The art of surprise: Avignon

What if the greatest journey in the world was all about the detours? In France, you sometimes have to shelve your plans while you sample the delights of the unexpected. She’s from London. He’s from Pennsylvania. They arranged to meet in Avignon for an escapade in Provence, and they arrived with the Festival in full swing. Ballet, Theatre, Flamenco: so much to see, so much to hear... But she was dead set: they had to visit the Papal Palace. 6 days they spent circling it, skimming it, brushing past it. And they never got further than the steps.

Day 1

It’s so hot. It feels so good. A bit too good, perhaps. The hotel receptionist suggested starting our stay with the Papal Palace, because it’s cooler in the private apartments of His Holiness the Pope. That may well be true, but in the Place du Palais, an arrow pointed to the Jardin du Rocher des Doms. We followed it and ended up 30m above the Rhône, in a beautiful English garden with views of the whole city.

Day 2

I was looking for parking at the Papal Palace when I ended up crossing the Rhône. Villeneuve-lès-Avignon is on the other side, and it’s worth a visit. We kept on getting lost until we found a hidden restaurant and a spacious terrace down by the river. Le Basta Cosi. You sulked, as you’d prefer a Provençale restaurant, but I’m hungry, and put my foot down. The garden is beautiful, the chef Sicilian, and the pizzas simply perfect. By the time we’re on the coffee, you don’t want to leave.

Day 3

After catching a dance show, I strolled the neighbourhood surrounding the Théâtre de Paris. And it’s completely by chance that I happened upon the tiny Musée Angladon. The caretaker told me that the residence once belonged to an insatiable patron of the arts. Chardin, Vernet, Degas, Modigliani, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso. Every room combines artwork and furniture from a particular era, and a particular style. In an almost intimate atmosphere, you travel from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, from Europe to the Far East. At the end of the tour, you feel like you’re leaving the home of a friend.

Day 4

With all due respect to the famous song*, but there’s nobody dancing on Avignon Bridge. Partly collapsed, it’s been a long time since it reached the other side. To see it from a different point of view, we took the ferry to the Ile de la Barthelasse and explored it by bike. We saw flocks of birds and some very busy beavers and river rats. Down by the river, you showed me the Papal City.

Day 5

The owner of our favourite café’s grandfather has so many stories to tell. A retired olive farmer, he told us all about the black fruit, olive oil, and his childhood. We took his advice and visited the Moulin de Maitre Cornille, in Maussane-les-Alpilles. In that idyllic village we had lunch in the shade of the trees, soothed by the spring, the chirping cicadas, and the owner’s accent.

Our last day

Too busy congratulating myself on getting a spot on a Provençale cookery course at École de La Mirande, I remember that I’ve totally forgotten about the Papal Palace. But we caught a show every day, and got a taste of Provence that we would never have imagined possible. His Holiness, we’ll catch you next time.

*“Sur le Pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse…”. In France, every schoolchild learns this song.

Getaway guide:

Le Festival d’Avignon: 3 weeks, 3000 shows, every July. (External link) et (External link)

Le Basta Cosi, Impasse du Pont in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon

Musée Angladon, (External link)

Le Moulin de Maître Cornille, rue Charloun Rieu, in Maussane-les-Alpilles

La Mirande, hotel, restaurant and cookery school: (External link)

And the Papal Palace: (External link)