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A Day in Avignon and Wine Tasting in Provence

Every princess loves a castle…
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And this princess is no exception…
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The Palais des Pape is a beautiful historical palace right in the centre of Avignon and is one of the most significant Gothic buildings in Europe. When I think of Avignon, the idea of dashing knights and beautiful princesses, immediately comes to mind but I was to find out more in depth about the history of the city today on a day trip from Hotel Benvengudo in Provence. DSC_2768
But with clouds slightly heavy in the sky, our guide thought it would be good idea to have a look around the city first. Starting with Avignon Cathedral, also known as Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms D’Avignon, next to the Palais des Papes and with a gorgeous view of the main square. DSC_2621 DSC_2625 DSC_2634
From here we headed up to the Rocher des Dom Gardens…DSC_2648
First getting a view of the Rhone River and the unfinished bridge before heading even higher up… DSC_2660 DSC_2682
To the highest point in the city and a view of Fort St André in the distance on Mont Andaon. DSC_2654
The gardens themselves are lush with a beautiful pond, a fountain and swan drifting serenely through the water.DSC_2686DSC_2698
Avignon itself is such a beautiful city just to meander around, once the capital of Christendom in the Medieval Ages, there is such a rich history and beautiful churches, chapels and the most wonderful architecture to admire.
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After pounding the cobbled street for a while we took refuge in Les Halles, the covered market made up of forty market stalls. DSC_2711DSC_2716
We spent around half an hour just exploring the market and looking at the gorgeous produce; mountains of Mediterranean fish, a rainbow of vegetables, a vast array of herbs, oils and spices. Definitely foodie heaven!
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Next I was excited to look around the magnificent Palais des Papes or Palace of the Popes, which has stood proudly in Avignon since the 14th century when the south of France was where the pope resided. DSC_2735 DSC_2738
There are twenty rooms open to the public in this UNESCO World Heritage site that is also the world’s largest Gothic Palace. We saw the pope’s private chambers and some of the incredible original frescos painted by Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti, though for conservation purposes we weren’t allowed  to take photos. DSC_2741
Though it was cloudy, the air was warm and we took a table at Le Moutardier du Pape outside in the main square right opposite the former Papal palace.DSC_2748 DSC_2749 DSC_2759
I enjoyed a beautifully crisp glass of white wine with my sea bream and artichokes as we basked in the April sunshine… DSC_2765
One of my other dining companions had this rather photogenic foie gras dish from the menu of Mediterranean food. DSC_2771
On the way back to the car, our guides indulged my usual hotel snooping habit and took us to see Avignon’s top five star hotel, Hotel d’Europe. I loved the rustic outside and the pretty terrace and inside it was bright and modern – definitely one to have on your list if you’re staying in the city.DSC_2773
Back in the car we drove steadily climbing up the rocky hill side of Provence and taking in the beautiful views. Are you ever struck by the dominance of a colour in a particular place? In Provence, the colour green was everywhere I looked…lush landscapes, abundant trees….and for dinner lots of asparagus. I loved the fertile look of the area; it was such a peaceful and unspoilt place.DSC_2786
Though I missed the beautiful blue Provencal skies, the dark cloud that hung above the Mas de la Dame wine estate was rather atmospheric and I was excited to try some more of their beautiful wines that we had already sampled at Hotel Benvengudo.DSC_2796
A small family run vineyard, Mas de la Dame has been producing wine and olive oil for four generations. It was established by Auguste Faye and is now managed by his great grand-daughters, sisters Caroline Moissoffe and Anne Poniatowski.DSC_2800
Do you see what I mean about the green? Caroline took us on a little tour of the estate which is made up of 740 acres with 140 acres planted with wines and 70 acres of olive groves. The vineyards are fringed by the Alpilles or the ‘small Alps’ and the vines have a unique terroir and benefit from the microclimate of Provence. The mistral wind, which is also very specific to the area, encourages healthy vines and the exchange of aromas. DSC_2801
After exploring the lush vineyards, we headed back to the main house for the best bit; trying the wine! DSC_2822
Provence is recognised as being the home of rosé and one of the world’s leading producers of the pink wine. Mas de la Dame produce two different types of rosé and both were refreshing and fruity. Totally perfect for a summer’s day. DSC_2815
We had already enjoyed one of their white wines back at Hotel Benvengudo and here we got to try the other two. The pictured wine was my favourite was it was crisp and dry with flavours of apricot, it’s an ideal pre-dinner drink or the perfect option for a delicious seafood dinner. I was also told about Appellation d’Origine Contrôlee (AOC) which designates a product and its production as being from a particular geographic area which gives the product its specific characteristics. Mas da la dame adhere to the regulations for Les Baux de Provence and so the wines can boast this revered designation. AOP is the European Union equivalent of the French AOC and translated into English, it is Protect Designation of Origin.
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Finally, there are five red wines, La Gourmande was most interesting as it’s served slightly chilled so it can still be a summer drink and pairs well with fish as well as meat. I really can’t claim to be an expert in wine but I love visiting vineyards, chatting to producers and tasting their delicious blends, the more I visit, the more I’m learning. And like when we were in Chianti I love the personal feel of the small family run vineyards.

I loved my first day exploring Avignon and the Provencal winelands, it was already easy to see why it has been named one of the most beautiful places in the world.