Travel Diaries – Avignon

October 10, 2015
French Riviera – Part 4

Our sweet AirBNB host couldn’t meet us to pass over the keys so she arranged for us to pick them up from her friend at a nearby restaurant.

Being a medieval town – complete with a wall surrounding the village – the Streets. Are. Crazy.

There is no rhyme or reason to the roads. What could be 5 minutes away can easily take you 20 minutes or more by the time you get lost, find where you are, reorient yourself, start off again… And so on.

 

It is altogether charming + confusing.
 

Our introduction to this maze happened when we picked up the keys. We realized quickly that we’d be nothing in this town without a map.

I love CityMaps2Go by Ulmon – this free map app is something I’ve used on many travels, but it’s never been more valuable than in Avignon’s winding streets. It works offline so don’t worry if you don’t have data, or if you’re worried about losing a fortune with roaming. Just download it and you’re good to go.

Armed with or map app and a handful of keys – 5 in all – we set out to find out home for the next few days. I love these beautiful old keys you often find in France, but they can truly be a challenge to use. Especially if you have 5 potential keys to choose from! It took as a while to figure out which key goes in which lock, but we quickly mastered the art of jiggling the old locks just so that it gracefully releases.

The flat we rented is as old and charming as the city itself. Though tiny, everything about this village hums with artistic energy – from our apartment to the many, many theatres. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is fantastic, and you’re a stone’s throw away from some of the best vineyards in the world. Simply put, Avignon is a village worth visiting.

The Pope’s palace

If you do make your way to this city, you’ve gotta check out the Palais Des Papes. It truly is a palace of the Pope kind. Not that I’d say I’m up on my papal history, but I didn’t know the Popes resided for three quarters of a century in Avignon. I particularly liked that there was a room called Salle Jésus, or Jesus Room. Love it.

Plus, we have the popes to thank for the extraordinary wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally, the ‘new house of the pope’) as the vineyards were planted at the pope’s country getaway.

After visiting the palace, I’ve decided that owning a castle may not be the best for me. The windows are pretty small, stone floors aren’t the most comfortable to walk on, and they’re drafty and cold. Installing central heating would be a total bitch. I think I’ll settle for something a bit smaller, if only for these reasons (ha!).  

The Bridge of Avignon

We also visited (what is left of) the bridge of Avignon. Mr. S was looking forward to this, as he’d heard the song about ‘pont d’Avignon’ since childhood. The song only song I remember from childhood about a bridge was ‘London Bridge is Falling Down.’ If you’re stretching the age, you could throw Fergie’s ‘London Bridge’ in there too.

All songs aside, the fable behind the bridge is as fascinating as the truth. The museum gives you the rundown about the multi-disciplinary investigation which delved into the truth about the bridge’s origin and construction. No matter what you’re into – history, geology, architecture, or fable, the Avignon bridge is really worth seeing.

Swig wine like a pro

A wine tour to the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape was a major attraction on the hit list. It’s like drinking wine, but with a cultural element! Essentially, an interactive wine museum. Yes.  That’s one region knocked off the bucket list… so many more to go.

Our quick half-day group tour took us to the vineyard of Maison Bouachon. This little gem has been around since 1898. Needless to say, during this time they pretty much perfected the art and science of winemaking.

Part farmer, part chef, and part chemist, a winemaker has to delicately balance the factors which can be controlled against those beyond a person’s reach (like soil, weather, etc).

Nothing like learning to slurp wine like a pro while being surrounded by monstrously large barrels of wine. This (not so) elegant technique brings out the flavours by aerating the wine in your mouth. It works wonders on the wine, though I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to be a charmer on a first date.

Our guide was engaging, funny, and really REALLY into wine. I’m enthusiastic about wine, but my enthusiasm pales in comparison to his. It’s amazing how just one sip of wine could evoke a whole scene: a winter’s night by the fire, curled up with a cozy blanket reading a good book with your dog by your side. My descriptions were more along the line of, “um, it’s really good… I’d drink more. Now. Or later. Whenever.”

Wine tasting may not be a graceful sport, but it sure is a poetic one. I can definitely hold my ground now better than before this wine tasting tour.

We managed to make our way out of the maze of streets to hit up our last stop French before hopping the pond home – Marseilles!

For you wine lovin’ peeps like me – which region do you love visiting?  I can’t wait to go check out Bordeaux next!

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