Avignon is the place that the Popes chose as their new home when fleeing from a corrupt Rome in the 14th century. They chose well - an elevated position by the River Rhône and with views over glorious Provençal countryside, the sprawling plateaux of Vaucluse, the serrated peaks of the dentelles de Montmirail. It's as good a base for visitors today, a great place from which to explore Provence, but there's so much to see and do within the ramparts of this UNESCO World Heritage Site that the temptation is to stay put.
The imposing fortress that served as the Papal Palace dominates, largely empty now but for the frescoes, and is well worth exploring as a grand example of grand Gothic style. Sitting close by is the Place de l'Horloge, lined with terrace cafés and featuring the Belle Époque carousel at the far end. Dozens of churches and chapels remain, some now serving as shops and cafes and adding to the romantic atmosphere.
The famous bridge, known as the Pont d'Avignon after the song although officially the Pont St-Bénézet, is a charming spot to linger and watch the river flow. These days Avignon has all the energy of a student city, although the regular food and flea markets have always livened up proceedings, as does the hugely popular annual performing arts festival. Held every July, it draws in performers and artists and musicians and audiences from all around the world, and transforms the former Papal town into a place of parties.