Avignon is about an hour drive from Montpellier, so it was the perfect place for a day trip. It's a town of very interesting religious history. When the French Pope Clément V began his ruling in the 1300s, the Vatican moved the headquarters of the Catholic Church from Rome to Avignon. The city was under constant construction to house the church's bureaucracy, and quadrupled in size over the course of the following years. Over 3 miles of protective walls were built to fortify the Place du Palais, the Palais des Papes, the Petit Palais, the cathedral, and the old cardinal's residence (now the Conservatoire National de Musique). Nine popes ruled from Avignon over the next 100 years.
The Church eventually returned the Vatican to Rome after their outrage over the "Babylonian activity" of the citizens in Avignon. There hasn't been a French pope since!
After we'd walked around the Place du Palais, we strolled up to the Parc des Rochers des Doms to take in some beautiful views of the Rhône River Valley.
And here is what Avignon is probably most famous for - the Pont St. Bénezet. This bridge is the subject of a well known French nursery rhyme that dates back to the 15th century. I'd never heard of this nursery rhyme before, and you haven't either, you can listen to it here. And even if you already know it, you should still go to the link, because the accompanying video is ridiculous.
The bridge was built in the late 1100s and was the only crossing on the Rhône during the Middle Ages. It was washed out due to floods and rebuilt several times until a big ice flood took out the majority of the bridge once and for all in the late 17th century. Though only 4 arches remain today, in its heyday, the bridge was 3,000 feet long with 22 arches and connected the Vatican to the beginning of France.
Before we left Avignon, we decided to stop at Avitus, a local wine shop that I learned about through Sara. The staff at Avitus was so friendly and helped us pick out a few nice bottles of red from their famed Côtes du Rhône region: a 2011 Domaine de Crève Cœur made by Pablo Hocht, an upcoming wine maker they like, a 2005 Reserve Château des Tours by the famous wine maker Emmanuel Reyanud (who traditionally focuses on making Châteauneuf de Pape), and finally a 2009 Château Unang from Ventoux, a region they say produces "interesting" flavors. We can't wait to try them! After quick walk through the Marché de Noël (still going!), we called it a day.
Avignon provided us with the perfect amount of adventure for new parents - dramatic history, lovely views, fresh air, and a quick drive. It was a great way to end 2012!