The New York Times has just featured Arles and Avignon in its spectacular “36 Hours” series, which I have been following for several years. How exciting to see Avignon, the setting for my novel Muse, featured! “Just 20 minutes apart by train, the Roman-era town of Arles and the medieval walled city of Avignon enfold a dense mix of architectural beauty, world-class art, sun-soaked Provençal gastronomy and Unesco World Heritage sites.”
As I read the article, I was transported back into trips to Avignon, which I visited five times doing research. Since my last trip, exciting restaurants have opened and museums have expanded and added to their collections. Of course, the highlight is still the popes’ magnificent palace. “It’s good to be pope. If you happened to be one of those who lived in Avignon during the religious turmoil of the 14th century (when the papacy abandoned Rome), you would have presided over an immense Gothic palace filled with soaring banquet halls, huge vaulted chapels and lush gardens populated with peacocks, camels and other exotic fauna. These areas and more are viewable in the Palais des Papes, whose smaller rooms are equally impressive. The papal bedroom is painted with cosmic swirls of vegetative motifs, while the study is covered by mystical frescoes of a noctural stag hunt in a forest inhabited by a dragon and unicorn.” Is it any wonder that, after viewing this superb bedroom, I used it as the backdrop to a pivotal scene in Muse?
A new feature of the New York Times’ “36 Hours” series is an interactive map, with the stops on the itinerary pinned to it. You can follow the recommended route easily on the map, and enjoy the same sights, cafes, bars, and shops yourself. The on-line version also recommends a number of hotels. If you enjoy the article, you might enjoy my YouTube video of the Pope’s palace as well.