Ever since seeing a travel advert in the tube last summer of the perfectly spaced rows of lavender in front of the famous Abbaye-de-Senanque in Provence, Dan and I have been dreaming of a southern France getaway to the Luberon region to breathe in those fragrant blooming purple fields.
Fortunately for us, this summer Eurostar introduced a direct train route to Avignon that runs several days of the week, so after boarding the train at St Pancras we were quickly across the channel and zipping through the French countryside enjoying the champagne and cheese picnic we had packed. Once we passed Lyon and were heading south toward Provence we begun to see lush fields of lavender and cheerful sunflowers happily aiming their faces up to the bright blue summer sky. Tip: sit on the left side of the train for the best views!
After sitting pretty for the last five hours in the comfy air conditioned train, we were immediately blasted with the dry, hot 35 degree celsius temperatures (thats 95 degrees fahrenheit for my stateside readers!). Well it was definitely summer down here! And this heat wave meant it was going to be an uncomfortably hot holiday. Thank goodness I had packed several sundresses and our itinerary for the week was fairly slow paced, with leisurely sight seeing in the cool morning and evening hours and afternoon poolside lounging or naps in the air conditioning. Who knows, maybe my pale white skin might even get a little color this week under the SPF 50 sunscreen I judiciously slathered on the second we arrived.
After picking up our rental car and checking into the hotel, we set out toward the heart of the medieval walled city, walking up Rue de La Republique to while away the remaining heated hours of the late afternoon over ice cold minty mojitos and people watch from the blissful shade of the many covered cafes.
As we relaxed over our libations, we were treated to an outdoor concert by the city’s symphony as well as an impromptu dance performance by several of the kids gathered there with their parents. Don’t you just love how silly and free little kids dance? Like they don’t care who’s watching. Pure joy. We really should take notes from them and aim to lose our inhibitions now and then. Makes life a whole lot more fun!
Once the heat dissipated a bit, we ventured out toward the Palais de Papes, the papal palace from which Pope Clement V ruled from in the 14th century after fleeing from Rome. Successive popes stayed in Avignon for almost a century and the city’s population swelled with their presence, making Avignon one of the biggest cities in Europe at the time. Uphill from the palace are the lush gardens of the Rocher des Doms with magnificent views of the Rhone River and the underwhelming landmark of the city, the Pont d’Avignon, the incomplete bridge spanning the Rhone River with only 4 of the originally built arches remaining. The bridge was the inspiration behind the French children’s song “Sur Le Pont D’Avignon”, a little ditty about dancing on the bridge, so now one can spy many a tourist doing the hokey pokey while standing at the edge of the landmark.
As the sun began to set, Dan and I settled into an outdoor terrace for big glasses of the regional Cotes du Rhone wine and some of the best pizza we’ve ever had, even better than the number of pizzas we had enjoyed in Italy! Dan joked to his French boss upon his return to work that France had the best Italian food. He got quite a chuckle out of that! Post-dinner we wandered over toward the riverfront and within minutes of spotting a ferris wheel we were circling through the warm night air.
Once back on terra firma, we went for a stroll across the river along the Promenade Antoine Pinay passing dozens of small groups lounging on blankets sharing bottles of wine out enjoying the cooled down air. Avignon seemed to come alive with everyone finally coming out of the dark cool recesses where they had escaped the heat of the afternoon to fill the cafes and streets once the sun set. It had been a long day of travel for us and as the clock struck midnight Dan and I quickly turned into pumpkins, sleepily making our way back to the hotel to sleep like babies after a full day of sun and wine.
Avignon proved to be an easy and relaxing start to our Provence escape. Next up? A day trip driving around the Cotes du Rhone wine region of Les Dentelles Montmirail.
*Check out my handy printable travel guide here to plan your own Provence roadtrip getaway!