My Favourite City

Avignon, France

This was a difficult choice. My adopted home town of Lincoln has, arguably, the finest cathedral in England. The majesty of London and Rome, and the romance of Paris are well-documented. Venice is uniquely astounding. Walking down the steps to catch the water bus on the Grand Canal and first walking into St Mark’s Square rendered me inarticulate, able only to utter little squeaks of astonishment and delight. Over the last few years, I have been charmed by Lille, Rouen, Rheims, Dijon, Tours and Cluny; by Tournai, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent but it is in Avignon that I have felt strangely ‘home from home’

La Place de l’Horloge

On my first visit I stayed in a hotel at the corner of La Place de l’Horloge, the city’s main square. It was October and quite balmy unlike the grey, chilly London I’d left that morning. I was hungry and a little tired but finding a resto was no problem. One entire side of the square comprised restaurant after restaurant with tables on their terraces reaching into the square, covered with awnings and hung with lights. There was a carousel in the middle of the square and on the far side were the Mairie and the theatre, both very interesting architecturally. By chance I had discovered the perfect focal point for exploring.
By the end of my stay I had become completely enchanted by the place and, within a year, I was back. This time I rented an apartment near Les Halles, the huge indoor market, and I did most of my food shopping there. It’s not to be missed. A stall sold spices, piled high, bright yellow turmeric, crimson paprika, grey-black pepper, green cardamon pods, cinnamon sticks wrapped in bundles with ribbon. There are at least two fromageries. At the greengrocer’s, as well as the usual stuff, there were white asparagus, round courgettes, and purple artichokes. I bought a frisée lettuce as big as my head. I bought a proper bouquet garni tied off with twine. And I bought some mussels. The fish counter was spectacular with lots of different kinds shining on the slabs. Now my French dries up a bit when it comes to different fish species (I’m better on trees) but I was up to moules so I bought a kilo. The rattle of the shells in the fishmonger’s scoop was very satisfying and I cooked them in white wine that evening back in the apartment. Sweet and juicy. The flat was above a boulangerie so there was fresh crusty bread on the side.
One day, I went to Les Halles to buy the wherewithal for a picnic by the Rhône. There were pieces of rôtisserie chicken, savoury beignets, a potato galette, a massive sweet green tomato, gooseberries and a quarter litre of Côtes du Rhône – naturally. A passerby said it looked like the perfect lunch – and he was right.
The Bridge and the Palace
The famous bridge is a must, of course. It is only half a bridge, in fact. The Avignonais grew tired of rebuilding it whenever the Rhône flooded – which was often. You can dance on it, if you like, but do as I did and go early when you can have it to yourself for half an hour. By half-nine it will be swarming with tourists waving selfie sticks. 
The Papal Palace is absolutely monumental with its crenellations and massive stone faces. During the Fourteenth Century it was the home of a succession of popes and two ‘anti-popes’, rivals to the pontiff in Rome. The cathedral with a golden statue of the virgin is part of the complex and if you press on up through the gardens to the Rocher des Doms, you will be rewarded with a view over the bright blue ribbon of the Rhône below, over to Mount Ventoux with its white cap. If you are lucky enough to be in Avignon when there is a son et lumière in the palace courtyard, don’t pass it up. It is mind-blowing. At the far end of the immense space in front of the Palace is the Musée des Beaux Arts which contains as fine a collection of medieval art as I have ever seen.
One of the great pleasures of the city is getting lost on purpose. The narrow medieval streets twist and wriggle and turn back on themselves in a disorienting way but fear not – you will eventually end up at the city walls, still intact and forbidding after so many centuries.



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What a wonderful description! I visited many years ago and danced on the bridge, (whilst singing en français,of course!) much to my children’s acute embarrassment. This makes me want to return again before too long. Thank you!

Agreed Eileen. I haven’t travelled in France since I was a nipper, but really want to go to Avignon. I can only remember how to order two tickets on the train and buy half a kilo of green beans though…..

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