I’ve spent most of my summer sharing highlights from my week-long trip on a Viking River Cruise to Lyon and Provence,” It was a great way to kick off the season this past May and it’s fitting that I’m ending August with a recap of my last day sailing on the River Rhône.*
“This is going to be one of the best days,” I told my sister N, who had been my traveling companion for the 8-day voyage. “We’re going to tour the historic Old Town of Avignon.” I hadn’t been back to Avignon since I visited 10 years ago on a vacay with my daughter A and son D to celebrate my retirement. I loved it then and was excited to see more.
A walking tour of the “City of Popes”
“During our morning walk, we’ll see the city, tour the Papal palace and then go to the morning market,” said our guide Annalous. Annalous is an Avignon local (since 1986) and is knowledgeable about its history as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was a quick stroll from the Viking Hermod Longship to the entrance to Old Town. “The first city wall was built in 1357. The walls were preserved to prevent floods from the River Rhône,” said Annalous. We passed through the city wall and made our way through the narrow streets to the Place de L’Horloge central square.
Having visited Arles the day prior, it was interesting to learn that Avignon is twice as large with 90,000 inhabitants and 15,000 living in the city proper. That being said, N and I would have to navigate the few afternoon hours we had left to allow for lunch and significant “last day in Provence” shopping. Could we do it? Absolument!
But first it was time to get schooled on the papacy.
A peek inside the Palace of the Popes
According to Viking Daily: “Avignon is known as the “City of Popes” because the papacy was relocated here from Rome, amid great controversy, from 1309 to 1377. The Papal Palace, where seven pontiffs lived during those years, is a fortress church – the Middle Ages’ largest Gothic building.”
The gigantic cathedral was impressive. Annalous led us through. We went upstairs to the pope’s bedroom, study and jewelry rooms. There were several prayer chapels and meeting rooms where big dinner parties were held. Wow-o-wow, sounds like these popes lived a pretty ritzy life.
In the corner of the cathedral was the kitchen for meat, poultry and fish. “Imagine the fires,” said Annalous pointing to the square room with a smoke exhaust. “The popes ate a lot of fish from the Mediterranean. The fishermen kept the fish alive during transport. Poison was popular so food for the pope was tested. In the 1300s they moved the food next to silver and other metals on the table. If it turned color it was bad food.”
The streets of the Jewish ghetto
Our next stop was the Jewish neighborhood or ghetto as it was known in the early 1600s. Annalous explained the community: “In the 1620s the Jewish people had to live in a certain area. It was a ghetto with a gate. It was a very poor community because the people could not go out to trade. In 1791 France was the first country to give citizenship to everyone. So the Jewish people became citizens.”
While the Cavaillon synagogue remains, there is only one original street of the ghetto left and it is not a Jewish neighborhood anymore.
To market, to market
Before long, we reached our final stop on the tour —Avignon’s Les Halles Market. OMG, it was a gastronomic feast. The pastries and breads, the vegetables and fruits, the chocolates and confections, the meats and poultry, the fish and seafood – it all looked and smelled (except for the fish and seafood stalls – lol) so good, so good, so good. In fact, no words can describe the foodie awesomeness of this place so I’ll just let your mouth water as you view the gallery:
Les Halles Market in Avignon
If these pics alone don’t make you run to your computer and book a ticket to Avignon, I’m not sure what else I can say or do that will.
Shopping up a storm on the streets of Avignon
Beyond the fantastique Les Halles Market where I bought pastries and chocolates, Avignon is home to some excellent French bistros and shopping. Remember I said N and I would only have a few hours to eat lunch and hit the shops? Ooh, ooh, ooh, I highly recommend Old Town for retail therapy.
Shop then eat was our strategy since some stores close between noon and 3:00 p.m. My extra euros were burning an hole in my purse. Why bring them home when I can leave them local?
What were my favorite shops in Avignon?
– La Mule Du Pape (23 Place du Change) shoe store had Toni Pons espadrilles at prices significantly less than Nordstroms. Wish I had bought more than one pair. They also had some nice European brands.
– Parfumeries Fragonard (20 Rue Saint Agricol) sells more than perfume, although I did purchase one of their scents. N and I were beckoned inside by the festive window and store displays. The women’s clothing and home goods made with colorful textiles were hard to resist. I wanted to buy them all but limited myself to four placemats to decorate my table at my condo on the corner at the New Jersey shore.
There were other shops filled with cotton linens and tableware, lavender accessories, fine women’s clothing, wines and charcuteries. I bought a few linen towels that were pretty enough to frame and did precisely that when I got home.
– Fromagerie de Louise (13 rue rouge) is worth a stop if you like nougat. While they sell various types of cheeses, it was their homemade nougats with all different kinds of fruits and nuts that drew me inside. After testing some samples, I bought a slice of the cherry and nut nougat for gift-giving.
We stopped for lunch at La Cour du Louvre. It was an eclectic bistro with antique-style decor. Plus when I saw a pic of my idol Audrey Hepburn on the wall I knew we had to eat there. Our Nicoise salads hit the spot — every veg was so fresh and so good, so good, so good.
Bidding adieu to new friends
That evening back on the Viking Hermod we said our goodbyes to all the new friends we had met on our lovely week sailing the River Rhône. Goodbye to the British couple with whom we had shared breakfast; goodbye to the grandma and grandson who were our Lyon foodie tour mates; goodbye to the other pair of sisters who were traveling together; goodbye to my media mates and fellow bloggers; and goodbye to all the nice couples who we dined with throughout the week.
Cruising is not just about the places you go but the people you meet. Would I recommend this Viking Cruise to others? Absolutement!
P.S. – If you decide to take the Viking River Cruise to Lyon and Provence, I highly suggest you journey in the southern direction from Lyon to Avignon like we did. It was nice to end in Avignon where you can save the best shopping for last.
* Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” Viking Cruises provided me with a complimentary press trip on the Viking River Cruise to Lyon & Provence. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.