Villeneuve-les-Avignon is the perfect escape from Avignon. Rich in medieval history, stunning sights and panoramic views, it’s also blissfully quiet and visited by only the most in-the-know tourists. Frankly, I would say that it’s incroyable (incredible!) that such a peaceful, tranquil, calm place exists just ten minutes away from busy Avignon. My day spent on this side of the river was a highlight of not only my time in Avignon, but my time in the south of France, and I highly recommend that you plan to spend a day in Villeneuve-les-Avignon if you’re going to be in or around Avignon, France.
Introduction to Villeneuve-les-Avignon
Villeneuve-les-Avignon is a town on the western shore of the Rhone River, across from Avignon. Actually, it’s more or less directly across from the famous Pont d’Avignon!
Although monks had been living in the area since the sixth century, it was really King Philip IV who founded the town when he built the massive Fort Saint-André atop Mount Andaon back in the 1300s. When the popes moved to Avignon in the 1400s, the cardinals chose Villeneuve-les-Avignon as their preferred local getaway. The monastery here flourished until the French Revolution, when it was converted into housing for local residents as they seized independence from the clergy.
In recent years, organizations, governments and even individual patrons have worked to restore the medieval charm of Villeneuve-les-Avignon, and they’ve done an amazing job. Keep reading to see the many things to do in Villeneuve-des-Avignon, along with some additional travel tips for your visit to the town.
Things to Do in Villeneuve-les-Avignon
For all of the Villeneuve-les-Avignon attractions noted below, opening hours will vary seasonally. In the summer months there shouldn’t be any major inconvenient surprises, but check with the Villeneuve-les-Avignon tourist information office about opening dates and times if you’re planning to visit in the off season.
I didn’t pay any money to visit any of these attractions in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, because they were all either free or included in my two-day Avignon City Pass. Villeneuve-les-Avignon has its own tourist card (excluding sights in Avignon) – you can pick it up at the ticket windows of any of the paid attractions, or at the Tourist Information office beside the bus stop.
La Chartreuse was the first place I visited in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, and I can’t recommend it enough. Exploring this ancient medieval monastery was definitely my favorite thing to do in Villeneuve-les-Avignon; it felt like I was stepping back in time. There were almost no other visitors (I think I only saw three other people) so I could wander through this huge complex at my own pace. Inside, there is a church, three separate cloisters, forty cells for the monks who used to live here, a chapel, a laundry and even a prison. I spent more than an hour here, and I definitely could have stayed longer.
As I was leaving, I noticed the restaurant here looked lovely. While there are great dining options in the town center, don’t hesitate to stop for lunch if their daily menu looks appealing!
From the moment you approach the thick, towering walls of Villeneuve-les-Avignon’s Fort Saint-André, you know you’re about to visit a very special place. Like something out of a movie (I couldn’t find any information but I’m sure they’ve filmed period pieces here!) this fourteenth-century fortress is perched high above the city, visible from miles around.
Once you enter the grounds, you’ll walk straight ahead to a panoramic viewpoint where you can see the surrounding countryside. Then, you’ll follow the walls, past the chapel, all the way to the gatehouse. Here, you’ll need to ascend some winding medieval stone stairs (choose your shoes accordingly!) to reach the ramparts, where you can walk all the way along the wall and take in views of Avignon and its surroundings. This is one of the best things to do in Villeneuve-les-Avignon for kids and families, as it’s so well-preserved, monolithic and untouristy that your children will truly feel like they’re the knights who have been sent to slay the dragon.
The fort is about five minutes uphill from the town center. To avoid walking up the hill twice, you’ll want to combine your visit to Fort Saint-André with a visit the adjacent abbey, Abbaye Saint-André. It can get hot up here, but you can refill your water bottle at the fountain outside the ticket offices.
Can you see it? Look closely at the first photo! Yes, off in the distance, past the arches of green trees and the farmers’ fields below, that’s Avigon’s Palace of the Popes, and one of the best views of historical Avignon can be found here, at Abbaye Saint-André.
Located just beside Fort Saint-André, this abbey has been carefully restored by several generations of the same family, and only recently reopened in its current, beautiful, state. Your visit starts with a quick stroll through the abbey building (you may find some temporary art exhibits are on display). After that, you’ll arrive in the beautiful Italian gardens, carefully landscaped and ornamented according with perfect precision. Wander through the Italian gardens into the “wild” gardens, shown in the third photo, where natural flora is allowed to flourish at its own pace, growing around the ruins of medieval churches and tombs.
There’s lots of shade and lots of seating here, so consider buying a cold drink in the ticket office and relaxing on the terraces for half an hour, taking in the views of Avignon before you.
The Musée Pierre-de-Luxembourg is located in the center of Villeneuve-les-Avignon, in a modest stone building that used to be a private home. Personally, I wouldn’t pay for a ticket to see the three floors of galleries here, but since it was included in my Avignon City Pass I did quickly stroll through the museum (it only took about ten minutes). Apparently the highlights here are a Madonna and Child carved from an ivory elephant tusk and a medieval altarpiece, but to be honest these two works were no more impressive than anything else I’d seen from that time period in other museums (of course, I’m no expert on medieval art!).
Unfortunately, I ran out of time and didn’t make it to the Tour Philippe-le-Bel until shortly after the tower had closed. Located between the river and the town center, it’s a ten-minute walk from Villeneuve-les-Avignons to this 13th-century dungeon tower. I’ve heard it’s got great views of the river (not so much of the town, though). If I’d managed my time a bit better I definitely would have gone up, as this (like the other attractions noted above) are all included in either both the Avignon City Pass and the Villeneuve-les-Avignons City Pass.
Churches of Villeneuve-les-Avignon
There are several beautiful churches that you can visit in Villeneuve-les-Avignon. The largest church in the town center is the Eglise Collégiale Notre-Dame. Depending on the time of day you might be able to visit the church interior, and then cut through the cloister to arrive on the opposite street. Further down the main street you’ll find the smaller Chapelle des Pénitents Gris, which has several displays (French only) about the history of the Penitent order.
Medieval Town Streets in Villeneuve-les-Avignon
The Provençal charm that you won’t find in Avignon is on full display in pretty little Villeneuve-les-Avignon. Even in the history center, many of the streets are empty and you can imagine that you’re traveling back in time as you stroll over the cobblestones. One of the prettiest streets leads up to the Fort Saint-André and the Abbaye Saint-André, which makes the short uphill walk in the heat worth it! Of course, you’ll also find beautiful streets in the town center. Be on the lookout for “impasses”, or narrow alleys connecting wider streets and secret plazas.
Restaurants in Villeneuve-les-Avignon
I was only in Villeneuve-les-Avignon for a day, so I obviously didn’t have time to try all of the restaurants in town. However, here are a few that I think are worth checking out:
- Aubergine – I did have lunch here, and it was great. They post the daily menu on a large chalkboard (there is even one in English!) and they serve things like burgers (including veggie burgers!), salads and pasta.
- Gelateria de Mamio – Obviously I ate here too! This ice cream shop has great reviews for their traditional Italian-style gelato in seriously large servings. They’re only open from 3:00 to 7:00 pm, Tuesday to Saturday, and you’ll probably have to queue. It’s worth it!
- Maison Bronzini – They have a beautiful, shady garden and a menu that looked really interesting. Unfortunately the vegetarian options weren’t clearly labelled, so I skipped it.
- La Chartreuse de Villeneuve – As I mentioned above, the restaurant here looked really good. Their daily special was ravioli stuffed with goat cheese and fig on the day of my visit. Yum!
Hotels in Villeneuve-les-Avignon
Because I came to Villeneuve-les-Avignon on a day trip from Avignon, I didn’t need a hotel. However, a few caught my eye while I was exploring the town, and I realized that if I was traveling by car, I’d probably prefer to have a hotel over here rather than in the center of Avignon.
- I passed Les Saisons as I walked out of the city center, towards the Tour Philippe-le-Bel. Only three minutes by foot from the heart of Villeneuve-les-Avignons, this lovely hotel has a tranquil garden with a small pool, and is known for its great breakfasts.
- If you’d rather stay right in the center of Villeneuve-les-Avignon, Hotel La Suite is a boutique hotel that has a pretty pool, surrounded by sun chairs and white-washed walls. Each room here is decorated in its own unique style.
Getting to Villeneuve-les-Avignon
It’s quite easy to get from Villeneuve-les-Avignon to Avignon (and vice versa). It really is so easy to travel between the two that I recommend considering staying in Villeneuve-les-Avignon rather than staying in Avignon proper. It’s calm, it’s peaceful, it has that Provençal charm… but either way, here’s how to get there:
- By Bus – I arrived via Bus #5 from Avignon. Because I was staying near the Palais des Papes, I boarded at the Port de l’Ouelle stop and got off at the Office de Tourisme stop. A bus ticket cost €1.40 and I could buy it directly from the driver. Bus schedules are online here and are posted clearly at the stops.
- By Foot – You can walk from the Palais des Papes to Villeneuve-les-Avignon in about forty-five minutes. The route is pretty self-explanatory (cross the river, cross the island, cross the river, turn right and follow the signs) but I would say it’s a rather boring walk and much of the route doesn’t have shade.
- By Car – I wasn’t driving, but I could see there was ample paid parking around Villeneuve-les-Avignon for people arriving by car.
Have you ever been to Avignon? Did you visit Villeneuve-les-Avignon while you were there? Let me know in the comments!
While you’re in Avignon, don’t miss out on a day trip to Pont du Gard, which you can easily do by bus (I’ll explain exactly how!) or by car.
If art is more your thing, you can follow in Vincent Van Gogh’s footsteps on a day trip to Saint-Remy-de-Provence.
If you’d rather just stroll through a charming little town, you’ll want to take a day trip to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
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