|Le Pont d'Avignon and the Rhone|
Just a few years ago, if you'd wanted to stay in the centre of a medieval walled city such as Avignon, you'd have had to pay through the nose, either for a very poncey luxury hotel or a really quite basic business one. You'd only have a hotel room, so you'd have had to buy all your meals, and when you'd tired of walking around all day there would have been nowhere to sit and relax in your room.
But now, you can stay in a large, beautiful apartment, right in the centre of such as a city, with all mod cons and a comfortable bed, for less than a hundred pounds a night (with free parking nearby). You can pop out to the neighbourhood boulangerie in the morning to buy your baguettes, and keep a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge for when you fancy a 6pm aperitif. (What is more, your kids could be playing cards in a completely different room while you have this. ) If you are lucky, your apartment's owner will recommend you a nice local restaurant to boot. It's a win-win situation and the hotels must be seething.
Anyway that's enough about Airbnb (this is not a sponsored post) and here's something about Avignon. We drove there from the Alps, but it's a destination that you could easily get to from the UK, as there's a direct Eurostar train nowadays in the summer. The city is famous for two things: the Palais des Papes or Popes' Palace, where nine popes resided in the Middle Ages, and the Pont d'Avignon, a bridge made famous by the children's song.
Both are worth a visit: the medieval Bridge, although only a tiny segment remains, affords a very romantic view of the Rhone even though your visit may only take 10 minutes. But you can buy a combined ticket to see both this and the Popes' Palace, which is both an impressively huge building and a history lesson (I spent most of our visit trying to explain the Pope's role to the boys, and realising I really am hugely ignorant on the matter).
Above the Palace and Bridge is the very pretty Rocher des Doms park, where you can look out over the river, the surrounding rolling countryside with vineyards (Chateauneuf du Pape is nearby) and Provencal roofs of the beautiful old city. After that, you can have a drink and watch the world go by in the courtyard square below the Popes' Palace. Or you could visit the tiny Musee Angladon, which houses a collection of Impressionist paintings by the likes of Picasso, Degas, Manet and Sisley.
But what I enjoyed most about Avignon was walking around the old town, exploring its winding cobbled streets lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. I'm not a huge shopper but the shopping there was fabulous -- not just souvenirs like lavender, Provencal pottery and tablecloths but interesting fashion, unusual toiletries, trendy kitchen stores and more. Avignon is small, and immensely walkable -- but every time you venture out you'll find a new little corner to explore.
We ate two extremely good meals: one at Kote Kour, a trendy little tucked-away bistro near our apartment. Although we felt as if we (apart from the Littleboys) were the oldest people there, it had delicious and unusual food, and an off-menu chicken and chips for the boys.
At a slightly more pretentious restaurant, we struggled slightly when they didn't have their advertised kids' menu, but eventually the boys shared a steak and pronounced it delicious. And my asparagus, egg and hollandaise starter was one of the culinary highights of the whole trip.
So I would definitely recommend Avignon en famille, if you have a couple of days to spare or fancy a weekend trip. Just forget the hotels and check out Airbnb first.