Day 4 of my road trip through Europe was full of surprises. I was really surprised about how much I liked each place we visited and especially loved Avignon. The day also cemented my belief that there is more to see and do in France than any other country in Europe. Here are some highlights and thoughts from Day 4.
The self-proclaimed gastronomic capital of France is France’s second city and a very underrated and unknown place. Francophiles and travelers may know about it but most of the larger world may only know of Lyon through their outstanding soccer team, Olympique Lyonnais, who has really raised the city’s International profile.
Two rivers; the Rhone and Saone punctuate the city. They divide the city and create a Seine-like feel. The other dominant characteristic of the city is the massive Fourviere.
Fourviere sits atop a hill above Old Lyon and features a gorgeous cathedral called the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere. Aside from the way it looks, it is captivating inside because it features two big chapels on top of each other. I had never seen this before and was very impressed. Literally, as you walk in the front entrance, you can choose to go up or down into a different chapel.
On Fourviere there are a couple of other cool sites. The best is the Roman ruins on the hillside near Fourviere Basilica called Ancient Theatre of Fourviere and the Odeon of Lyon. These well-preserved ruins are a little surprising in their location but a very cool site to see. It is a nice place to walk around and also a great place for some exercise up the steep stairs after a big Lyonnais meal.
Below Fourviere is Vieux Lyon or Old Lyon and is classified as a World Heritage Site. The old town is pretty awesome. It is a great place to walk around and the main tourist destination in town. Tour groups of older people were seemingly everywhere and so was the smell of bakeries, bread and pastries. After all, Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France, allegedly.
I must say that while I had some of the best mussels I have ever had in Lyon, I didn’t have a great meal. The places we ate at were good but not great. Certainly not good enough to unseat Paris in my book as the country’s best food.
The main restaurant area is a place called Rue Merciere and it has hundreds of nice looking restaurants. We had it on good authority to try a certain place that neither of us thought was that good, except for the amazing mussels. Breakfast and lunch the next day was the same thing, it was good but not great. So while I trust my friends saying how good it was, I did not have the best meal I’ve had in France but in fairness I may not have ate at the best places so the door is still open for the next time I am in Lyon.
Avignon is simply put one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. It is often referred to as the ‘City of Popes’ because the Papacy essentially relocated there from 1309 to 1423 during the Catholic Schism. It has the best-preserved ramparts of anywhere I’ve seen in Europe and the Palais des Papes is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
The Palais des Papes is the world’s largest gothic palace. That said, it is tough to describe how cool this place is. Massive cannot begin to describe the cavernous rooms and castle-like features in this World Heritage Site.
It’s no wonder that Pope Clement V wanted to relocate to Avignon from Rome during his Papacy. Avignon is stunning in all ways. The views from atop the palace are fabulous and walking the little streets of the old city is fantastic. It has a real genuine feel and again gives you a real sense of what it must have been like during the Middle Ages. The only problem is the jig is up; it is overrun by tourists. But as I always say, tourists wouldn’t go places if they sucked!
The other major site in Avignon is the Pont d’Avignon. This bridge is essentially cut in half and features great views back of the old city. However, the real reason for its fame is that it is featured in a French nursery rhyme called ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon’. It is a nice site to see but not really worth the extra money to see on its own. Buy the multi-site pass at the Palais and that’ll save you some money and grant access to both sites.
Avignon is what you want from an old medieval town in Europe. Close your eyes, make believe and imagine you’re back 600 years. It is one of those places that still has that type of feel. Just don’t trip on a Japanese tour group!
Aix-en-Provence or better known as Aix is a cute little town about 20 miles from Marseille. It is an adorable little place to spend an afternoon strolling the streets and getting in touch with your inner Cezanne, Aix’s most famous resident.
Walk down the Cours Mirabeau and people watch and store front shop as you enjoy some fabulous gelato. There aren’t many sites except for some cool and interesting fountains but you can follow the Cezanne trail. How do you know where it is? Just look down and see the Cezanne plaques leading to different places he ate, drank and assorted other things.
Aix is a nice place, it really is but there are so many tourists here it gets a bit annoying. Unfortunately because it’s so small, everyone wants to see it and everyone apparently does. The streets are packed with performers, tour groups, tour busses and people snapping pictures from all over the world. World has apparently got out on Aix.
It had been described to me as bohemian chic. I only really saw chic. With all the tourists come high-end stores, tourist traps and hassles (parking is beyond a nightmare). While you can still see the charm the town has, and it really is charming; I can’t help but say check out Avignon if you have to choose one.