Monday, April 04, 2016

A night in Provence

"One of the best nights I ever had" said one of our guests only last weeks . "This room really has something special."
And this is why we like to share this accomodation, just downstairs from our own flat.  A quiet place surrounded by massive 14th century walls, which pre-date much of the Popes palace,  the room was part of an ancient convent , "l'espitau san Antoni," a place devoted to healing since the Middle Ages.
Nowadays, right in the center of town, it is a perfect place to enjoy Avignon.

Note : We have only recently put the place on the AirBnB website. But we found their reservation and tarif policies a bit, well,  medieval... More than medieval, even. In those times, the share of taxes and tributes to be paid  the Church was more reasonable than the obscure fees levied by the greedy San Francisco's clergy :  For a high season week charged 417 euros to the customer , we would end up getting only 290 euros with air BnB.  This sort of irritates, we'd rather give YOU a discount.Contact us directly:  00 33 6 27 69 18 45 or by mail : fdechambure (removing the -- s !)

For this price, you have not only the room , but a pleasant sitting room facing it, a tiny but separate kitchen, a nice bathroom... a convertible settee  ( two separate beds) allows  accomodation in the flat for up to four people. With your own access to the stairs ( this is a second floor in a building that has only three), you will have both privacy and convenience : we can give you a hand with luggage, parking tips, car and bike rentals, etc

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Festival Avignon OFF 2014

Descriptif location Avignon Festival 2014
 Reste libre : l'appartement deux pièces

Situation :
7 rue Figuière  Avignon, en centre ville sur une placette arborée face à l'église Saint Didier.

Sont offerts à la location saisonniere meublée durant la durée du Festival de théatre d'Avignon ( 4 semines en juillet 2014)  trois studios au premier étage, un studio  et un deux pièces au  second étage d'un immeuble de l'intra-muros  ( le rez-de-chaussée étant un restaurant ).

Au premier étage : 3 studios de 22 à 25 M2
-un studio sur rue avec poutres apparentes, cheminée un canapé convertible en lit double  et deux lits simple sur  mezzanine,   ( couchage maxi quatre personnes) LOUE

-un studio sur cour avec canapé convertible en lit double et couchage simple sur mezzanine ( trois personnes) LOUE

-un studio sur cour avec canapé convertible, salle d'eau, wc séparés, couloir .

La courette privative est au premier étage ( dalle au dessus du restaurant) accessible par la porte fenêtre des deux studios ; elle convient au séchage du linge, et à des moments de détente .

Au second étage : 
Le deux pieces est libre

- un deux pièces de 44 M2 donnant sur la cour avec un lit double dans la chambre et deux lits simples dans le séjour (quatre personnes).

-un studio donnant sur la rue, avec un canapé double.
Tous les studios sont équipés de kitchenettes, salles d’eau individuelles, interphone.

Ces locaux conviennent a une compagnie théâtrale qui recherche un hébergement urbain au coeur d'Avignon intra muros, préservant des unités de vie autonomes, mais avec un partage de lieux communs.

Sont compris dans la location : prêt des meubles, ustensiles de cuisine  et vaisselle pour chaque unité de vie, eau, électricité,entretien partie communes.

Sont sujets à supplément :
- fourniture de linge de maison ,  un trousseau drap et serviette peut être proposé au prix de 20 euros par locataire, comportant serviette, drap de dessous
- accès wifi, (en accord avec les voisins)
- nettoyage des locaux  en fin de location si nécessaire sur état des lieux.

Nous contacter sur l'adresse fdechambure(@) ou au 00 261 32 27 55 311.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Paris, Milano, Wien, Berlin... and Avignon

A brilliant website * designed with Japanese travellers in mind has recently decided to put Avignon on its "big cities" map.
Why is that so ? Avignon is certainly not a big city !  But it is more than a convenient place for visiting Provence. The tourism industry say it's a 'destination'. This city offers a lot in a nutshell - restaurants, monuments, walks, museums, shopping and colorful markets -, only 2 hours and 40 minutes by TGV fast train from Paris, with sunny weather, great food  and none of the  big city hassles.
It is both authentic and traveller oriented. In that sense it would compare well with great cultural destinations such as Kyoto in Japan, Sevilla in Spain, Sienna in Italy, maybe Bath or Cambridge in the UK... A great alternative to a lenghty Paris stay  with a standard 'Chateau de la Loire' excursion. You can actually see much more - Antique roman monuments, religious architecture, etc, you are only a stonethrow away from lovely nature spots and you get the real feel of " France profonde" (the 'real country', as opposed to Paris.
. So yes this is a good choice  for discerning and culture-oriented tourists - with much lower prices !
 *The Euro Estate website helps you find apartments and flatshares in major European cities (Paris, Milano, Berlin, Munchen, Wien) for both short and long term leases.

left : the Sorgue river, (which pops out of from a huge cliff at Fontaine de Vaucluse) is only 2 euros away from Avignon by public bus.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Avignon : How to get there and around ?

Nearest Airport  : Avignon-Caumont,  8km (5 miles) southeast of . 1-hour direct regular  flights
  from SOUTHAMPTON - LONDON CITY - BIRMINGHAM ; also connecting flights from
BELFAST - DUBLIN - EDIMBOURG - GLASGOW - GUERNSEY - JERSEY - NEWCASTLE. Taxis from the airport to the center cost around €15. But keep in mind that  Marseilles Airport is less than 80 Km away, and Nîmes-Garons about 60km, so think about it should you find interesting charter or low-cost flying options.

Train Stations : Chances are you will arrive from TGV train station (Gare TGV). The TGV ride from Paris takes about  2 hours 38 minutes. TGV trains also arrive daily from Koln, Brussels,  and several times a day to and from Marseille in the south, and Nice further east .The high-speed Eurostar train now makes the full journey from London's Waterloo Station to Avignon, but only on Saturdays in the late summer months. The trip makes only one stop (in Ashford, Kent) and takes six hours.
From the TGV station, a 10-minute shuttle bus (navette) takes you from the TGV station to Avignon's city center, alighting 4 minutes from rue Figuière, in front of the main post office. Cost is 1.50 euros only.  Take all your luggage with you, for there are no baggage checks in the TGV station or the central station.
All non-TGV trains arrive at the convenient central train station (Avignon Centre) 5 minutes from our place Trains from Lyons, Marseilles, Montpellier, Nimes are frequent, (hourly or so) ; from Arles, the trip takes 30 minutes and costs about €6.  Tickets must be bought  in the somewhat puzzling yellow vending machines, and then punched in the orange automats before boarding ( this is called "compostage").
Roads & parking lots
It's also easy to drive to Avignon : take the A6 motorway south to Lyons then the A7 south to Avignon, 2 hrs away ( exit 'Avignon nord', then take the nice road along the Rhone with the Pope's palace in sight) ; coming from Marseilles or Aix en Provence, choose exit 'Avignon south'.
But it's a bit more tricky to park there. Once you arrive in Avignon, follow the Centre-ville signs and park either near the city walls (parking de l'Oulle) or in the public parking structures inside the walls( Jean-Jaures, Les Halles, or Palais des Papes). Better yet, follow the red arrows on the above  city map, park as soon as you can either on rue Trois Faucons, place St Didier, Place Aubanel  ( you can type your car plate number in the meter, and collect a free 30mn voucher) and ask us for parking advice once  you finally arrive, on foot, rue Figuière. If you can't find a parking space, the quiet Figuière street itself is "semi pedestrian" : acces to cars is allowed for 30 mn in the morning only, althought  you can try your luck later in the day on the phone affixed on the gated entries  : offseason at least the gate operators are quite lenient. This is Provence, remember : people like to help and feel they are their own boss. Later, once settled in your flat,  you will be able to pick up your car and park it  for free extra-muros either in the Parking des Italiens or Ile Piot, and use the free bus shuttles.

Getting Around Avignon

Avignon center is still largely a medieval town : read a pedestrian heaven. (And a driver's hell). You will tour the city, shop, get out at night all on foot. The best place to rent a car in Avignon is probably the TGV train station. There are other car rental agencies near the central train station, but with shorter hours. You can reserve a rental car in advance with us ( a four door sedan, Peugeot 306) for about 20 euros per days, weekdays).
Note that a little tourist train leave regularly from the Palace of Popes about  twice and hour and does a 30-minute town tour with audio commentary for €6, it passes near our home and chugs up to the top of the Rocher des Doms park for a view above the river (€2).
To explore the area by bicycle, a good idea since Avignon is a fairly flat location, again ask us : we have a gent's bike and a more 'californian' looking ladie's bike for rent, 5 euros per day each.
The situation for handiccapped  travelers is not good. Access for weelchairs is poor to inexistent,  all over the inner city; and sadly our accomodations  in particular  are not suited for them ; the XIV century walls on the two  first levels leave no room for adaptations.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Should Avignon become a City-state again ?

photo : Tax refugees waiting for an audience at the front of the legates'palace, March 2013
At the end of the XVIII century, Avignon, which included the city of Avignon and a few surrounding communes, had a population of about 25.000 and had been a papal enclave since 1348. It was governed by the pope's representative, the vice-legate, and a municipal council - controlled by the clergy, and a few prominent families. Abuses in the papal administration were widespread, and the relatively small enclave was at the mercy of French excise and customs regulations. Well before the French Revolution the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie, particularly the silk manufacturers, and members of the legal community were demanding reform in the judicial and taxation systems and a broadening of their representation in the council. There was discontent as well among artisans and peasants, aggravated after 1788 by an economic crisis that led to a sharp rise in bread prices and unemployment in the silk industry, the mainstay of the county's economy besides attending to the needs of the thousands priests, nuns and monks who still lived in the city.

‎According to an interesting "Compte rendu à l'Assemblée Nationale comme commissaire du Roi à Avignon, le 19 novembre 1791", ( you can buy this rare book here), encouraged by the first results of the Revolution in France, Avignonese Revolutionaries renewed their demands of "rattachement à la France" and supported them with demonstrations. By March 1790, the revolutionaries had gained control of the municipal council. They adopted the main provisions of the constitution then being framed in France, wich the pope refused to accept. After his supporters in Avignon made an unsuccesful bid to reassert his authority by force, the Revolutionaries declared Avignon independent of the papacy and voted to join France (11 June 1790). The villages in the Comtat Venaissin, Papal possession aroud Carpentras, followed suit.
Avignon was thus one of the first places in the world were the principle of self determination, or as was enounced at the times the " Right of the peoples to dispose of themselves" was put in practice. What if the Avignonese people decided to backtrack, and become free again under the distant authority of the Pope ?

One can wonder, in those days of over taxation and subsequent tax evasion by France's rich and sometimes famous, if Avignon wouldn't be better of as an independent state, advertising itself as a tax haven within the EC frame ?

Somebody thought about it - below is the translation from an imaginary prospectus the new free Avignon state would issue soon after independence :

Venite & Defiscalite in Avenio
Come & pay less taxes in Avignon


Generous Offer for MM. Tax Refugees :

It pleases the sovereign Avignon Curia, so predisposed by the Divine clemency, and considering the Blessed freedom of Avignon and the Comtat off the French yoke, but also the subsequent impecunious state of our coffers, to hereby proclaim:

The following rights and priviledges  shall be awarded ex sollicitudo to MM. Tax Refugees of good morals, of any faith and condition but substantial fortune:

Primo - Right of Entry and Passport
Free Admission and Liberty of movement granted to the refugee and his family throughout the City, the Comtat Venaissin and abroad, as soon as they hold the prestigious and unexpensive Passport issued to all tax refugees  and bearing the three keys of Paradise, as on the coat of arms of the sovereign Curia.

Secundo (et inter gravissimas) : Modest Tax
Stable and charitable tax package never ever exceeding one tenth or decimate of the revenues of the incumbents.

Tertio - Residency rights
Unlimited right of residence in a blessed climate , with much sun & few rain (the wind comes from elsewhere we can do nothing about it)

Quarto - Ownership rights
Freedom to buy, own, either freehold or  perpetually in the city, intra & Extramuros, in the Comtat, in & the Vaucluse mountains all the way to the Wall of the Plague, which isolates us from the dangers of France ;

Quinto- Discretion in money matters
Secrecy of Bank & Exchange Transaction shall be defended "Inguibus and rostro" the motto of our state; and guarranteed under the solemn privilege of our apostolic Notaries.

Sexto- Education
Liberal access to our famous Schools, Colleges and Ancient University and their adjacent Taverns;

Septio - Writing
Freedom of opinion and of the press guaranteed by our ancient laws concerning Printing & Publishing, allowing the refugees to indulge in all kind of nonsense, provided, however, not to say anything blasphemous or insulting to his Sanctimoniousness the Neo-Legate, his Camerier, the noble Curia, etc..

Octavo - Grace
For Godly Souls, plenty of opportunities to thank the Divine Providence shall be found in our two hundred churches and chapels, convents and brotherhoods ; not excluding our three ancient Synagogues of Avignon, Carpentras, Cavaillon,  and ithrowed in quite a few recent Mosques.

For His Eminence the Neo-Legate
the Grand Camerier of the sovereign Curia in Avignon.

Tax refugees : Place your petitions to the Grand Camerier accompanied immediatly by a deposit frankly it is better.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

One-bedroom appartment or "deux pieces".

We can rent you a flat in downtown Avignon - by the week or half week - it is called a "deux pieces" - which would best describe as a " one bedroom appartment" in english. Let's say it is one bedroom and one sitting room. The bedroom, with a double bed, has much charm, being enclosed in massive middle age walls. The appartment also offers two single beds in a separate room, and there is a shared bathroom and a tiny but separate kitchenette. We can lend you some baby equipment if needed. Price per week : 210 euros in Feb. and March, 245 euros in April, May and June.
Here is the description in french : Dans un petit immeuble au centre ville d'Avignon, quartier Saint Didier, proche de la Médiatheque, des universités, du Conservatoire , de la Fnac... Deux pièces rénové, meublé, calme, idéal pour un à quatre personnes.L'appartement est en u et n' a pas de vis a vis . chauffage électrique, kitchenette séparée, pierre de taille apparente : un espace chaleureux et agréable a vivre.
Ce deux pièces bénéficie d'une kitchenette équipée ( micro onde, frigidaire machine à laver) et d'une salle de bains avec douche et wc, qui commande l'accès à la chambre. Mobilier : Table et chaises, canapé , lit 2 places, commodes , vastes penderies et rangements, luminaires, nécessaire de cuisine et de vaisselle, équipement pour bébé si nécessaire.. If you feel like wandering about, we can also rent you a car on weekdays ( a very reliable Peugeot 306).

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

French mediterranean coast best kept secret

Only 60 Km from Avignon, one can enjoy a coastline of remarkable beauty with very quiet beaches - even on a searing hot August day.
We went today for a picnic and an dip in l'Etang de Berre, a salty laguna of some 38.000 acres tucked between tne Camargue and the hills of l'Estaque west of Marseilles. On the north of the lake, between Saint Chamas ans Istres, the scenery is lovely, almost Tuscan in character. Here the northerly wind, the Mistral is always fresh, the water quality rated "average" by the french sanitary autorites, which is a bit worrying, but it seemed very clear to us.And we had a long, empty strech of beach to ourselves. I guess nowhere on the cote d'Azur could such an empty space be found exept at the end of impassable private roads. How to explain this ? L'étang de Berre has recovered from decades of agression by freshwater pollution from an hydroelectric plant. Only 9 meter deep, its communication with the sea limited to a narrow strait in Martigues, and a man-made tunnel near Marseilles, the huge laguna is said to suffer from entrophic sedimentation : in the bottom layers of the lake - the fresh water remains cold and lifeless. Also the southern bank of the lake is more industrial and polluted. But neat Istres and St Chamas, we had a nice swim and the windsurfers were having a great time. Try La Digue in St Chamas for lunch near their main base.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Boney's unpaid icecream bill in Avignon: 50 francs.

Bonaparte had more than one  occasion to spend a few days in Avignon. According to local historians, he got fond of a 'glacier'; an icecream parlour on Place Saint Didier.
He is said to have left once the city without paying a bill amounting to 50 francs - a not inconsiderable sum for the times.
. I checked with my neighbours running the gthe icecream vendor on the square (Le Comptoir Saint Didier, great sherbets and home made cakes served on a terrace under a pine tree.) The lady was well aware of that unpaid bill, through her mother-in-law. I guessed at first that Nabulione ( as he was called when a kid in Corsica) was but a teenager at the time : Sent to study from an early age  in various military academies on the Continent, Bonaparte was only 16 when he left Paris for Valence and Avignon for his first six month  home holiday on 30 octobre 1785.  His allowance, paid for by an uncle, was notoriously small - but then weren't the  prices quoted in livres and in Louis ? The franc was instated in lieu of the Louis during the French Revolution.

Maybe it was during his 1793 residence at Marseilles, when Napoleon was employed as a Captain by the general commanding the artillery of " the Army of Italy", and sent to negotiate with the insurgents of Marseilles and Avignon, (a city where he published in the same year a little pamphlet called 'Le souper de Beaucaire', in which he tried to persuade the moderates of the merchant classes not to provoke the excited revolutionists, who were then fighting a cruel civil war in several parts of France.) In those days again, his income was not nearly enough for his needs, and those of his greedy family. The 50 francs of that bill might have exceeded his means.

Anyway, he never paid them back : in the following years he was sort of busy, what with with Coup d'états, campaigns, treaties, coronations and so on : the lanky captain went on to be  a general, then the Premier consul, then an Emperor, whose military proclivities are responsible for over a million deaths on the battlefields. He did solve his money problem - some say he had become the wealthiest person in Europe.

After his first abdication, in April, 1814,on his way to Elba, Napoleon stopped for the last time in Avignon, where he narrowly escaped being slaugthered by the populace. Actually the whole of Provence hated him. He escaped in the uniform of an Austrian officer. During his famous 1815 comeback from Elba, Bonaparte landed in Nice and followed a more arduous, but safer road to Paris through the Alps. You know how it all ended : Waterloo, exile to St Helens... If I were you, I would think twice before leaving an unpaid bill in Avignon.

Read more:
Image : excerpt from the famous " Souper de Beaucaire" painting by Lecomte du Nouÿ.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Jack Kerouac's lone Sunday in Avignon

Jack Kerouac went to Avignon. But he didn't stay that long.  According to his biographer Nicosia*, he arrived by bus from Marseilles via Arles in april, 1957, and got ripped off straigthaway by a defective gum-vending machine at the station. Sulking, angry with the French, he went through the sleepy  sunday afternoon streets of the Popes'city, finding them stuffy and provincial. Then the Dharma Bum left to Paris (by the evening train).

Even if you fancy yourself a lucky traveller, take our humble advice  : don't expect too much from Avignon on a Sunday afternoon. Shops are all closed, including those in the  main tourist streets, where small groups  of disoriented would-be shoppers wander clutching their citymaps and useless wallets. Plan your Sunday ahead, find out about village fairs and shows. Try our local undergroud cinema, Utopia, located next door from our building on 5, rue Figuiere : they  have mostly  English-language movies with french subtitles.  (  'On the road'**,  will be on show there  until June, 26). And... beware of vending machines : those contraptions haven't improved that much since 1957, and nowadays we do have a few cafes open on Sundays !.

( *Gerald Nicosia, Memory babe, chap 11, 1983, Grove Press. )
(**On the road, 2012, from the 1952 novel by Jack Kerouac, directed by  Walter Salles, with Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Sturridge, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Alice Braga, Steve Buscemi, official selection at the Cannes Festival.)
 The picture above is from an ad for the book, not the film.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Long time no see !

If you are curious to what might have happenned to this blog : A baby. In september, 2010, our son was born and ... I found  no time to write.

Among the other changes in our house, the refurbishment of two studios, adding mezzanines.

We do have vacancies in august, so come and check out Avignon super ambience and monuments ! 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Good places get bad, bad places get bankrupt.

Do you remember this caustic remark from  Lonely Planet's travel  bibles ? It was probably in the section on why it was important to buy the very last issue of their thick and juicy  guidebooks.
Indeed,  this warning applies to Avignon's restaurants. Case in point :  Les Artistes, on Place Crillon. Once a great favorite of ours,  it has lost most of its appeal ; althought the chef is still the same, the service is far to undifferent. An other great deception was the Indian food joint,  Roobiny, rue Guillaume Puy. Even the worst Indian restaurant in the UK would make their attempt at Indian cuisine seem lucridous. If you find yourself around this part of town ( close to the rue des Teinturiers), you should give a try next door to  Le Chapelier Toqué ( a word by word translation of  " Mad Hatter") ; we had good fish there the other day.
 The Cityvox online guide tell of an astounding 682 restaurants in Avignon. I'm not sure all  the bad ones will go bankrupt, thanks to the steady flow of unsuspecting tourists in our little town. If you have a few days to spend here, you should try L'Hermitage, rue Figuière for its innovative cuisine and friendly service in the open, Marius et Jeannette place des Corps Saints, for its look of the 50'ies, Au Périgord Gourmand rue du Vieux Sextier for its terrific Southwest cuisine... All of these places are quite reasonably priced  : dinner for two should not cost you more than 50 euros .... Enjoy, save and  then splurge at a place like Le Moutardier du Pape, facing the Popes Palace, at the Hotel de l'Europe in-house restaurant ... Lastly, do not hesitate to patron " Tutti Frutti", the  fruit juice stall in rue des Marchands, in  the pedestrian area : the owner ( althougt he seems a wee bit tired on the above photograph) makes a brisk trade all summer, and that because he knows how to pick and mix for you the very  best fruit from the markets. Give it a try!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Looking for an Au Pair

Urgently needed : Some help in the daily chores, and some baby sitting.
We are a binational , bicultural couple. My wife, aged 22, a hairdresser, is from Madagascar, but speaks fluent french. I am 49, a international consultant, and native french.  (The man on the photograph is NOT me, but a costumed figurant in a historic event  in Provence)  ! We live right in the center of Avignon, a lively tourist and university town, atop an historic building mostly rented to students and tourists in the summer. We would provide our Au Pair free semi independent accomodation, with own bedroom and bathroom, acces to an independent kitchenette and study/sitting room (we have an other living room upstairs), and would share about three evening meals a week.
Ideal position for a student (possibly two) with a limited budget, a desire to remain independent,  and a desire to help a young mum with a lot on her hands. Our kid's birth is due this month. Apply here, or through the following  web site.

>Au Pair/Nanny Job In Avignon, France can be seen at

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back to Basics : the key to a wonderful holiday

Good food,  nice people, lovely landscape, intriguing local stories, a degree of conviviality at night :
 Avignon has all of this.
 We can also advise you on special interest trips :
- For instance, for the book enthusiasts :  Second-hand and specialist bookshops, itinerant  book markets and public libraries  (In nearby Carpentras, the Inguimbertian library ( l'Inguimbertine) is not to be missed).
- Side trip to the Alpilles : only 25 km from Avignon, Saint Remy de Provence, where accomodation is expensive and hard to find, is a world in itself, with many museums and art galleries. Walking around the tiny walled-in city is a pleasure - alas shared by throngs of people. Wandering in the contryside around town is a bit disappointing since  the lanes are not interconnected any more ( most of the farms have become multimilllionaire's villas, and the major roads have a bit  too much  traffic). Van Gogh, ex resident of the local psychiatric hospital,  would nowadays   have a though time wandering around.

Anyway,  why do we publish this young donkey as side photography ? Well because we like him ;  he is from around Saint Remy,  and although he does'nt read much, like us he knows his way around.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oo eh la theater ? Everywhere in the city !

"Performance can be seen by non francophone spectators" : this mention figures  about every fifth item of the 400 pages-thick Avignon's theater  festival programe. This illustrates a fact : many theater performances are actually dance-drama, circus or music shows and a limited grasp of french is necessary to enjoy them. The street performers are not counted among those, and the clowns, acrobats, dancers who throng the streets are often non-french speaking.
My personal "coup de coeur" goes to an English speaking blonde girl,  ( maybe German ?) an acrobat and mime, last seen performing under southern walls of the Palais des Papes in the tiny square formed by rue Peyrollerie and rue Vice-Legat, close to La Mirande  hotel. A big blonde girl with a ponytail, a demure expression and decidedly retro miniskirts.  She plays a" Do you wanto marry me" number with delighted macho frenchies picked in the crowd. ( I was not selected.)
This year' s Avignon festival seems to be a great success,  frequentation is at a record-high. But most residents are counting days until August.  The city will be at its most enjoyable after this  month-long party is over, and the billboards unfastened. There will still be a lot of shows to pick from, notably a lovely jazz festival, but in a more relaxed atmosphere..

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sustainability Issues in Avignon

While I was working, in a previous life, as a consultant for a governement agency in Madagascar,  putting together the data for  the WorldHotelink website of this country, I became aware of the different meanings of " sustainable tourism", depending on one's cultural background.
 The WHL team ( Mostly anglo-saxon, and living in developed countries)  was expecting us to put more emphasis on large operations, with a recorded track of sustainability ( focusing on things like waste treatement, renewable energy, donations to NGO's...). They wanted no information on social issues, (minimum wages, local recrutment or ownership). The "Sustainable" hotel who won first price  that year was a US-owned luxury palace in a large track of private rainforest in Central America. (Sounded like an ex United Fruit plantation painted green to me !).
I was advocating the potential of small ( 5 to 20 rooms) units, family owned, located in small cities... My cultural model of sustainability was that of a french provencal Auberge ! Not illogical, if you consider that their modus operandi  has been sustained for several centuries, without negative impact on the environment nor trendy herbal-spas. But let me come to the point:
A holiday in Avignon is a case in point of sustainable, low-emissions tourism.
Green-minded tourists can have the time of their life here, eating proper food, and minimising their carbon imprint. To do so, you could arrive by train ; rent a pushbike from an automated ( an solar powered) docking post of the Velopop' system (pay per ride, city operated), then cycle your way around town. It's Avignon's answer to Paris's Velib bike-hire scheme or the Barclay's cycle hire launched in London today.
If you don't feel quite  fit enough, call a cycle rickshaw ! Velo cite (, phone 06 37 36 48 89, e mail : is a team of four  hardy cyclists, ready to wheel you around town on comfy contraptions, british-built but looking very much like designer's version of Indian rickshaws. Avignon is rather flat, but the cyclists are helped by electric batteries and sharing their experience of town with the clients is one of their priorities.
Crossing the Rhone river on the electric ferry is also a must ; from the landing point, on the green Barthelasse island, you can walk to vegetable growers , and buy organic food . Several organic farmers exist in the so-called " green belt" within Avignon municipal limits, and inside town are also excellent retailers selling organic ( here we say "bio")  fruits and vegetables.  ( My favorite is La Courgette en Folie, rue Saint Michel). Many other opportunities abound in the city, for instance to understand the  potential of solar energy  in homes, or the organic food market organisation... all the while enjoying a pleasure trip in an inventive city  that has remained little changed since about 700 years. For lovers of the planet, it beats jetting to Central America, in my opinion.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Festival mood in Avignon

Viva la Commedia
The world's largest theater festival opened today in Avignon. More than one thousand differend theater companies ( from one-person shows to huge performing teams) vie for your attention in the streets and  venues of the city - schools, shops, gym rooms etc being  all converted in makeshift theaters. An estimate of five  thousand performers enjoy the city athmosphere, and their banter, stunts and laughs make everybody else happy. Their combined repertoire goes from farcical to decidely mystic. We elected to welcome a company from the Indian ocean - actors, dancers and musicians  from Reunion, Madagascar and Mauritius, so our place, fully booked by now until August, takes a creole flavour.
EScale Théatre
I feel the festival's mood this year is set both on  the plays of classical times - 17th and 18th century, ( top left is a photograph of a company performing Moliere and Shakespeare Viva la Commedia!- and also on political shows. The Wahrschein Kabarett ( photo, left)is a remarkable play by Philippe Fenwick et al, revisiting propaganda discourses both sides of the Berlin wall. Escale theatre has a long history of performing in rural villages and  out of the way places. They play every morning in  the Agricol Perdiguier garden next to St Martial temple and the tourist office.  Another politicallly minded show is U-topie, a play on the 1871 Commune de Paris, every night at 21.30 in the College de la Salle, a big affair with choir singers, puppets,  giving a voice to the " voiceless people in history".

Sunday, July 04, 2010

A refreshing restaurant, run by young professionnals

A stone’s throw from the crowds munching a standard meal on Place de l’Horloge or in the tight maze of pedestrian streets, the Hermitage restaurant enjoys one of the most carefully laid open air dining area in Avignon, rue Figuière, a very central square shadowed by the fresh walls of the church of St. Didier and ancient plane trees. The chef is from Avignon, but inspired by his early career experiences in Asia. His eye for detail and creative alliances is already a mark of this restaurant-cum-wine bar that is the opposite of a tourist factory, while maintaining low prices. The menu is resolutely oriented towards fresh produce of Provence, but in a "fusion cuisine" perspective. Check the excellent goat cheese and honey nems, the salmon tartare with fresh spinach, the rather amazing duck breast with gingerbread, and even the fillet of sole cooked in a banana leaf ... For wine, if the reasonably priced menu allows for a little luxury, give priority to the great classics of the region, including the Crozes Hermitage, a heady cote-du Rhone which inspired the name of their restaurant to Freddy and Jo, the two young managers from Vaucluse. After extensive training, including in the Opera Cafe, they run their first own business here - after having completely renovated it themselves, including the dining room with its vaulted ceilings.
Acces: Carpark Halles or Jean-Jaures. Easy walking access, 100 meters from the Rue de la Republique (follow the small street between McDonalds and Fnac, and then enter rue Figuière,  past the House of poetry and Utopia Republique cinema.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why don't folks stop in Avignon ?

The Figaro daily  annouced today that France, first world tourist destination by the number of visitors, ranks only third in revenue behind the United States and Spain. "Spain overtook us ten years ago. Ever since are we losing market share, "says Christian Mantei of Atout France, the country's tourism promotion bureau. Last year, these revenues accounted for 36 billion euros, against 39 billion for Spain and 69 billion for the United States. The market share of France in Europe fell from 19.6% in 2000 to 16% in 2009. The British, like the Germans, are less likely to consider coming on holiday in France, focusing on long stays in Spain and Italy."
Apparently they enter France, cross the country at top speed, overnight in a not so cheap roadside inn accomodation and are counted once as visitors, then once again on their way back home.
Well let me tell you - they should stop in Avignon. Not at our place - we are not  keen on overnight stays, due to our lack of organisation - but downtown anyway. Avignon is 20 km south of  the fork were the huge north-south motorway A6 branches towards Spain on the A9 and the Riviera on the A7. Get out of A7 at Avignon Nord, enter the city  after a few Km along the Rhone river, easily park the car (for free in the streets, after six o'clock, or  at any time along the city walls), and spend a night or more into this extraordinary city. You can dine and wine yourselves like a Pope for 14 euros a head. ( The Hermitage restaurant just opened downstairs from our building, but more on this later) Then, after a pleasant night and an early morning stroll in the freshly sprayed  streets, you could buy a postcard,  a bag of lavender, and continue by car if you must towards Spain (  following the Nîmes signs) or Italy ( the Marseilles signs, even in you won't come near it). Maybe I should write to Mr.Mantei, and suggest him to post me on a little chair on that motorway fork,  just to give  info away.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An English language bookshop in Avignon

The only English language bookshop in Avignon is located in the eastern part of  the walled-in city. Walk east for about a mile from the Popes's palace along the long and winding Carreterie street, past the derelict-looking church spire of the Augustinians, and you shall reach a lovely bookshop modestly hidden behind a garage type door, painted blue.  It boast a rather large stock of books, both new and secondhand, a good ordering service, and a friendly manager.
Shakespeare Books Avignon was founded in June 1994 by Wolfgang Zuckermann, author of five books and former consultant in Paris and owner of Zuckermann Harpsichords in  New York.
Note  : Mr Zuckerman recently sold his bookshop to a new and young  bookseller ; we wish her the best of success).
Though Shakespeare Books is not officially related to George Whitman's Shakespeare & Co, Paris, Wolfgang Zuckermann 'followed the tradition of English bookshops in France, first started by Sylvia Beach in Paris 1919 with the original Shakespeare & Co'. He is more relaxed and friendly than was his counterpart opposite Notre Dame de Paris. ( I still rememberWhitman's anger when I refused to have my  Penguin copy of  Ulysse defaced by his rather large inkstamp ; nowadays Withman's daughter, named Sylvia in memory of the famous Mrs. Beach, runs the Paris show). Airy and built on a single level , Avignon's Shakespeare seems to offers less opportunity for kissing one's Valentine than the original Parisian maze of books.   There is a tiny garden of sorts at the back, though, and Mr Zuckermann is willing to serve English cream tea and scones in the afternoon. (One might feel he his too much of a delightful character to bother him with menial chores, though.) His place is still redolent of that  nostalgic atmosphere that most English-language bookshops aboard used to have. I'm sure you have visited at least one of those bookshops that seem to be open exclusively for  the benefit of a handful of exiles, or at least, for people definitely not wishing they'd be home, but unable to cut their intellectual ties with the anglo-saxon world. Shakespeare Avignon could be anywhere nice and unexpensive,  in Tangiers, Sienna, Obidos or Kathmandou ; anyplace were people that are not 'travellers' neither  'mass tourists' like to hang out. Follow their steps into that abode of great books, just to check that serious reading is better done under foreign skies. After all, is it not rather more pleasant to immerse oneself resolutely in a novel, if one knows for sure that excitement and novelty are around the corner ? ( photo at bottom  from the bookshop's web site, PS : In the good old days, people were allowed to unroll their sleeping bags in the Paris Shakespeare. Should you need accomodation in Provence, don't forget we have rooms and studios to let in Avignon  .

La librairie Shakespeare (Shakespeare Books) Avignon was founded in June 1994 by Wolfgang Zuckermann, author of five books and former owner of Zuckermann Harpsichords, New York. Though Shakespeare Books is not officially related to George Whitman's Shakespeare & Co, Paris, Wolfgang Zuckermann followed the tradition of English bookshops in France, first started by Sylvia Beach in Paris 1919 with the original Shakespeare & Co.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Avignon : friendliest city for gays in the south of France

Could it be an heritage from Papal times and so-called “tuscan ways”? Or an influence of the masive influx of actors during the festival ? Avignon is a gay friendly city. Even in winter time, is not uncommon to see same-sex kissing or holding hands, but the summer season brings a party mood to the city.Yesterday the second local gay pride parade was a succes, with a street parade of several  truckloads of dancing gentlemens and ladies - not easily distinguishable from each other. The event was sponsored by  local gay businesses: "La Comédie", a restaurant , "La Scène", a restaurant and bar, "L'Opéra", "Le Cid",  famous cafés on the Place de l’Horloge, "l'Esclave" and "La Cage", two night-clubs and "La Station" – an underwear boutique. Avignon is no Mykonos or Sitges, but seems to act  as a magnet for gays from the more conventional cities around (Nîmes, Orange, etc.). It is also a travel destination for gays from the north of Europe. Did we ever mention it is a very romantic city ?