Written on September 4th, 2018
Published on October 28th, 2018
After our dinner at the Eiffel Tower, we had a very early morning on Thursday, August 16th – we took a 6 am train from Gare de Lyon to Avignon – a small town in the South of France. After our 3 hour journey we got to Avignon and picked up our rental car. Our first stop was some food, and then a visit to the Palais de Papes, or Palace of the Popes. For about 100 years in the 1300’s, the Popes, starting with Pope Clement V, lived in this palace in Avignon. Small sidenote – there was a lot of conflict between some of the previous Popes and King Philip IV of France, and Philip actually had Pope Boniface VIII abducted, leading to his death. Pope Clement V was under the influence of the Philip, and moved the Papacy to Avignon (which at the time was not yet part of France).
It’s a rather large building with some huge rooms that were richly decorated when they were in use. The museum actually had a very interesting use of technology – they basically gave everyone a tablet, and you could use it to look around the room you were in to see it as is would have been in the 1300’s.
We then made our way up to Orange, about a 30 minute drive, and saw the Roman Theatre there. Built in the first century BC, it’s still in very good condition, and used to host Roman plays and shows. It could seat 10,000 people, which was nearly all of the village at the time. There are still concerts and events there periodically.
We got some food in Orange after our visit, and then went to our first winery in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region (which literally translates to “New castle of the Pope”). When Pope Clement V moved the papacy to Avignon, this region grew all the grapes for the wine he and the other Popes after him drank, so the name stuck. The entire region is almost solely used for growing grapes for producting wine, and they make wine with 13 different grapes (mostly grenache, syrah, and mourvedre). The ground in most of the area is actually a layer of rounded rocks, which were brought to the region by the Rhone river over thousands of years, and these rocks help to keep in moisture, help to keep everything dry, and help to make sure that only wine grows there.
One interesting note – Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first official wine region in France. When they were deciding where to put the border, there was a trail in the woods which seemed like a good stopping point, and this is still the border today. On the right of this road, the wine made from these berries can legally be called Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and on the left side, it can’t. The different regions also have different amounts of wine that can be produced per acre, which berries can be planted, and different regulations about what pesticides/techniques can be used to grow the berries.
We visited two vineyards, Alain Jaume and Domaine de Beaurenard, and then went on our way back to Avignon to get some dinner and catch our train back to Paris. I say it a lot, but high speed trains are amazing! We were able to travel 430 miles in under 3 hours, explore the south of France for a full day, and take the train back, all in one day!