A Pope, A Palace, A Saint, & Les Halles
Avignon is a good base for side trips to smaller towns in Provence. From here I took a day trip to St. Remy, Les Baux, Uzes, Villeneuve-Lez-Avignon. I had planned to visit Nimes but was blocked from seeing it because there were bullfights at the time I was there and was told the roads were impassable.
The significant structure here is the Place du Palais, the Pope’s Palace. I’ve been to Siena, Italy a number of times and I knew the story of Saint Catherine, the patron saint of Siena, and how she convinced the Pope to return from France back to Italy. In the 13th century things had gotten dicey in Italy and Pope Clement V fled to Avignon. A few Popes later, the Palace was built and Avignon was the de facto capital of Christendom. Young Catherine had a vision and traveled from Siena to Avignon (no easy trip even now) and somehow convinced Pope Gregory XI to leave this lovely place and return to Italy, ensuring her fame and sainthood.
Popes knew how to choose real estate. The Palace sits on the highest point of Avignon and is still a stunning spot. The views from the Popes Palace are miles long and are still unspoiled. From the Palace and the surrounding gardens you can see the Rhone River, the mountain, and the famous Avignon bridge.
I enjoyed strolling through the gardens. They are serene and beautifully kept. The view from there is spectacular. The square in front of the Palace is lively and full of street performers and places to have a snack or a drink.
Speaking of food, my favorite place in Avignon is the famed indoor market Les Halles. I bought breakfast there early one Sunday morning. I took it outside and sat facing Les Halles in the little square. Me, a few old men chattering in French, a couple of pigeons, and my panecone. I was blissfully happy. I’d rather be sitting there than inside a dusty Palace, even if it was the one where Catherine persuaded a Pope to come back home.