Too many Popes?

Avignon – 19-20 April 2017

We left our more than satisfactory France Passion site early escorted by the wind. We soon learn that this was the famous Mistral, a strong north wind that howls down the Rhone valley and is credited with keeping the vines healthy. It stayed with us the entire time we were in the Rhone valley, chilling us to the bone. We followed the Rhone, crossed its tributaries and passed working towns, power stations and industrial developments built on the river’s plain as well as the more familiar pretty scenery of hills, riverbanks and vineyards, showing how important the Rhone is for the economy. Finally we came into the ancient city of Avignon from the west and onto the Ile de la Barthelasse situated in the middle of the Rhone & our campsite, Camping Pont d’Avignon. An older site with lovely mature trees and somewhat dated facilities and ACSI prices. We took the suggested pitch as we weren’t intending staying too long, and walked out to find the bridge.

Danny had never heard of the bridge at Avignon as he didn’t do french at school, but Kate had been brought up singing “Sur le pont, d’Avignon” when her primary teacher bravely tried to teach her basic french, and was keen to see it. She was so disappointed to find it only spanned half the river, part of it having been swept away by floods around 500 years earlier.

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Look closely – Kate’s hair is pointing to the bridge

Once inside the walls of the old town – which were impressive – the force of the Mistral lessened and we headed in search of lunch. A large square, the Place de L’Horologie, with lots of outside tables owned by various cafes, looked just the job. We took one Kate’s  with feta & peppers, Danny’s with sliced chicken, avocado and a ‘curry sauce’ which was cold, slightly sweet and tasking mildly of curry powder. Surprisingly he really enjoyed it and has committed to try coronation chicken on his return to the UK.

After lunch we visited the Carrefour Metro for our shop and then popped into Tourist Information to see about vineyard tours to Chateauneuf du Papae. Horribly expensive at €65 each for a half day tour, involving just 2 vineyard- tomorrow.

Meandered through the town – which is lovely with lots of medieval stuff left – to the Palace of the Popes. Impressively large, this was home to the Popes in the 14th century but according to our guidebook very bare inside so we decided against paying to wander round it and chose to admire from outside.

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Walked back towards the site and once off the bridge and out of the wind the temperature was pleasant in the sun. Dropped the shopping and visited the site bar for a quick glass of red before retiring to research the next day and prep dinner. Site internet expensive so used our Huawei which is proving to be a blessing.

Thursday 20th April

Up early and, of course the Mistral was still blowing. Wrapped up we headed off with 45 minutes to get to Avignon bus station. Plenty of time. Stopped to grab a croissant to eat on the hoof and got to the with 10 minutes to spare. Wrong depot. We found the right one 5 minutes after the bus to Chateauneuf du Pape left. Next bus in 4 hours. Oh dear.

Went for a hot coffee in a warm cafe and debated taxis, cycling (16km each way) and bus and decided to stay in Avignon, visit the Palais des Papes then get the 13.05 bus to Chateauneuf du Pape. A lot of ‘Papes’ for one day.

The wind was howling down the street and my feet were like blocks of ice as we walked up to the Palais. We got the audio guide which was really very good and even had animations on its small screen, and spent a couple of hours walking round what is left of the Palais des Papes. Actually there was enough there to more than justify then entrance fee, with some of the original wall painting revealed.

Reconstructions and interpretations were really well done . Although there was very little in the way of furnishings, the displays, reconstruction and audio allowed us to really imagine how it looked and how the popes lived and worked there. Got the thumbs up from both of us as a piece of medieval history. No central heating though.

Rather than risk missing the bus again we grabbed a disappointing-tasting hotdog on the way to the depot where we then waited a while for the bus. Cost us €5 each for a round trip which took 40 minutes each way. Only one return, at 5.30pm.

Not surprisingly the village of Chateauneuf du Paps is surrounded by vineyards. We went for a glass of the famous wine while we waited for Tourist Information to re-open then confirmed with them that the best place for amateurs like us was the Museum of Wine at the wine house of Brotte, and they suggested following it by sampling some of the many free wine tastings in the village.

The Wine Museum had a free audio tour and wine tasting and was really well done, genuinely informative for us, explaining the huge range of soils, vines and wines of the Rhone valley, in particular Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as the different techniques, grape blends and  changes over time. We followed round the only other 2 passengers to do the full bus journey from Avignon to the village – a tall german and his teenage son who was bored but well behaved. The man joined us for the tasting at the end which resulted in us selecting a white (didn’t know they did white (Chateauneuf du Pape), a rose called Tavel and 2 reds. Our german friend ordered cases to be sent to his home in Germany.

We then walked up through the sleepy village with its many wine ‘cave’s  advertising tastings to the one recommended by Tourist Information where we tasted 6 red chateauneuf du pape of different ages and blends – the differences were very clear even to us.

After a wander we were in need of nourishment so we went to the other bar-restaurant on the square which had been packed at lunchtime. Like the one we had visited earlier, it’s kitchen closed at 2pm but they did rustle up some bread, cheeses, cold meats & olives for us on a rustic board to accompany our glass of wine.

Arrived back at Avignon just after 6pm – we had done a wine tour involving 2 tastings for €10 and thoroughly enjoyed it – mission accomplished.