Driving in Avignon, France

Avignon is an ancient walled city with a long and interesting history.  Anyone with an interest in history or architecture will love Avignon, with the Palais des Papes being the highlight for enthusiasts of both. The city was Europe’s capital of culture in 2000.

The capital of the Vaucluse department, Avignon is located in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur. This province is home to such other cities as Nice, Marseilles and the principality of Monaco.

As well as having a Mediterranean climate (long, hot summers) it’s a culturally rich city with plenty of attractions. The biggest landmark in Avignon remains the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). Designed to convey a sense of power, it resembles a fortress more than a palace. The building became a museum in the early 20th century and has been undergoing restoration ever since.

Slightly older and slightly smaller, but no less impressive, is the Notre Dame des Doms, a Romanesque church located near the Palais des Papes. The famous gilded statue of the Virgin is mounted on the western tower. Inside,  the mausoleum of Pope John XXII is a very interesting piece of 14th-century Gothic carving.

Aside from these huge edifices of worship, there are many other smaller churches that are worth dropping into if you’re passing. Some such excellent examples of Gothic architecture include the Saint Pierre, Saint Didier and Saint Agricol churches. Have a look at the Hôtel des Monnaies (a 17th-century papal mint) and the City Hall - a modern building incorporating a 14th-century belfry.

Another attraction is the ruined Pont Saint-Bénezet, also known as the Pont d’Avignon, a famous medieval bridge that was largely swept away by floods in the 17th century.

Among Avignon’s excellent museums are the Musée Requien (Natural History Museum, with over 200,000 types of herbarium), Musée Lapidaire (Gallo-Roman Museum, mostly statues), Musée Louis-Vouland (17th and 18th century antiques, mostly curios and other small artifacts), Musée Angladon (Modern Art including Van Gogh and Picasso) and the Calvet Museum, which features the life collections of the physician F. Calvet and includes many paintings, sculptures, and other antiquities in glass and bronze.

What to see in the Avignon area?

Avignon lies on the main TGV line between Paris and Marseilles, making it just a few hours from Paris. Although public transport links are good, if you want the freedom to explore the area at your leisure, your best option is to hire a car. Car rental is definitely the best way to enjoy the breathtaking landscape, vineyards and quaint little villages of the Rhone Valley Region

Some places you could visit include Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. This town is located opposite Avignon across the river Rhone. Attractions here include the Tour Philippe Le Bel, the Fort Saint-André and the Chartreuse du Val de Benediction which is France’s largest Carthusian monastery.

Other places to visit in the Vaucluse include Mont Ventoux which is the largest mountain in the area and has the nickname the Giant of Provence.

Outside of Vaucluse but still within the Provence area there are many interesting towns and cities including Arles and Aix-en-Provence. Both of these are only a short drive away. Arles is located to the south along the Rhone and was famously home to Van Gogh – this is where he cut off his ear. Aix-en-Provence (or more usually Aix) is sometimes known as the city of a thousand fountains. It’s also home to several universities, giving it a young and vibrant population.

A little further south (about 100km) from Avignon is the coastal city of Marseilles. This is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the third-largest in France. It has a large number of art galleries and museums, as well an excellent shopping culture.

Why not hire a car?

We’ve given you a few tasters, but there is a lot more to see and do in the Provence region. If you want to get a real feel for the area, Car Hire France is your best bet.

Driving in France is on the right, and it is a good idea to rent a car with a GPS system for touring the Provence area, as the country roads can be confusing. 

The motorways pretty extensive, however, covering more than 9,000 km of French road, both toll-free and tolled. The latter are indicated Autoroutes à péage. You could make your way around the country avoiding tolls, but sometimes it’s worth the expense to save time and effort. Just remember  that each commune is responsible for its own roads, so it’s quite common to find yourself on quality roads one moment and poor roads the next. It’s also worth noting that fuel is more expensive on the motorway, so you should fill up when you’re stopping off at a town or village, especially at the large supermarket chains that offer a sizable reduction.

Also remember that, at a junction, the person joining from the right has right of way, sometimes even regardless of the sizes of the respective roads!

If you’ve been to Avignon please feel free to leave a comment in the box below and let us know of any valuable tips for visiting the area. Or if you’re planning to visit Avignon or any part of the Provence region and have any questions about car hire, just drop us a line.