Avignon France and the Off Festival

My stepmother and I will be visiting Avignon on the tail end of our visit to France in July 2013, and while doing research I have stumbled across the Off Festival. I have read mixed reviews of staying in Avignon during the festival, which has led me to ask two questions: 1. How terrible is it to stay during the festival? The negatives I've read are that it is annoyingly crowded with people shoving leaflets at you trying to get you to see them preform, it is difficuflt to get into restaurants, and it is noisy. 2. If we choose to stay just outside of Avignon, where? We are only there for three days, one of which will be spent in Carcassonne. We are leaving Avignon and flying out of Marseille. The idea of staying in Avignon was appealing because we wanted to see the City of Popes, the train is there to take us to Carcassonne and to the airport in Marseille. Having mixed feelings of staying in Avignon! Kristen

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
1024 posts

A very long time ago, I was in Avignon during the main festival, Festival D'Avignon. I would suggest that at its worst, it's like being in Provincetown, MA for the 4th of July (or maybe you know Lewes or Rehobeth Beach, DE better?) At its best, it's like attending a polyglot, friendly party in crowded Rave location. The key question is whether you care about alternative theater and want to attend several events at the Off festival? If you want to relive "Toujours, Provence", or follow the path of the Popes or the Crusades, maybe it's not such a good idea. I would also consider whether you will have a quiet hotel with air conditioning=closed windows. Do not make the mistake of assuming you'll be "alone" in Avignon if you go at a different time in the Summer! This is a major destination all the time. On a later visit (1999), we stayed in a higher-end large hotel with a private dining courtyard, Auberge de Cassagne. But there was nothing very French about that Mariott-like stay. My earlier business hotel, Mercure (Pont D'Avigngon) was modern soul-less but nicely out of the way. As I remember, the train station can be a long walk in Avignon. Your mom may prefer a taxi. We returned our car in Avignon after the Alsace wine route.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4001 posts

Just a warning: if by "City of Popes" you mean the Palace of the Popes, be prepared for a huge disappointment. It's just a large empty stone palace. The audioguide has tons of trivia about unimportant things, like how much silver was in each knife or how many pounds of potatoes went into each meal, but nothing at all about the intrigues and history of the place itself. Definitely one of my sightseeing "lowlights." Avignon was otherwise OK, but I preferred Marseilles, Arles, and Nimes; the last was my favorite. Can't comment on the Off Festival.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
1024 posts

I don't mean to argue with Harold, because every word of his post is 100% correct. But you'd have to give a similar description to the Abbey on Mont St. Michel - is that a reason to skip it? Not to over-analyze, compare the lived-in Burg Eltz with the rather empty Wartburg castle in Eisenach: Is the lived-in looking Burg Eltz better? Not in my book, just different, and maybe less authentic. In fairness, the Palace of the Popes is smaller than either of those castles. But the overall ensemble of the town of Avignon adds up to worthwhile stop. The bridge, the surrounding vineyards, real shops in the town - it's not at all like Disneyland. Now, a 99-seat theater in a basement (i.e., an Off- festival) is the same physical setting most places you go. But a performance under the stars, in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes, that's something else!

Posted by Will
Columbia, SC
326 posts

Hmmm, I thought the Palace of the Popes was quite interesting. The exterior of course is very striking, but I also found the tour inside worthwhile. I am a history buff and had learned about the Babylonian Captivity of the Church previously-- to each her own.