Day 39-43: Avignon

Again, there wasn’t much that we specifically wanted to see in Avignon, it was just another 1/3rd of the mega distance from San Sebastiàn to the Alps that we had to cover. Simon certainly wasn’t adverse to stopping around here though, as Mont Ventoux was nearby which would allow him some last minute hill cycling for his L’Etape training.

We stayed at a small campsite in nearby Chateaurenard, with a nice pool, rotisserie chicken for sale, and thankfully free of odd neighbours. All round win. It also appeared there was loads to do pretty close by, so we’d definitely made the right call abandoning Toulouse.

We had plans to do a whistle stop photo tour of the sights around Avignon, but got absorbed in the couple of things we did see, so didn’t get quite as far as planned!

First stop was Abbaye-Saint-Roman, a 1000 year old troglodyte cave monastery. We had a bit of a hike to get up to the hill top, to find chapels, monks quarters and tombs carved deep in to the rock. The terrace on the top had great views across the Rhone and over to Avignon and Mont Ventoux.

Next stop was Pont du Gard, a three-tiered roman aqueduct that we thought would be a quick pit stop, but with a steep entrance fee, we’d underestimated quite how much there was to do.

The aqueduct itself is very impressive, spanning the Gardon river it is the highest and most well preserved of its kind. Up close you really get a sense of the engineering feat it was to build it 2000 years ago.

There are walks around the hills either side of the river which allow you to get a view from the top of the aqueduct, while the river and small beaches below were busy with water sporters and families making a day out of it.

After a sweaty yomp up the hill, and a quick paddle to cool back down (if we’d have been organized we’d have brought swimming stuff!), we escaped the heat in the visitor centre. And what a great visitor centre it was. A fascinating exhibition (in English too) of the history of the Romans in the area, how they chose the route for the aqueduct, the engineering behind designing and building it, and how the water source revolutionized society. By the time we were done with that, it was time to head back to camp for a BBQ.

The next day Simon tackled Mont Ventoux and Laura and Evelyn had a lazy (well, as lazy as you can be with a fidgety 7 month old) day by the pool.

We headed in to Avignon city for our next day out, a far more interesting place than Toulouse!The city is surrounded by old stone walls, leading around to the Popes Palace, the home of Christianity in the 14th century with amazing medieval gothic architecture.

Alongside it, jutting out in to the river, is the remains of the medieval Pont Saint-Benezet bridge, with another informative visitor centre. We certainly got our fill of architectural and engineering learning crossing France.

We explored the old town and enjoyed a crepe lunch in a park in the welcome shade of a church. The old town was buzzing with activity as it was the Avignon arts festival, with acts handing out flyers and performing in the streets.

We saw there was a free boat connection to Ile de la Barthalasse, so decided to walk out of town on to the island to explore the park and come back by boat. What a mistake. It was a scorching day and there was little shade on the island. We managed to just miss a boat back, so had to hang around in the scrappy shade of a tree waiting over 1/2hr for it to return. Except by this time quite a crowd had formed and it was a scrum getting on board. It’s hard to get your elbow in when you have a buggy to manouvre! We finally made it back to the town feeling rather hot and flustered and in need of a dip in the pool.

Another day relaxing by the pool finished our time in Avignon, and we were off to Simon’s much anticipated highlight of the trip- the Tour de France!

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