Sunday, September 14, 2014

Visit to Avignon and Lunch at La Fourchette Restaurant

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music and activity. You can spend hours wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls without getting bored. One day while Shirley and friend Kari were shopping for kids clothes, I wandered off to see what I could find.

Avignon is well known for its Festival d'Avignon, the annual festival of dance, music and theater founded in 1947. There are really two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more bohemian "Festival Off", known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances.

The Palais des Papes ("Papal Palace") almost dwarfs the cathedral. The palace is an impressive monument and sits within a square of the same name. The palace was begun in 1316 by John XXII and continued by succeeding popes through the 14th century, until 1370 when it was completed.

Pope's Palace

Avignon is commemorated by the French song, "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" ("On the bridge of Avignon"), which describes folk dancing. The song dates from the mid-19th century when Adolphe Adam included it in the opera "Le Sourd ou l'Auberge Pleine" which was first performed in Paris in 1853. The opera was an adaptation of an 1790 comedy by Desforges.

The bridge in the song is the Saint-Bénézet bridge over the Rhône River of which only four arches (out of the initial 22) now remain. The bridge was built between 1171 and 1185, with a length of some 2950 feet, but was destroyed during the siege of Avignon by Louis VIII of France in 1226. It was rebuilt but was damaged frequently during floods and had to be continually repaired. Several arches were already missing before the remainder was abandoned in 1669.

Saint-Bénézet Bridge

The defensive walls were built by the popes in the 14th century and still encircle Avignon. They are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence. The walls are of great strength and are surmounted by machicolated battlements flanked at intervals by 39 massive towers and pierced by several gateways, three of which date from the 14th century.

Avignon Defensive Wall

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly built during the 12th century. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is the 19th century gilded statue of the Virgin which surmounts the western tower. The mausoleum of Pope John XXII (1334) is one of the most beautiful works within the cathedral, it is a noteworthy example of 14th-century Gothic carving.

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

Keep your eyes raised as you walk around so you don't miss the murals on building facades representing the Festival d'Avignon and statues of the virgin perched on corners of buildings around Avignon.

Building Mural Representing the Festival d'Avignon 

Building Mural Representing the Festival d'Avignon

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature.

Statue of Molière in front of the Opera-Theater of Avignon

Near the Palais des Papes is the Opera-Theater seen below, built in 1825 on Place de l’Horloge. Rebuilt in 1847 after a fire, the Opera House offers music, dance, theater and opera performances throughout the year.


Next to the Opera-Theatre on Place de l'Horloge is the neo-classical town hall (Hôtel de Ville) built in the 19th century as a replacement for an older building. Only the 14th century clock tower (Tour de l'Horloge) remains from the original structure. The Gothic clock tower, which gave the square its name, was incorporated into the construction of the later Hôtel de Ville.

The City of Avignon sets up a traditional Provençal crèche with santons (Provençal: "little saint") in the Hotel de Ville every year. A santon is a small hand-painted, terracotta nativity scene figurine produced by artisans in workshops in Provence. The santons represent various characters from Provençal village life such as the baker, the winemaker, and the farmer wife with eggs.

Avignon Town Hall

Statue of Virgin Mary Perched on Corner of Building

Statue of Virgin Mary Perched on Corner of Building

The penitent brotherhoods were at their peak during the 16th and 17th centuries. The brothers were expected to help each other, do public penance, and perform good deeds. The brotherhood they belonged to was identified by the color of their sackcloth and the hood that covered their heads during processions. Each brotherhood had its own chapel. This is the chapel of the white penitents.

Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs

The Collégiale Saint-Didier Church seen below is a 14th century Gothic church in the middle of Avignon. The current church was built over a period of three years and four months and consecrated on 20 September 1359. It stands on the site of a much older church which may date back to the 7th century though the first texts mentioning the church date back to 1068.

Collégiale Saint-Didier

Entrance to Collégiale Saint-Didier

Inside, the altar is adorned by the stunning "The Bearing of the Cross", sculpted by Francesco Laurana for King René in 1478.

Interior of Collégiale Saint-Didier

As planned, we met up for lunch in front of La Fourchette Restaurant, a restaurant owned by Philippe and Danièle Hiély since 1982.

La Fourchette Restaurant

La Fourchette Dining Room

Chef Hiély offers a three-course menu with quite a few options for both starter and main course for 35 €. Friend Kari pauses for a picture while we wait for entrées (first course) to be brought to our table.


We are happily seated below at one of our favorite restaurants.

Shirley and Your's Truly

First courses;

Seafood Gratin with Greens

Salad of Green Lentils from Puy with Smoked Salmon with Gravlax Sauce

Main courses;

Scallops with Mango Sauce and Fennel Puree

Salmon fillet with a Cream of Red Pepper Sauce

Daube Avignonnaise


Café Gourmand


As we walked back to the car, we passed the "Belle Epoque" carousel at the top end of the Place de l'Horloge.

La Fourchette Restaurant is one of our favorite restaurants in the Vaucluse. The menu is relatively large for Provence and you know there is always going to be something you like on the menu. I am sure we will dine there when we are in Provence in a few weeks.

La Fourchette Restaurant
17 Rue Racine
84000 Avignon
Tel: 04 90 85 20 93

Have a great week! Chat soon.

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