“Sur le pont d’Avignon, L’on y danse, l’on y danse, sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse tous en rond…”, the lyrics of this beautiful song echoed in my head when I had the first glimpse of Pont d’Avignon. “On the bridge of Avignon, we all dance there, we all dance there, on the bridge of Avignon, we all dance in a ring…”. While I didn’t dance on the bridge of Avignon as I would have fallen in the mighty Rhône River, I was very happy to be there. I had finally made it to one of my favourite regions in France, Provence. The Provence region is renowned for its outstanding beauty, history and culture that has flourished for many centuries. It is one of the top destinations in France. The Luberon region is well-known for its beautiful country side and picturesque villages.
When I arrived from the French Riviera, Avignon was my first destination in Provence. Lavender is grown in abundance in the Provence region and the smell of lavender everywhere awakened my senses as soon I stepped out the train station. The walk from the station was pleasant and this lovely scent accompanied me till I reached my hotel, which was located in the main square. The smell of lavender just didn’t stop outside the hotel, but I could smell it in my room. Even the toiletries were lavender based. I had planned to stay in Avignon for 3 days and made this town my base to explore the beautiful Provence and Luberon regions renowned for their picturesque villages. It was perfect spring weather, but bit warmer than it had been on the French Rivera. I had been waiting to get my first glimpse of Pont d’Avignon (bridge of Avignon) and didn’t waste any time. As soon I checked in I had to decide between a lunch at a fine French restaurant, or to head to the bridge of Avignon. Guess what, the bridge would have to wait, as I couldn’t resist to have a nice lunch in one of the café facing the main square. I managed to get the perfect table facing the square and ordered a beautiful glass of Grenache Gris before I could decide on the food. I slowly sipped my wine enjoying the beautiful scenery and decided to take a break from sightseeing as it was my final week of the 7 weeks I had spent in France. One of the pleasant things about France is that you can stay in the cafe as long you would like, as long as you have ordered coffee or a drink. After a refreshing break, I decided to explore the town. I didn’t bother to pick a map, as I wanted to explore on my own and by this time I had become confident in asking directions in French if I did happen to get lost.
I continued on and finally made my way to Pont d’Avignon. Once again the song started to echo in my head. It was an indeed a great moment to see the bridge up close. The bridge was built-in the early 12th century, on the mighty Rhône River. It was a beautiful evening, the perfect time to enjoy the views of the bridge without many tourists around. Listed by UNESCO world heritage site and only 4 out of 22 original arches remains. It is one of the most popular attractions in France. In years past, the bridge was frequently damaged by the mighty Rhône River and re-repaired many times, only a portion of the bridge remains. Pont d’Avignon does not disappoint one and the views are still clearly etched in my brain.
During the 13th century the Pope no longer wanted to stay in Rome and made Avignon his official residence. There were 6 successive Popes who have resided in Avignon. The city was radically transformed by this and Avignon became one of the largest cities in Europe. The Pope had no longer wanted to stay in Rome as Italy had been ravaged by wars in the 13th century. The Pope’s Palace, also known as Papal Palace in Avignon, is one of the most important monuments in the Provence region.
Another interesting place I wanted to visited in the Provence region was the UNESCO World Heritage site, Pont du Gard, located near Avignon. The Pont du Gard is considered a brilliant masterpiece of art. It’s one of the finest pieces of Roman architecture dating back to the 1st century. It’s a 50 kilometer long aqueduct that once supplied water to the city of Nîmes. The Pont du Gard is 50 meters high and built on the River Gardon. It is a three level aqueduct. Even now to this date, it is a source of inspiration for artists and a model for architects. Continuing along the banks of River Gardon and near the Pont du Gard one will see three Olive trees dating back to 908 AD and still standing strong.
During my visit to Avignon, I also experienced Le Mistral, a strong wind that blows along the River Rhône and towards the Mediterranean sea. At times, it blows continuously for several days and the wind is capable of reaching speeds at 90 km per hour blowing away everything in its path. Le Mistral is a vital component for the wine growers in the Provence region and without it the wines would not taste nearly as good. The Le Mistral is known for keeping the skies clear in the Provence region, which is beneficial for wine growers as clouds can generate moisture and proving deterrent to the vineyards. Le Mistral is a much hated and much-loved wind in Provence as it drives the locals mad, but is rejoiced by the wine makers. The next time you savour Rosé, remember Le Mistral.
I would like to return and spend more time exploring the Provence region, as spending just 3 days isn’t enough to cover this beautiful region. The best time to visit is July when the lavender are in full bloom and the Luberon countryside is turned into blanket of lavender colours. There are many picturesque villages that I visited in the Luberon and Provence regions, we will journey to these in my future blogs.
It’s times to say Au Revior (Goodbye, until we meet again) and have a great week!