Avignon: Once Home to the Popes

The 14th century papal palace in Avignon, saved from the depredations of 18th century French revolutionaries because it was too big and difficult to knock down.

The 14th century papal palace in Avignon, saved from the depredations of 18th century French revolutionaries because it was too big and difficult to knock down.

The following article appeared in June 2013 at TravelWeekly.com, the electronic edition of Travel Weekly, a national travel trade journal. It was written by Nadine Godwin, who is the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, published by The Intrepid Traveler. 

AVIGNON, France — On a recent afternoon, I walked vigorously around the old walls of Avignon and into the central city. I aimed to revisit the

Historic walls surrounding the old center of Avignon.

Historic walls surrounding the old center of Avignon.

medieval papal palace and other places I had not seen since leading a teenaged nephew through these parts nearly three decades ago.

The warm weather and late-afternoon light were irresistible — and new digital equipment let me take as many unnecessary photos as I wanted without producing a pain in the pocketbook.

I started my stroll at a little after 4 p.m., only 10 hours after leaving New York’s JFK on XL Airways’ nonstop service to Marseille. I had joined other travel journalists and a handful of New York area travel agents on the inaugural flight for the launch of the only nonstop between those two points.

A celebratory spray showering an XL Airways aircraft at Marseille.

A celebratory spray showering an XL Airways aircraft at Marseille.

Fire trucks spouting celebratory sprays over the aircraft greeted us, a gesture that is more impressive from outside than inside the plane.

The airline, which offers no equivalent to first or business class, instead offers value-priced services that include comfortable seating and inflight meals one can eat. (After all, the carrier’s full name is XL Airways France, and it is based in Paris.)

For travelers headed to the south of France, however, the biggest attraction is the nonstop service. The flights operate twice a week and are seasonal, operating from early June through October. The lowest roundtrip is about $670, with restrictions.

Enough about how I got here.

After we disembarked, hosts provided a short orientation on the airline, the Marseille airport, the city of Marseille and its region. Travel promoters were particularly psyched about the fact that Marseille, with participation by some neighboring towns, has been Europe’s culture capital in 2013. It means a lot to a place that nearly 20 years ago laid plans to take a down-and-out city out of the doldrums.

A closer look at the 14th century papal palace in Avignon.

A closer look at the 14th century papal palace in Avignon.

More on that in a separate article about Marseille.

We were soon transferred to Avignon, a 45-to-60-minute drive.

For our evening in the small city on the Rhone, we — meaning the visiting press and travel agents — were hosted to dinner at La Mirande Hotel, a one-of-a-kind 27-room property behind the papal palace.

On a pre-dinner inspection, we learned the property was a cardinal’s residence when the popes lived across the street. That was the 14th century.

Pages: 1 2

Speak Your Mind