Sunday, August 9, 2015

A visit to the historical sights in Avignon and a lovely lunch at La Fourchette

My first memory of Avignon is trying to get from the TGV station south of town on the road leading to the A7 in Le Pontet to go to Sablet. Since that day, we have returned to Avignon many times to visit the town's many historical sites, shopping and dining. It is always one of the places we take all our guests.

Last May was no exception when friends Melissa, the former chef at our Bistro des Copains and Debbie, one of our lead servers visited Sablet. On the morning of the day they were leaving for Paris for their return home, we headed to Avignon to see the sights and eat 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.

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.

14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville

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

There are two statues in front of the Opera-Theater in Avignon. One is of Pierre Corneille, a French tragedian, and one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine.

Pierre Corneille statue in front of Opera-Theater of Avignon

The other statue is of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, 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

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.

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

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

La Fourchette Restaurant, a restaurant owned by Philippe and Danièle Hiély since 1982 is on Rue Racine.

La Fourchette Restaurant

Chef Hiély offers a printed three-course menu with quite a few options for both starter and main course plus a long list of daily specials for 35 €.

Friend Debbie and Shirley at La Fourchette Restaurant

Our starters included:

Papeton d'Aubergine

Lentils de Puy with cured salmon and gravlax sauce

Our main course selections included:

Daube de Boeuf

Gratin of Macaroni

Salmon with curry sauce and zucchini

Filet of Daurade with basil sauce and Parmesan

Desserts included:

Profiterole with ice cream and chocolate sauce

Yummy chocolate sauce being dribbled on the profiterole

Ice cream with Chantilly cream

Nougat Glacé

As we walked back to the car, we passed the "Belle Epoque" carousel at the top end of the Place de l'Horloge and of course we couldn't resist using the carousel as a backdrop for a cute picture.

Our friends Melissa and Debbie enjoy the "Belle Epoque" carousel in Avignon

Murals on wall of shopping arcade in Avignon

I should mention that the Place de l'Horloge is filled with cafes catering to tourists. While it is appealing to sit under one of the umbrellas and watch the world go by, it is better to save the experience for a café break, rather than lunch since we have not found any of the cafes to serve great food.

Place de l'Horloge Cafes

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.

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

Statue of Christ on the cross in front of Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

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 menu at La Fourchette has enough options that you are guaranteed to find several starters and main course offerings that appeal to your palate. So go and enjoy when you are in Avignon. I would encourage you to make reservations before you go.

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


  1. Avignon looks a great place to visit and thanks for the bits of history to go with the photos. France is such an interesting country. As for the restaurant, yum yum, if we are down that way we will be sure to drop in. Hope all is well Diane

  2. Thank you for writing such a very interesting history of the buildings about the palace of the popes and the Belle Époque carousel We were just there a month ago and didn't know about the history because we are deaf. Can you tell us about the historical building that's directly opposite thePalais des Papes ? It has angels onto of the door. Do t know the name of this place. Thank you