon is one of the oldest and most famous theatre festivals in the world.

Every July, it brings together some of the most exciting names in performing arts for a month of culture and creativity.

Running alongside, the fringe Festival Off Avignon turns every square, corner and courtyard into a stage, with thousands of offbeat, pop-up performances.

The soaring Palais des Papes provides a magnificent backdrop to proceedings and stages an impressive video projection celebrating the city's history.

Must-try Provençal food

Tapenade - A paste made with olives, garlic and anchovies, which comes in green and black versions. Ask to taste before you buy as recipes differ from one seller to another. Serve on crusty baguette and enjoy with a glass of chilled rosé.

Anchoïade – A salty, gutsy anchovy spread that will wake your taste buds with a bang. Delicious as an apéro on croutons, washed down with a glass of pastis – the only alcohol with a flavour strong enough not to be overpowered.

Aioli – A mayonnaise made from garlic and olive oil and used as a dip for vegetables, this delicious sauce won’t do much for your breath, but if everyone's indulging then who cares?

Take a day trip

Uzes

Head off early for the Saturday morning market in this pretty medieval town and pick up everything from pottery and clothing to tasty Provençal food. Once you've stocked up on souvenirs, make tracks for the Duke’s Palace, the Medieval Garden and the atmospheric Place aux Herbes.

Nîmes

Les Arènes de Nimes is one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. It seats 24,000 people and regularly hosts concerts and even re-enactments of Roman games with chariot races and gladiators. It's well worth a visit, along with nearby Maison Carrée.

Southern Rhône vineyards

Visit the domaines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras, or simply pop to the shops in town to taste before you buy (or if you’re driving, spit!). The pretty village of Gigondas has a shady square, which is perfect for a lunch stop between 'dégustations'.

Best restaurants in Avignon

If you're a fan of French cuisine, Provençal food is the pièce de resistance – and we've handpicked some of the best places to eat in Avignon. Fresh, colourful, sun-soaked veg packs every dish with flavour and goodness, while olives, anchovies and garlic add an irresistible local accent. And the grand finale? Mopping your plate with a hearty chunk of freshly baked baguette. Bliss.

L'Agape

21 Place des Corps-Saints, 84000

If you're after something special that won't break the bank, L'Agape is a must.

While the tasting menus run to seven courses, the lunchtime prix fixe is a steal at €30 for three.

The inventive and beautifully presented plates breathe new life into bistro classics, covering everything from rabbit terrine and roasted quail, to beef tenderloin and a catch of the day

Website

Le Violette

5 rue Violette, 84000

Set in the courtyard of the Collection Lambert contemporary art gallery, Le Violette offers an enticing array of classic Provençal produce complemented by Asian flavours.

Think sesame tuna with aubergine confit, followed by baba au rhum or a gooey French cheese.

The setting is suitably calming, and the gallery is well worth a peek and a post-lunch wander.

Website

Les Halles

18 Place Pie, 84000

You’ll find Les Halles, the city’s covered food market, behind a lush green plant wall on the aptly named Place Pie.

Browse the stalls and assemble a picnic to enjoy en plein air, or join the regulars downing oysters and white wine at the seafood stands.

If you're in town on a Saturday, get to Les Halles for 11, when a top chef hits the demo kitchen to whip up a tasty recipe or two.

Website

Best places to stay in Avignon

If you're planning a summer trip to Avignon, hotels book up fast – especially in the centre. A hire car will open up options beyond the city walls, including vineyards and châteaux. For a short stay though, the best bet is to book early and snap up a spot in the centre. Then you can walk to all the main sights and make the most of your medieval mini break.

Inside the city rampants

From 18th-century townhouses to an old Jesuit seminary, a former silk factory to self-catering apartments, there's somewhere to stay for every style and budget within the ancient walls of Avignon.

And, because the city's so small, you'll never be more than a few minutes' walk from the sights.

Roll out of bed and straight into a sunny café, and make the most of balmy evenings with an after-dinner stroll through the picture-perfect cobbled streets.

Just bear in mind that parking's at a premium, so if you've got a hire car, look for somewhere with private spaces.

Île de la Barthelass

Give your city break a country feel by staying on pretty Île de la Barthelasse.

This haven of green in the middle of the Rhône is home to ancient farmhouses and hunting lodges, many transformed into boutique hotels boasting lush gardens and outdoor pools.

For more adventurous types, you'll also find well-equipped campsites, plus everything from mini golf to a skatepark.

To get to the city, cycle along the towpath and over the bridge, or hop on the cable ferry for the five-minute crossing to Avignon.

Villeneuve-lès-Avignon

Just across the river, the town of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon offers a slightly quieter alternative to Avignon itself.

It also has its own sights to explore, including a medieval fortress and Tour Philippe-le-Bel.

When it comes to accommodation, you could try a 14th-century monastery now kitted out with a 21st-century spa, tennis courts and outdoor pool.

Or how about a fairytale mansion swathed in sweetly scented honeysuckle, with coffee and cake served in a courtyard shaded by vines?

Commonly asked questions about taking a city break in Avignon

A short break to Avignon is certainly worthwhile. For such a small city, it certainly packs a punch – in things to see, do and indulge in. It's also a great base for exploring Provence.

The city itself was the home of seven Popes during the middle ages, so boasts some impressive medieval architecture, including the Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace) and Pont d'Avignon.

The vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are a stone's throw away, so you're never far from a delicious drop to drink.

Yes. The city within the ancient walls is less than 2km across, so everything is very easily walkable.

It's worth bringing some sturdy footwear though, as you'll certainly encounter cobbles and you may find yourself heading uphill – for instance to the Jardin des Doms or over the river to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and the hilltop Fort Saint-André.

Any Avignon holiday should start with a visit to the imposing Palais des Papes – the medieval palace where seven successive popes lived. Admire it from a café in the square below, or head inside to explore its history further.

For an ice cream with a view, wind your way up to pretty Jardin des Doms. The remains of nearby Pont d'Avignon, made famous by the French children's song, is worth a wander and has an interesting exhibition and audio tour.

Rue des Teinturiers, with its buzzing, streamside restaurants, is a fun spot for a sundowner or dinner.

Start day two with a stroll through the city's winding streets, taking in the art galleries, boutiques and cafés. Make time today for an Avignon day trip, too.

Picnic in hand, strike out across the river for Villeneuve-lès-Avignon with its impressive 14th-century hilltop fort.

Come dinnertime, you'll find friendly bistros and bars at every turn. Set up in one of the city's many cobbled squares and people-watch over a plate or two of delicious Provençal food.

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