Avignon and Montpellier

Montpellier didn’t do much for me. The hotel was stayed at, The Royal, was decent and the location was good. Its a short walk to the train station and the main square of La Comedie. But there being so many wonderful towns in France, I felt this one lacking. I think if one is limited on time, skip Montpellier and move on to other towns, such as Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. It seems to be a town for young people, coming to life especially after 9PM. Been there, done that, moved on. But we did enjoy the small squares of plazas squeezed in amongst a few buildings, usually with shade from large trees; they are scattered throughout historic Montpellier. A nice shopping walk is ??? with its marbled walkways and high-end boutiques.

However if you are going to go, the Royal Hotel is a great place to stay, especially if you are arriving by train as it is so close to the station. Its also very close to the main plaza Comedia and all of historic Montpellier.

On the way up to Avignon we stopped in to Tavel, having heard so much about its rosé. Not much to the town, except the Caveau San Vicente which has samples from 27 local wineries, and a cooperative store at the beginning of town where you can sample its wines. Personally, we prefer the lighter rosés of Provence. We purchased a few bottles, but felt they were too close to reds, and if we want a red, we’ll drink a red. So unless you are a really big fan of Tavel wines, not really worth the stop.

Avignon is quite something; completely walled city, surrounded by water. Driving in town can be a hassle, if you aren’t staying there. Best is to park outside, like before the bridge, and take the free bus shuttle into town.

In 1309, Pope Clement V, not happy with how things were going in Rome, established himself in Avignon and remained there for the remainder of his time as Pope, followed by six more popes until 1377, which was known as the Avignon Papacity.

The ramparts of the medieval city were built in the 14th century. They are nearly three miles long, enclosing all of the medieval city. From Wikipedia:

The ramparts, built by the popes in the 14th century, still encircle Avignon and they are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence. The well preserved walls, built by the popes in the years immediately following their acquisition of Avignon, are flanked at intervals by thirty-nine massive towers and several gateways, three of which date from the fourteenth century. As they were not particularly strong fortifications, the Popes relied instead on the immensely strong fortifications of their palace, the “Palais des Papes”. This immense Gothic building, with walls 17–18 feet thick, was built 1335–1364 on a natural spur of rock, rendering it all but impregnable to attack. After its capture following the French Revolution, it was used as a barracks and prison for many years but it is now a museum.

We were fortunate that our time in Avignon was when their annual music festival was being held. There were concerts held in nearly every plaza or small street coners, as well as the churches, from opera and classical, to jazz and alternative rock. There were thousands of people on the streets, crowds created around each venue. Our favorites where  opera soloist and organist at the ? church, while later on a jazz threesome played in front of the church. An amazing night just walking the streets taking in all the venues.

The main event in Avignon is the Palais-des-Papes, or the Pope’s Palace. Worth taking the tour and make sure to get the audio to go with it. Bit more about Avignon here.

Hotel-Bastide des Anges

While in Avignon we actually stayed outside of the town at a place called Bastide des Anges, on an island created by the river, across from Avignon. Wonderful place, no wonder it shows up so high in Trip Advisor; it deserves it. Europe can have small rooms but at the Bastide rooms are of generous size as are the bathrooms. Other amenities are a wonderful common area living room, dining room and kitchen, fully and wonderfully outfitted. And then there’s a pool in the gardens. In the shared salon (with other guests), there’s a full kitchen. We took advantage of this and toured Avignon in the morning, bought a few things for lunch and took them back to the hotel for a lunch poolside, in the shade. Had a swim, a siesta, and then we were ready to return to Avignon for more walking and dinner. BdesAanges is highly recommended. Book early to be sure you can get a room.

Restaurant-Le Bercail

Also situated on the island of Barthelasse, but on the banks looking over at Avignon, Le Bercail is a wonderful spot for lunch. Shaded by huge Sycamore trees, and then cooled off by a gentle breeze off the river, this place is just amazing. And then there’s the food. The name in the entrance to the property says its a pizzeria but it’s so much more (although the pizzas do look great). We had the Aubergine casserole which was simply divine, followed by an artichoke ratatouille topped with saucissonettes. All washed down with a bottle of the house’s reserve rosé and finished up with an ice cream dessert and an expresso. Just wonderful. There’s a promenade that begins/ends right beside the restaurant and follows the river with superb views of Avignon over the river. And just after lunch or dinner the sun is shining on this side of Avignon. At sunset the Palace, Pont and rock cliff turns golden from the late day light. Another good reason to choose Le Bercail! (Update: We went back again for dinner and this time had the pizza – it was great!)

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