One Sunday a few weeks back, I started checking to see which of our favorite Avignon restaurants were open on Sunday. Finding none, I started going through the big red Michelin Guide to see if any of the restaurants listed in the Guide that we had not already tried were open. I discovered that an Italian restaurant called Italie là-bas! was open. After making reservations, we took off for Avignon.
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.
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.
We parked in our favorite parking lot near the Pope's Palace. Since it was Sunday and the middle of February, there was no shortage of parking spots. It was a beautiful day and I took pictures of some of the historical buildings as we walked to the restaurant which was just south of the Place de l'Horloge. If you have been a follower of the blog for a while, you may have seen some of these sights before.
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|
The Popes' Palace is a historical palace in Avignon, one of the largest and most important Medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. One time fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palace, leading to the elections of 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.
|Palais des Papes|
The Palace is actually made up of two buildings: the old Palace of Benedict XII which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new Palace of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes. Not only is the final combination the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages, it is also one of the best examples of the International Gothic architectural style
|Palais des Papes|
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.
|Opera-Theater of Avignon|
Next to the Opera-Theatre on Place de l'Horloge is the neo-classical town hall known as the Hôtel de Ville built in the 19th century as a replacement for an older building. Only the 14th century clock tower 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.
|14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville|
The City of Avignon sets up a traditional Provençal crèche with santons, in Provençal it means "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 a farmer's wife with eggs.
|Hôtel de Ville|
We found the restaurant a short distance from the Hotel de Ville on Rue Bancasse, which parallels Rue de la Republique, arriving on time for our reservations at 12:15.
|Italie là-bas! Restaurant|
We were the first to arrive that day, although the dining room did fill up completely before we left. We made our selections including wine and settled in to see what an Italian restaurant in the South of France that doesn't offer pizza would be like.
|Italie là-bas! Restaurant dining room|
As I said, we discovered the restaurant in the Michelin Guide. Prices were moderate and similar to Bib Gourmand price guidelines. The restaurant has been in business for 3 years
|Brioche and cassis butter|
|Amuse bouche of cream of ricotta with tuna tartar and Japanese citrus|
Shirley decided the egg below was not so perfect, barely cooked and very runny so we swapped our starters.
|Perfect egg with Roman artichokes and butternut squash puree|
We had Arancini earlier in the week made from leftover risotto which had more flavor and moisture than the ones shown below. These were quite bland and very dry.
|Arancini's with sun dried tomatoes, olives, capers and a Sicilian fennel salad|
|Rabbit casserole with Pecorino cheese, potatoes, black olives and herbs|
|Beet gnocchi with Normandy butter, sage, and poppy seeds with a creamy Gorgonzola sauce|
|Chocolate tart with pears|
We enjoyed our lunch with the exception of the comments above. The menu was more French like in its limited choices than Italian which have quite a few options for starters and main courses. After we finished, we headed out to see a few more sights before we headed across the Rhône River to Villeneuve-les-Avignons to visit cousins Andre and Mauricette.
Saint Antoine Chapel and Hospital seen below dates from the 13th century. Pope Benedict the 13th took refuge here in 1403. The poet Alain Chartier, the father of French Eloquence was laid to rest here in 1449.
|Saint Antoine Chapel and Hospital|
The bell tower of 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
|Bell tower of the Collégiale Saint-Didier Church|
|Entrance to Collégiale Saint-Didier Church|
Near the Hôtel de Ville is a bust of Frédéric Mistral, a French writer and lexicographer of the Occitan language. Mistral received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist".
|Bust of Frédéric Mistral near Hôtel de Ville|
Place de l'Horloge is a long square in front of the Hôtel de Ville with terrace cafés lining both sides. Streets at the top end of the Place de l'Horloge lead to the Place du Palais and the Palace of the Popes.
It was interesting that when we walked through the square on the way to the restaurant, the square was largely empty of people. On the way back to the car after lunch, the square was full of people enjoying the sunny warm day in February.
|Place de l'Horloge|
|View of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and the Pope's Palace from across the Rhône River|
|View across the Rhône River towards Saint Bénézet Bridge, Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and Pope's Palace|
Many of you know the French children's song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" (On the bridge of Avignon), which describes folk dancing. The bridge of the song is the Saint Bénézet bridge over the Rhône River of which only four arches remain. The bridge was initially built between 1171 and 1185 with an original length of 900 m (2950 feet) but it collapsed during floods and had to be rebuilt several times.
|Saint Bénézet Bridge|
The defensive walls seen below 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.
|Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and Pope's Palace behind the Defensive Walls|
|View of 14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville from across the Rhône River|
|View toward Mont Ventoux|
|Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral from across the Rhône River|
Italie là-bas! Restaurant
23 Rue Bancasse
Tel: 04 86 81 62 27
Have a great week. Chat soon.