Capital of the Catholic Church during the early Middle Ages and for centuries a major artistic centre, Avignon remains an unmissable destination. During the Festival d’Avignon in July, it becomes the place to be in Provence.
Low medieval walls still encircle Avignon’s old centre, as it nestles up against a ninety-degree bend in the Rhône river. Their gates and towers restored, the ramparts dramatically mark the historic core off from the formless sprawl of the modern city beyond. Despite their menacing crenellations, however, they were never a formidable defence. The major monuments occupy a compact quarter up against the river, just beyond the principal place de l’Horloge, at the northern end of rue de la République, the chief axis of the old town.
Avignon can be dauntingly crowded, and stiflingly hot, in summer. But it’s worth persevering, not simply for the colossal Palais des Papes, home to the medieval popes, and its fine crop of museums and ancient churches, but also the sheer life and energy that throbs through its lanes and alleyways.