We breakfasted on fresh croissant, even fresher cherries and the kind of filter coffee that screams WAKE UP at you. Today was to become one of those instant recall days.
Pierre, our attentive/slightly fussy host, told us that today was market day in town. Our plans to stroll up to the Fort Saint-Andre and the adjoining Jardins de l’Abbaye Saint-Andre, were therefore delayed slightly to take in the one day per week marche.
It was a colourful artisan delight and bargain central at that. Every fruit and vegetable imaginable was available (and artistically arranged), as was a staggering variety of honey, jam, mushrooms, cheese, oil, vinegar, soap & wax creations, as well as incredibly tempting home-made pies, sausages, cakes and biscuits.
We could easily have bought a banquet’s worth, but satisfied ourselves with some more fresh cherries, together with some plump, juicy peaches. In what I am sure was a cunning plan, Rania then had to buy a very nice straw basket to carry all of our fruit. She rejected my offer to carry said fruit myself without the need for a basket. Funny that!
It didn’t take long to get up high, firstly past the small terraced cottages that crowded around the walled & narrow winding streets and then as the hill flattened and road broadened, the larger piles of really expensive real estate.
We were soon at the large heavy gate that led to our twin objectives, the fort and the monastic residence & gardens. Up the cobbled pathway, we first turned right into the latter of the two must sees.
The entrance to the gardens was through part of the Benedictine abbey palace that had been built in the 10th Century, a small section of which was open to the public. Sumptuous and stately, but not our real interest of the day. We did linger to look at the weird creations of a local sculptor.
The bright sunshine spilled in through the open doorway & lead-framed windows to illuminate the distorted depictions of sea life – it was to this sunlight that we were drawn. The courtyard we entered into was picture perfect.
Multi-coloured wrought-iron garden furniture littered the stony ground, bright pink, orange and red flowers bloomed from well-shaped bushes, the bowed branches of an ancient tree gave respite to the heat of the day, pots of marjoram, rosemary, mint and lavender filled the air with intoxicating aromas, pink water lilies sprouted from a miniature stone fountain that spurted gurgling water into its floral trough, weathered garden statues crouched in their shady nooks carved into the boundary wall, a huge stone urn with carved floral motif stood atop a stone plinth, purple flowers trailing from within, a stone arch draped in ivy led off to somewhere else secretive & exciting.
The place shouted LINGER and this is what we did. The landscape was a dream, an inspiration for all gardeners to follow if only they could. Maybe it’s an age thing, but we absolutely loved what we saw, breathed, heard and felt. We soon added taste to the sensations through consuming the delicious fresh fruit that we had purchased earlier. The taste bud juices are flowing as I write!
The rest of the delightful garden did not disappoint either, even if it did not quite match the stunning entry point. Shady pathways, a plethora of different hues of green plants, shrubs and bushes, a large lily pond etc. I won’t go on or I may come across like a less knowledgable version of Alan Titchmarsh at Chelsea Flower Show, but suffice to say, we were well impressed. The fantastic view across the valley to Avignon with the Palace of the Popes jutting from its base just added to the pleasurable spectacle. That was money really well spent.
We stayed for two and a half hours in all, such was our love for the place. We took plenty of opportunities to just sit amongst the flora and feel the peace washing over us. It is a vision that I have used several times since to de-stress myself at work. They even had an olive grove to make Rania truly feel at home in paradise!
We agreed to give the fort a miss. We had walked a fair distance in thirty-six degree heat and were feeling zapped despite all of the rest breaks. Maybe this meant we would definitely return one day.
After an hour’s recuperation back at the ranch, we took the short bus ride into big brother Avignon itself.
We alighted outside one of the city’s historic gates housed in the impressive walls that are still almost wholly intact, encircling the entire settlement. As soon as we passed through into the city’s thoroughfares, we were drawn upwards, first of all coming to the main town square fronted as ever in all French settlements, large or small, by the Hôtel de Ville.
We sat for afternoon refreshment and took in the bustle of the place. Cyclists, dog-walkers, promenaders, romantic couples, youths being youths, kids playing chase games, others enjoying the vividly decorated carousel.
The city is most famous for the vast Palace of the Popes, built in the 14th Century, when a succession of Pontiffs were Gallic (Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Antipope Benedict XIII in 1394)
We arrived mid afternoon and satisfied ourselves with an external view, figuring that we did not have time to do the interior justice – you guessed it, saved for another trip.
The palace sits atop a hill, looking down upon the rest of the walled city. I suppose this was symbolic of the great religious leaders looking down upon their subjects, but would also have been for defensive purposes. It has a definite castle look to it in places with turrets and arrow slits, a sign of the turbulent crusader period during which it was constructed, when religious wars were frequent.
The structure is huge, requiring several photographs to capture the aspect of its entire facade. It looms over a pleasant square filled with the touristic eateries and shops that you would expect of such a place.
As non-paying visitors, we were still able to clamber up the exterior steps to stand alongside the statue of Christ on the wooden crucifixion cross, whilst being looked down upon by the golden depiction of the risen Lord.
We lingered to marvel at the view below covering the whole city, right down to the River Rhone that flows outside the medieval walls.
After a couple of hours, we completed our familiarisation tour of Avignon, vowing to return one day to do the place justice.
We ate an al fresco meal in the scaled down square in Villeneuve and took in the amazing early tournament World Cup football match when the Dutch soundly thrashed holders Spain in Brazil.
We went to bed happy in the knowledge that the near future was bright, the near future was Orange.