It takes around 2.5 hours on France’s super-swift TGV train to go from Gare de Lyon in Paris to Avignon in Provence. It’s a comfortable, safe and most importantly stress-free way to head to Provence’s fabled fields of lavender and golden sunflowers and with ticket prices hovering around AUD40, who can say non. www.raileurope.com.au
Alternatively, it takes around 25 minutes to travel by tram or train to South Yarra, a smart suburb just under 5kms from Melbourne but where each November, Provence is re-imagined in Melbourne’s historic Como House. On November 24 – 26, the annual Paris to Provence Festival www.paristoprovence.com.au will see Como House’s gardens transformed into a French village replete with food stalls, music, fashion and just the right amount of savoir-faire.
Guaranteed to have you singing like Piaf, nibbling fromage, stuttering out a few French phrases and quaffing Provence rose with just the right amount of ensoucience that only the Gallic can pull off. Formidable!
To celebrate Paris to Provence, here’s our guide to Five Avignon Essential Experiences and later, where Francophiles can get a French fix around Melbourne.
WALK the city’s sturdy Medieval walls where ramparts and powerful fortresses still stand guard over the wide banks of the majestic Rhone river protecting one of Europe’s most beautiful Medieval cities.
Long regarded by ancient French kings as quasi-royal territory, its strong fortifications resisted many sieges and with its position as the seat of power of the Holy Roman Empire, it played a central role in Christian history. www.avignon-tourisme.com
SING that old nursery rhyme ‘Sur le Pont, d’Avignon’ while crossing the famous bridge that stops just short of the opposite bank. Built during the 12th century, it contours with Saint-Benezet Bridge where the saint was buried in 1187.
The song composed in 1899 by Adolphe Adam to be sung at the Paris Opera does more to promote Avignon than any 21st century branding campaign.
TOUR the , the Pope’s Palace, an imposing Gothic structure constructed in different architectural styles around the huge Honor Courtyard and was, from the 14th century, the residence of seven sovereign pontiffs. Access is granted to 25 rooms including ceremonial rooms, chapels, the cloister and private papal apartments with priceless frescoes. During summer, the exterior is dramatically illuminated.
FOLLOW in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest painters who were seduced by the colour and light of Provence. Cezanne’s former studio can be visited in Aix-en-Provence, Van Gogh lived in Arles just 45 minutes away and where the magnificent Roman amphitheatre hosts Arles’ famous bull races during July and August.
The exquisite Saint-Remy de Provence, one of France’s oldest towns, was the birth place of Nostradamus in 1503 and is where you can follow a trail that passes through some of Vincent van Gogh’s immortal landscapes. www.saintremy-de-provence.com www.arenes-arles.com
SIP a glass of pretty pink Provence Rose, a real summer pleaser. The region is ribboned with grape vines and while it does produce some smooth reds and sweeter white varieties, it’s the delicately scented pale rose that captures the true taste of summer in Provence.
Avignon Tourism office provides visitors with their passport to the city’s monuments and museums.
If you’re in Melbourne and longing for a taste of things French, why not don a beret, find that matelot-striped t.shirt and consider the following:
Bon Ap’ a petit bistro in Fitzroy conjures up French favourites including one-pot-wonder coq au vin, escargots, mussels in cider and hamhock terrine with affordable vins ordinaire. 193 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy www.bonap.com.au
Around the bay, Bonbeach delivers an unexpected slice of Paris at The Little French Deli with good selections of cheese, duck rillettes and crunchy baguettes. 524 Nepean Highway, Bonbeach www.thelittlefrenchdeli.com
Looking for some haute cuisine? Philippe’s dishes up classic plats principal in old school surroundings in the basement of 115-117 Collins Street, Melbourne. Here, the pate is perfect, the duck breast rotissoire is tender, accessories include pommes frites with Parmesan and rosemary and who can refuse the Michel Cluizel chocolate caramel fondant with vanilla bean ice cream. www.philipperestaurant.com.au
However, for a taste of all things French, say Bonjour at the PARIS TO PROVENCE FESTIVAL on November 24 – 26 at Como House and Gardens, South Yarra where events will include masterclasses in croissant making and perfecting eclairs and for the first time, Como’s rooms will display the life and legacy of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Entry is $19.50. Bon appetit!
For more see www.paristoprovence.com.au
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