The Mole Diaries: Avignon (Volume 2)
Katie De Salis is studying Film Studies and French at Exeter University, and is spending her year abroad working as a British Council Language Assistant in the Vaucluse region of France, living in Avignon. She has appeared on the news during her stay there! Here is her insider guide to living in and adventuring around Avignon, with tips about finding accommodation, packing, things to do and places to go while you're there...
This year I’m working as a British Council Language Assistant in three primary schools in very small villages in the Vaucluse region of France (Population: 90,000). I’m living in the nearest town, Avignon, as it’s much more lively than tranquil village life! Avignon is an ancient town situated in the South of France on the Rhône River. The town centre is enclosed within old fortified walls, with everything inside known as intra-muros compared to the surrounding area extra-muros. The medieval centre, which houses the famous Palais des Papes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can spend hours walking around the narrow streets.
Almost all my friends out here found themselves apartments to live in through the websites Le Bon Coin and Appartager. I’d recommend finding a colocation, as this is a great opportunity to meet new people and practise your French! Expect to pay from €350–450 per month for a studio or shared apartment. Accommodation intra-muros is recommended, as this is not only a great location but also much safer when walking home at night.
There are two stations: Avignon Centre (10 minutes walk from the town centre) and Avignon TGV (5 minute train ride from Avignon Centre), with the Eurostar and Ouigo trains passing through the TGV. Buy a Carte Jeune 18-27 for €50 as soon as you arrive for up to 50% off train journeys and download the SNCF app to keep track of train times.
Local buses run all day from the centre to the outskirts of the city where there are lots of retail outlets and a popular place to pick up a car-share.
Regional buses also run from the bus station just next-door to Avignon Centre. The TransVaucluse buses run all around the Vaucluse area and Language Assistants qualify for a free bus pass, a fantastic opportunity to visit local towns without spending a penny!
Buses also run further afield to popular destinations like Paris and Barcelona, which are often cheaper (although slightly longer) alternatives to taking a train.
Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmermann
There is a small airport, however flights aren’t very frequent over the winter months. Cheap flights to England run regularly from Marseille airport, which you can get to directly by taking a train from Avignon Centre.
Although it’s easy to get around most of the city by foot, if you live or work a little far out from the centre it can be a good idea to get a bike – there are lots for sale second-hand on Le Bon Coin. Alternatively, you can rent a Vélopop bike for a daytrip.
3. What to Pack
Despite what you might think, it’s not always hot and sunny in the South of France! Avignon in particular suffers from the brutal Mistral wind, which can be absolutely freezing. A warm coat and scarf are essentials for the winter months (and will help you pass for a local). For sunnier days you might want to go on a day trip to a beach outside the city or a trip to one of the nearby swimming pools so remember swimwear – I forgot mine and swimwear was practically impossible to buy during a heat wave in October. Sports kit is essential – there are loads of gyms and yoga studios so activities to suit everyone and great opportunities to meet people.
A two-prong adapter is something easily forgotten but seriously necessary! I also found a multi-extension plug was really useful, especially as plug sockets can often be limited or found in really random places.
While I’d definitely suggest embracing the French culture and trying some local delicacies, sometimes it’s nice to have the odd home comfort. Although Marmite, Hellmann’s and Cadbury’s can be found in the British section of the supermarket, they’re seriously over-priced so might be something to take out with you.
Get a folder together with all your essential documents (and photocopies) before you go. You’ll thank yourself later.
Photo by Ylliab Photo
4. Eating Out
As a tourist town, there’s an abundance of cafés and restaurants with good food at a reasonable price. Here are my top places to eat:
1. Risotto & Co.
A really friendly local restaurant with a selection of homemade risottos and lasagnes catering for all sorts of dietary requirements including gluten free, dairy free and vegetarians (a rarity in lots of parts of France). Two courses and a drink for 8,50€ and it’s possible to take-away.
2. Ginette & Marcel
The cutest little French bistro with an outdoor dining area for when the sun comes out. Cheap tartines for a weekend lunch or alternatively just go for dessert!
3. 83 Vernet
A slightly more upmarket restaurant, this one’s to save for a special occasion or when your family come to visit! I still dream about the creamy polenta and raspberry mojitos.
4. La Maison des Fondues
When in France, it’d be rude not to indulge yourself by dipping bread into a large pot of melted cheese. Just allow time for a lie down afterwards, you’ll need it.
5. Milk Shop
This place is always packed with students and is the perfect spot for catching up with friends over bagels and milkshakes or getting some work done on the free wifi.
6. La Pendule Paresseuse
Quite possibly the cutest, quaintest tearoom in France, this afternoon tea hotspot is run by a lovely French woman. Very Instagram-friendly too!
The nightlife is rather different from what we’re used to back home, with most people tending to have small gatherings at their apartments or just go for a drink. Thursday nights are the big one though, as this is student night, and there are a couple of clubs you’ll quickly grow to love.
1. Place Pie
The square where all the bars are and really the only place to be if you’re going for an evening drink. In the warmer months everyone sits outside in the square, which makes a great atmosphere.
2. Red Zone/Shelter
If you’re up for a big night out inside the walls, head to one of these clubs. No entry fee but coats must be checked for €2 per person. Expect classic French cheesy tunes at Red Zone and some edgier alternatives at Shelter.
3. The Cage/Le Bokao’s
Situated just outside the walls, these clubs are worth the walk if you’re looking for a slightly bigger dance floor. Make sure you go along on a Thursday for student nights though; they can sting you with a pricey entrance fee on weekends.
6. Things to do
1. Palais des Papes
The largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages, this one time fortress and palace housed six popes across the 14th century before they returned to Rome. One of the top sites to take people when they come to visit!
Photo by Artur Staszewski
2. Pont d’Avignon (Pont Saint-Bénézet)
This is probably one of the first things most people associate with Avignon when they hear it, thanks to the famous children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon…” Origninally built to link together the city with the next-door town Villeneuve-les-Avignon, the bridge has since collapsed and remains today as a tourist attraction (with a slightly more functional but less attractive bridge to get you across to the other side of the Rhône).
Photo by Stephen Colebourne
3. Isle de Barthelasse
A little island on the Rhône you can take a free ferry ride over to from just outside Avignon’s walls, or cross over a bridge by foot. With such beautiful views of the town, especially the Pont d’Avignon and the Palais des Papes, this makes for a perfect picnic spot on a sunny day. People also love to go slack-lining here between the trees.
4. Festival d’Avignon
The annual summer festival takes place inside the walls in July and celebrates the arts, in particular dance, music and theatre. Shows and events are put on all over the town all day in all sorts of places, from theatres and cinemas, to historical monuments and in the streets.
5. Speaking French
Although it can be very touristy in the summer months, English is not as widely spoken as it is in the big cities like Paris, great news for practicing your language skills! Camili Books and Tea is an English book store that runs tandem conversation sessions twice a week on Wednesday and Friday evenings, a great chance to meet some locals.
7. Nearby Places to Visit
It’s easy to escape for the weekend with so many amazing towns and cities in the surrounding area. The Vaucluse region is beautiful, with arguably some of the most beautiful towns and villages in France. Perfect for local markets, lavender and wine tasting. Meanwhile, there are also major cities nearby if you miss the hubbub of city life: