A Runner’s Guide to Avignon

I recently received a request from a PlanetEye reader for some recommendations for good running paths around the city. Honestly, Avignon is more of a walking town and for locals that means walking slowly, if not meandering, in heels and espadrilles. The only runners I’ve seen here tend to be wearing University of Oregon T-shirts. But if you don’t mind the occasional look of horror from people who think nothing should be done in a rush, Avignon offers a variety of options for runners.

Start pounding the pavement (and avoiding the cobblestones) before 8:00 AM. You’ll find the normally crowded streets nearly empty and you’ll save yourself from the 95 degree heat that typically lasts until sunset. And just to feel a little bit more like the locals, why not load your iPod up with some French tunes? For great beats, mix in some Pierpoljak, High Tone, and Tiken Jah Fakoly.

Suggested routes:

  1. For a little taste of the quartiers d’Avignon, tour the ramparts. From Place d’Horloge head west down Rue St. Agricol. Stay straight until you get outside the city walls then turn north and follow the ramparts. Head back inside once you’ve passed the cliff at Palais des Papes and keep following the walls until you’ve come full-circle.
  2. Avignon’s generally a flat city, to add a hill climb to the above program start at the base of the winding road that leads to the Jardin des Doms, for a panoramic view of the Rhone Valley. In the northwest corner of the park take the stairs to the only section of the walls visitors can actually set foot on. Watch your step on the spiral staircase leading down to the street and then turn right to pick up the wall tour again.
  3. Take the free ferry just north of the Pont St. Benezet (Pont d’Avignon) to access the Ile Barthelasse. From the ferry station head north for a mountain bike trail that follows the river leading to a neverending apple orchard. Follow the Green triangles marked VTT.

Just another ruin…

A summer walk in the hills of Provence is nothing less than a sensual experience. The crunch of stones beneath your feet, the steady drone of cicadas, and the soft rustle of sun-parched leaves set a steady rhythm that keeps you moving until the mouthwatering scent of thyme, rosemary, sage, and lavender, slowly baked under the heat of the Mediterranean sun, create an aroma so sweet that you’re obliged to stop and breathe it all in. Emerald glacial streams, massive gorges, ancient olive trees and purple fields shimmer in the heat and a tease of a breeze tickles your ear whispering, “Stay.

On a sunny day, Provence is paradise. Yet, nearly every good walk in the region includes the discovery of an ancient building, long since abandoned by those who struggled to survive here but had to move on.

At the rest area on the route to Mont Ventoux, a short walk from the picnic tables leads to the crumbling remains of a shepherd’s home perched on a steep rocky hill. The walls, which someone worked so hard to build in this rocky landscape, have nearly all fallen but the southen wall is still standing, allowing explorers to look out the same window and imagine the difficulty of life in a simpler time.

Driving west on the scenic route from Sault to Cavaillon, the sheer cliffs and stunning depths of the Gorges de la Nesque to your left command all of your attention. After you pass through the third tunnel, however, keep your eyes open for a high stone wall on the right and be ready to pull over. The skinny path through briars and thorns leads to a house so overgrown, it’s turned into a secret garden. A number of small trails lead up the steep hill to a series of cliff dwellings protected from strong winter winds by thick stone walls framing panoramic views of the gorge and its lush forest of pine and chestnut.

As published at Planet Eye

The 25th Avignon Film Festival

Today marks the start of the Avignon Film Festival, celebrating European and American independent cinema. Screenings will be held at Cinéma Vox through June 29. Regular admission is €6, but pick up a promotional postcard (right) at the box office to participate in five screenings for €2 per film. All screenings are open to the public.

Though Quentin Tarantino did win the prix tournage for Reservoir Dogs in 1992, don’t expect too many famous faces. Founder Jerome Rudes describes the festival as “an event where we discover movies, not where we see a movie that’s going to be seen [in theaters] the next day or the next week.”

For a schedule, visit the Avignon Film Festival website or stop by the Cinéma Vox box office, 25 Place de l’Horloge.

As printed at PlanetEye

Best Budget Bites in Avignon

As with any tourist town, it can be tough to find a tasty meal in Avignon on a backpacker’s budget. There are plenty of great restaurants in the city, but for a sit down meal with starter, main course and wine, visitors should expect to pay at least €20. With the current state of the US dollar, that can be a hard nut to swallow for many a traveler.
Luckily for you, I take my “Avignon Local Expert” position very seriously and have spent the last the last three months eating at nearly every sandwich stand, kebab shop, and pizza joint in the city to supply you with a list of the best cheap eats in town.

Istanbul Kebap:

9, Place des Corps Saints

Istanbul Kepap

The owner will be the first to tell you that he has “les meilleurs frites de la région” (the best fries in the region) and it’s true. Most of the kebab shops in town serve frozen pre-cut fries, but Istanbul Kebap serves generous portions of freshly cut potatoes topped with the most savory sauce blanche this side of the Bosphorus. Grab a frisbee-sized kebab frites on fresh flat bread for €5.50 and then snag a bench at nearby Square Agricole Perdiguier for some great people-watching.


15, rue Galante

Just a short walk from Place de l’Horloge’s pricy cafes, the dark interior at Tapalocas offers relief from the summer heat and is one of the few restaurants offering free wifi in Avignon. Cool off with a white or red sangria and choose from their extensive menu of tapas starting at €2.70. Save room for a big slice of gateau basque, a sumptuous shortbread stuffed with vanilla custard.

Glaces et Sorbets:

35 rue Saint-Agricol

True. Ice cream doesn’t count as a meal, but on Avignon’s sunny days a cone from Glaces et Sorbets is nothing short of bliss. The oldest glacier in town, this little ice cream shop offers an eclectic mix of flavors such as verbena sorbet and sweet chestnut alongside the old standards. It’s central location, makes it a perfect stop if you’re headed towards the river, Place de l’Horloge, or the Musée Calvet. €2 for a small cone and worth every penny.

As published at PlanetEye

Behind the scenes at Glaces et Sorbets:

Fête de la Musique – Top Spots in Avignon

After a stormy spring, the sun is finally shining in Avignon, just in time for one of the city’s best events, the Fête de la Musique. Always occuring on the summer solstice, the Fête de la Musique is a day for amateur and professional musicians throughout France to take over the streets of their cities. Avignon’s reputation as a performance town draws musicians and visitors from all of Provence every year.

No cars will be allowed within the city walls tomorrow, so parking may be even more difficult than usual. Contact your hotel or read my Parking in Avignon post for suggestions on parking alternatives.

One of the best ways to experience the Fête de la Musique is to just wander the town and see where your ears take you, but be sure to check out the following spots for the best the city has to offer:

  1. Notre Dame des Doms (next to the Palais des Papes) – Organ recital in the city’s most famous church from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM
  2. Place de l’Horloge – Avignon’s biggest square will offer a variety of jazz and blues performances throughout the day.
  3. Place des Corps Saints – One of Avignon’s most charming little squares, this year it will host a variety of indy rock bands from 7:00PM through Midnight. Head east through Park Agricole Perdiguier behind the tourist office to find this hidden gem. Get there early to snag a good seat at Les Celestins, the local bar.
  4. Palais du Roure (near Rue Saint Agricol) – Traditional Provençal music from 7:00 PM on. A great opportunity to hear spoken Occitane, the region’s fading dialect.
  5. Rue Bonneterie- A variety of DJs from 8:00PM on. Jamaican Reggae, Techno and House.

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As published at PlanetEye

Image by ~Phil Moore (Flickr)

Village Life 10 Minutes from Avignon

Just across the Rhone, the little village of Villeneuve-Lès-Avignon is a great destination for those looking for a quick escape from Avignon’s tourist crowd or a place to let the kids run around. Easily accessible by bus (#11) or bike, Villeneuve is full of smaller museums, walking paths, and great views of the Palace of the Popes.

Tour Philippe Le Bel

Start at Tour Philippe Le Bel, a fourteenth century tower which is so under-visited, you’re likely to have the place to yourself on a weekday. It’s a steep climb to the top, but you can go at you own pace, stopping off for a breather in the stone tower’s cool quiet rooms. Once you’ve reached the top, photo-ops abound, with spectacular views of Avignon, the Rhone, Mont Ventoux, the Alpille Mountains, and the lush greens of neighboring Chateauneuf du Pape.

Pick up an Avignon Passion pass at the Office de Tourisme for reduced entry.

Keep your camera out during the walk along the main road from Tour Philippe Le Bel. The old stone walls leading into the village are idyllic, especially in late spring when ivy and honeysuckle trickle down from hidden gardens. Halfway into town, you’ll walk past a wrought iron gate with a modest sign marked “La Colline des Morgues.” It looks very private, perhaps the entrance to an elementary school or a cemetery, but don’t worry, it’s a beautiful park with winding trails leading to a hilltop view of the region and your first peek into the village of Villeneuve itself. Just be sure to leave the same way you came, or you might wind up further from the village than you started.

When you’re ready for a break, head into the village and grab a coffee at one of the cafes at Place Jean Jaurès before heading over to former monastery and papal residence, Chartreuse du Val de Benediction, the largest Carthusian monastery in France.

As published at PlanetEye

Cool and Calm at La Mirande

The short walk from La Mirande to the café scene at Place de l’Horloge may be one of the most beautiful strolls Avignon has to offer. Just steps away from the city’s top tourist sites, this four-star hotel is ideally situated for travelers wishing to be at the center of it all while still having a quiet place to call home when the day is done. Sheltered by the Palais des Papes and its 18-foot thick walls, this luxury hotel is calm and composed even during the city’s notoriously raucous theatre festival.

Part of what makes La Mirande so distinct is the incredible detail that has gone into preserving the traditions and style of a European luxury hotel while eliminating the sort of corpse-like formality which can leave guests hurrying off to their rooms. In a town famous for its theatre, La Mirande knows how to act like a four-star hotel.

Many historic hotels have a schizophrenic approach to design. Unsure how to merge modern technology with period décor, belle époque armoires are too often weighed down by clunky TVs, rococo desks left cluttered with DSL cables and iPod docks. At La Mirande, the emphasis is on beauty, detail and discretion. At first glance, the spacious guest rooms, with their antique tapestries, paintings, and Pakistani carpets, look as if Flaubert or Baudelaire could have just checked out. On closer inspection, however, the luxuries of the modern era are all there: marble bathrooms with Frisbee-sized shower heads, his and hers sinks, robes and slippers, and best of all, a flat screen TV discreetly hidden beneath a two-way mirror.

The lounge, garden, bar and a collection of other quiet public spaces are equally charming and offer a variety of settings for guests to sip an espresso, read le Figaro, and let the day slip by. When their appetites pick up, the renowned Michelin-starred Restaurant La Mirande, offers an organic locally grown menu sure to please even the pickiest eater. Guests hoping to learn the chef’s secrets can sign up for cooking classes held in the building’s perfectly preserved medieval cellar, complete with vaulted ceilings, shiny copper pots, and a 10-meter deep well.

As a small hotel with only 21 rooms, La Mirande is able to offer impeccable customer service and a one-to-one employee-client ratio during the high season. Rooms fill up fast however, and guests are recommended to make their reservations at least three months in advance.

As published at PlanetEye