After our first day in Provence, driving to the idyllic village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie through the Gorges du Verdon from Aix [read here]; we decided to go west on the second day to the City of Popes, Avignon
Day 2: Aix en Provence → Saint-Rémy-de-Provence → Avignon
After a sunny, lovely lunch in Aix en Provence, we left for Saint Rémy by following the A7 and then the D99 all the way through.
The picturesque Gallo-Roman village of St-Rémy-de-Provence is where Nostradamus was born, Vincent van Gogh painted Starry Night and Princess Caroline of Monaco stayed with her children after the death of her second husband.
Vincent Van Gogh was voluntarily confined in the Asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole besides Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in May, 1889. It was during this period that he produced some of his most recognised and famous work, Starry Night over the Rhone, The Irises, and Self-Portrait. On his release in May of 1890 he left for Auvers-sur-Oise, where he shot himself on the 27th of July 1890 and eventually succumbed to his wounds two days later. The village, strongly influenced by the painter’s time there, with sunflower plaques and plates on display and sale throughout the city centre.It was a local holiday the day we visited and the town and streets were empty and quiet. Most of the cafes and restaurants were closed too but we managed to find a small creperie where we made a snack out of the most delicious chocolate and orange crepes [Creperie Lou Planet, 7 Place Favier].
Before leaving for Avignon we stopped at the imposing Collégiale Chruch of Saint-Martin. We were the only ones inside, dark and haunting, you could literally hear a pin drop (or a heart beat, in our case!). It was equally peaceful and eerie, the latter getting the better of us and we did not stay long.
We used the D99A to exit on to the D571, using a combination of the D34 and D571 to get to the N570 that took us to Avignon. We drove around until we found an opening into the walled historic centre.
Avignon is known as the city to which the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century. Between 1309 and 1377, seven successive Popes resided in Avignon during the Avignon Papacy. The town was sold in 1348 to the papacy by Joanna I of Naples who was also the Countess of Provence. Papal control continued until 1791 when during the French Revolution it became part of France.
The palace built by the Popes, ‘Le Palais des Papes,’ or the palace of popes, is the world’s largest Gothic edifice. The historic centre, which includes the Palais des Papes, the cathedral and the Saint-Bénézet Bridge, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
We got there a little after sundown, parked the car and walked down the Rue de la République, the city’s central boulevard, taking in the old city’s magnificence while looking for a place to get dinner.
Avignon, bathed in the light of an almost full-moon was perfect; and I would urge any history buff to visit. We loved it so much, we came back for seconds two years later!