Avignon is one of the most interesting cities in France. In 1309, Pope Clement V disliked all the politics in Rome and decided to move the Papacy to Avignon. A couple of subsequent Popes chose to remain in Avignon, and in 1335, Pope Benedict XII began construction of the Palais des Papes, which dominates the city today.
It’s an imposing place, and surprisingly secular. After the revolution, it was used as a prison and later a barracks, so most of the Papal splendor is long gone. But some of the rooms still have beautiful frescoes. Especially the Chambre du Cerf, which shows the locals hunting, fishing, and trapping birds.
The scale of the rooms is amazing — the ceremonial halls here are the size of cathedrals.
The Avignon Popes enjoyed the good life, and wine was an integral part. They promoted viticulture in the region just north of Avignon and established what would later be called Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which means “new castle of the Pope.”
Today, the wines of the Cote du Rhones AOC range from full-bodied reds to fruity roses. There’s one for every palate. And one of the best places to taste — and buy — wine from the region is in the Palais des Papes.
Like so many of Europe’s great attractions, the Palais des Papes lands all visitors in its gift shop. But this one has a twist. The first stop is a bottle shop, called “La Bouteillerie” where 55 Cotes du Rhone wines are available to sample. Each year, the shop sends requests to more than one thousand wineries along the Routes du Vins and selects the best for the boutique.
You can taste three for 6 euros, and individual wines are available to taste at a price of 2 to 7 euros per glass.
Bottles are the same price as they are at the wineries, so you can pick up a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape red for as little as 19.50 euros.
The gardens above the Cathedral are a great spot for a picnic. You can see the Rhone, the rooftops of the city, and Mont Ventoux in the distance. So grab a bottle, a loaf of bread from the local boulangeie, and some cheese, and head for the hills.
If you don’t have time to visit the wineries north of town, the Palais des Papes is a convenient, affordable place to taste the local wines.