Most people will love Avignon for its perfect Provencal weather, art festivals and the Avignon Bridge (le Pont d’Avignon) half-way over the Rhone River. Probably the most famous bridge in France, it was immortalized in the children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon on y danse tous en rond”. Those who attended Catholic schools will remember it.
Those interested in history will like Avignon because it’s “The City of the Popes.” In the year 1309, pope Clement V moved the Curia from Rome to Avignon, for reasons of security, and after him the city was home to seven different popes, before the Curia went back to Rome. The massive Pope’s Palace is still there, surprisingly empty inside – the entire furnishings have disappeared – but it’s so huge that it’s now the perfect venue for open-air performances in the summer.
Romantics will love Avignon because it was in this pretty town that Italian poet and philosopher Francesco Patrarca met his Laura, in a church. His passion for her became a lifelong obsession, and inspired more than 300 sonnets. Legend tells that she was a married woman when they met, but nevertheless the couple lived one of the most iconic love stories of all time.
I loved Avignon because of its Place de l’Horloge, an idyllic central square surrounded by charming bistros, bars with tables on the sidewalk, the city hall and elegant shops. If you can imagine a picture-perfect Provencal main square, with a tall clock tower, people enjoying themselves doing nothing and men playing the boules, that would be the Place de l’Horloge.
My hotel was right in front of the square. During free time from exploring the town, my daughter and I would sit on ‘our’ favorite bench to have an ice-cream and watch life go on slowly, in a scenic Provencal town. Those relaxing moments are still some of the best memories of Provence I have.