Summer is officially over, which means that gone are the slow, idle days of being outdoors to enjoy the hot, sunny weather. Such warm moments have now been replaced with a slight chill, soon to be frozen over within the next couple of months. For some, fall weather is the best as thoughts of changing leaves, comfy layers, and hot cocoa are reasons to look forward to cold temperatures soon.
As much as I anticipate cooler temperatures (especially with the 40°C/110°F heat wave in France a few months ago), I confess that summer definitely has its charm. After all, it’s travel season for many adventurers who look for getaways out of school, work, and their mundane day-to-day life. It’s the time of year when days are the longest and warmest, and it’s the good weather which offers the cure from the dark, gloomy days in winter. People are out-and-about, enjoying their lives by themselves or in good company.
This past summer was my last in France, as I was ending a four-year stint working abroad. But before bidding “au revoir” for good, I wanted to enjoy every last bit of it. That meant traveling like no other to various countries, regions, and towns that I hadn’t explored before. I spent barely a week in my flat during the last one-and-a-half months of my time overseas, choosing to see as much outside of it as possible.
One of my adventures during June and July brought me to the south of France, particularly the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region. It’d been my goal for the past few years to visit the lavender fields of Provence, and I’d been meaning to head south during my time working abroad. However, I would always return to Los Angeles right before they bloomed in the summer, so I wasn’t able to do so until this July. I would’ve kicked myself silly if I didn’t go this time around– this was my last chance, and I bit the bullet, reserved my trains and accommodation, and I took off.
The verdict? No regrets, 100%.
I spent almost a week in PACA, using Avignon as my base to get to other towns and areas in the region. Even though it was my third time visiting the city (most recently last spring for my birthday weekend) and even though I’d already seen pretty much what the town had to offer, I still revisited some old haunts and caught up with my friend whom I stayed with in town.
The previous times I’d visited Avignon, I’d done so in the spring. Coming back in the summer was a completely-different experience– not only was the weather significantly warmer (I’m talking a humid high-30’s°C/90’s°F), but also busier. There weren’t nearly as many tourists when I’d gone both times in March, but in July, the city center was absolutely flooded with people, locals and foreigners alike. Many came for the lavender fields, while others visited for the annual Festival d’Avignon, a performing-arts festival that’s internationally-recognized and draws hundreds of thousands of attendees each year. It’s incredible just how unrecognizable Avignon was when I was there in July, but it made for an animated scene while wandering the charming streets of its Old Town.
While I did revisit some places in town, I didn’t really spend that much time in Avignon proper. As I mentioned, I used the city as a base to get to other spots in the region, so I was frequently out of town on day trips. Plus, the city center was packed with people– locals and tourists– so I think it was a wise choice to avoid the congestion. After all, Avignon proper is tiny, and you can only fit so many bodies inside its medieval walls without it becoming impossible to get around. Again, with the lavender-field tourists, the Festival d’Avignon, and even the national soldes in July, it was the “peakest of peak” season to be visiting the city.
Some places I returned to include the emblematic Palais des Papes, which had been the seat of Christianity in the 14th century. It had been over three-and-a-half years since I last visited the interior, and I got to see the inside again when I chose to purchase tickets to a theatrical performance on its opening night. It was 40 euros for a seat, and I got these cool, electronic glasses that transcribed and translated the dialogue in real-time, as the entire performance was in French. I’m not one for the theater, but I wanted to see what the Festival d’Avignon was all about, as it only happens once a year.
Another place I checked out was the pont Saint-Bénézet, also commonly-known as pont d’Avignon. Made famous by an old-fashioned nursery song, it’s long been a popular tourist spot — its half-finished structure makes it intriguing, and people even pay to go on the bridge to “cross it” (fyi not worth the money!). Even though I’d already seen it countless times, what made this visit different was the small, but notable patch of lavenders in front of it, which made for lovely photos of the bridge in the backdrop. Especially if people can’t afford to go out to the actual, sweeping lavender fields in the countryside, rest assured that the ones in Avignon can do the trick!
The Palais des Papes and pont d’Avignon were the only landmarks I saw during my time in July. I otherwise spent the rest of the time strolling the main street filled with cafés, boutiques, and restaurants to past the tranquil summer. I did a little bit of shopping, and I had pauses at a few of the cafés when the heat got to me. Aside from that, I was back at my friend’s flat, and I would catch up with him whenever he returned from work in the evening.
Avignon might not have been anything new, but it was still a new experience to see the city flourish in the summer. I can now see why it’s such a tourist draw, as it offers a little bit of everything: good weather, historic charm, lavender fields access, arts and entertainment, and so much more. Definitely worth seeing in the summer!
I’ll be recapping my day trips from Avignon in the upcoming posts. Stay tuned!