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Saturday 9 August 2014

Avignon: one of Europe's most captivating small cities

The ancient French city of Avignon has to be regarded among the most attractive small cities in the world. 

Once the residence of Popes during the Middle Ages, today this city on the Rhone is a magnet for lovers of history, fine wine and food, the arts and just lovers. 

There are around 90,194 inhabitants of this city and about 12,000 live in the atmospheric old town centre, which is enclosed by medieval ramparts.

Named the European city of culture in 2000, Avignon hosts one of the word's leading theatre festivals each July and is particularly vibrant in summer. It is the gateway to the Vaucluse region, known for its beautiful hilltop towns and dramatic scenery. 

Between 1309 and 1377, seven successive popes resided in Avignon and in 1348 Pope Clement VI bought the town from the Neapolitans. It was not until 1791, during the French Revolution, that it became part of France. 

Visitors flock to visit the Palais des Papes, the famous St Bénézet bridge (Pont d'Avignon), of which only four arches remain, and many churches, museums and chapels. The historic centre has been a UNESCO World Heritage Centre since 1995. 

The Place de l’Horloge is favourite spot to enjoy a coffee or glass of wine - the town is part of the Côtes du Rhône wine region and a centre of Provencal gastronomy. 

Although it has been too long since I have stayed, Avignon is also home to one of my favourite hotels: Hotel d’Europe, housed in a 16th-century mansion and home to the gastronomic restaurant La Vielle Fontaine.

This gracious and traditional five-star hotel (below) has 39 rooms and five suites and prices start from €225. There is free wi-fi throughout.

La Mirande and Le Hotel Colbert are good alternative addresses. 

La Vielle Fontaine is one of no fewer than eight Michelin starred resaurants in and around Avignon, with others including Le Diapason, Christian Etienne and Le Prieure.

Avignon is 229km south of Lyon and 85km north-west of Marseille, making it a great base from which to explore southern France. 

The towns of ange, Nîmes, Montpellier, Arles and Salon-de-Provence are all relatively close and the wine capital of Chateaneuf du Pape is just a few kilometres down the road.

Getting there

Emirates operates 84 flights per week to Dubai from Australia, with a daily connections to Paris. Passengers in all classes can enjoy up to 1,600 channels on ice, Emirates' award-winning in-flight entertainment system, gourmet food and wine and generous luggage allowances including 30kg in economy and 40kg in business class.Call 1300 303 777 or visit

Direct high-speed trains link Avignon to Paris (2 hrs 40 mins), Charles de Gaulle airport, Lille, Lyon, Geneva, Brussels and other major cities. There is a direct Eurostar Avignon-London link in the summer. 

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