Thursday 10 November 2016

Mediterranean Sunshine, part 4: Le pont d'Avignon

LGV platform at Avignon TGV station
Avignon is one of those towns where the station for high-speed trains is outside the town with a local train service linking it to the central station. Being a brand-new station SNCF had taken the opportunity to indulge in some spectacular architecture and produced a stunning main building for the high-speed line. A curious design, it has just one platform to serve the TGVs in both directions, and there is no canopy over the platform but numerous doors into the long, curved air-conditioned building that houses all the station's facilities, with a subway under the main line to reach the platforms for the ordinary trains that take passengers to and from Avignon and beyond.

As we arrived in the blazing sun and the highest temperature so far, our local train was waiting for us and we were soon on our way into town. Our hotel, Le Cloitre St Louis, was a short walk from the station and was in a building which has had a complex history but began as a Jesuit seminary and had a real monastic feel to it. Modernised sensitively it still felt like a monastery. Our room was huge, and again it was a shame we were not staying longer. We unpacked and went to find the rooftop swimming pool, small, but uncrowded and very welcome with temperatures in the mid-thirty degrees. After shower and change of clothes we made our way into the town for dinner and a stroll to find the famous Bridge of Avignon where people were reputed to have danced and which ends midstream in the Rhône. We picked our way through the narrow streets around the Papal Palace and out onto the riverbank where we saw the bridge floodlit, and then returned to the huge area of outdoor restaurants in the main square and settled on one of them for supper. We walked back to our hotel a long way round: by now it was a little cooler and we need not hurry.

In the morning we had breakfast looking out into the quadrangle in the middle of the main building of the hotel. We checked out but were not leaving until mid-afternoon and were able not only to leave our luggage but to use the swimming pool, too, which we did after our exploration of Avignon. It was even hotter than the day before; not having visited anywhere tropical, this was the hottest weather we had ever experienced, so we opted to do just one thing that day before swimming and catching the train home, and that one thing was to go onto Le Pont d'Avignon.

We strolled there through the streets which now looked so different from the night before, with the shops open and the outdoor restaurants mostly closed, and we made our way to the free ferry to the opposite bank of the river. It was loading as we arrived and the queue was short enough for everyone to board. The crossing gave a great view of the bridge, and on the opposite bank we walked along with many a good view. A café at the end gave us a chance to take a rest and consume yet another iced tea, the signature drink of this holiday! Then we walked over the modern bridge which took us (all the way!) back to the town side of the river and to the entrance to the old bridge which has a fascinating history tied up in legend and the story of the Church in Avignon: I'm not going to relate it here but encourage readers to go and see it for yourselves - it's an easy ride from London!

Last-minute rooftop swim!
We walked out along the bridge which is narrow and not at all suitable for dancing. Apparently the people never did dance on the bridge but at one time did dance under it, "sous le pont," not "sur le pont;" an easy mistake to make! And so back for our swim, change into out travelling clothes and off to the central station for the local train to Avignon TGV where the Eurostar train was to whisk us back to London en route for home. It was a little late, delayed by a late-running Paris TGV in front of it: do not let anyone fool you into thinking that only British trains have that problem; we have travelled a lot in the UK and in Europe and in our experience our railways are no worse or better than anyone else's, including the much-celebrated Swiss railways.

Avignon TGV station
Boarding the train is fuss-free on the way back, but I have to say that the air-conditioning simply meant that the temperature was tolerable in the shorts and summer shirts we were wearing! On the way back, a light tea is served soon after Lyons, and then dinner later, again a very decent hot meal, and then at Lille Europ the train stops for the security checks that were made at St Pancras on the way out. Everyone leaves the train with luggage and goes through passport control and the usual searches. While we were off the train it was searched by the security guards and then we all re-boarded just as if we were travelling from Lille. The train was on the move again in about an hour. This stop is a bit of an annoyance, but we took the opportunity to change our clothes because we were fairly sure that in London the temperature at night was going to be considerably lower than in Avignon in the afternoon! It was not cold when we left the train at St Pancras, but I was glad to have put on slightly more substantial clothing - this was a matter of thinking ahead and having our London outfits easily to hand at the top of our cases when we packed them before leaving the hotel.

We stayed overnight in London at a hotel near Euston, a bit busy but OK. We had open tickets for the return and could leave at any time, and we had arranged to meet some of our family in west London for a celebration lunch at the amazing Hedone restaurant at Turnham Green, for which you really must read my Trip Advisor review! And then home a little earlier than the usual train, First Class all the way, thanks to the deals made for us by Great Rail Journeys Independent. As we so often say, we shall have to return, and indeed go further, into Monaco and Italy, perhaps. One day ...


  1. Mark - I think you should put Japan on your list if funds allow. We loved it with our Japan Rail Pass! David Crossley

  2. If there's a ferry from Vladivostok.... train all the way!