Restaurant Christian EtienneAvignon offers an array of dining right across the spectrum, from superb Michelin-starred haute cuisine to budget brasserie cooking. logo

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Beware: it also has its share of tourist traps and you need to seek out the very best spots.

One restaurant in Avignon currently holds one Michelin star. It is the Restaurant Christian Etienne, pictured top, and is brilliantly located in a 12th century stone house perched on a rock up a long flight of steps right next to the Palais des Papes.

When he opened his Avignon restaurant in 1990, Etienne was a Maître Cuisinier de France and already had a Michelin star. He had no trouble holding on to it with his mix of à la carte dining and ingenious themed set menus including a legendary seven-course tomato feast.

Something of a local institution, in 2008 the ebullient Monsieur Etienne, pictured, became Avignon's Deputy Mayor in charge of tourism where he has campaigned tirelessly to raise the city's gastronomic profile. His own restaurant is refreshingly casual and relaxed by Michelin's usual stuffy standards.

Christian EtienneIn 2016 Monsieur Etienne sold his restaurant to his long-time deputy chef.

Guilhem Sevin, who has worked there for 16 years, intends to retain some of its most popular features, including the tomato menu. So far he has succeeded in hanging on to the restaurant's Michelin star, which was confirmed in the 2017 guide.

Just on the edge of the walled city, the historic Hotel d'Europe has a more traditional restaurant, named La Vieille Fontaine.

The chef is Mathieu Desmarest, who was named in the 2017 Gault & Millau restaurant guide (Michelin's main rival) as one of six "Greats of Tomorrow", chefs chosen from all across France.

Sadly in 2012, after investing substantially in upgrading its kitchen, the lovely restaurant in the La Mirande hotel lost the Michelin star which it had held since 1993.

Foodies prepared to make a short trip for fine dining will find another Michelin-starred restaurant just across the Rhône river in Villeneuve lès Avignon.

The chef at Le Prieuré, a 14th century former priory converted into a hotel, is Fabien Fage. A native of Arles, Fage was formerly at the Cabro d'Or in Les Baux de Provence, which is owned by the same proprietors as Le Prieuré, Geneviève and Jean-André Charial.

Back in the heart of Avignon, the place de l'Horloge adjacent to the Palais is lined with restaurants, most of them offering cheap-ish - though still grossly overpriced - no-frills fare.

Terrace, Le Lutrin restaurant, AvignonThe worst offenders tend to be at the lower end of the square. At the top of the place de l'Horloge, Le Lutrin in the Hotel du Palais des Papes and Le Moutardier du Pape are two of the better ones. Both boast a terrific location, with outdoor terraces, pictured, overlooking the Palais itself.

But you don't need to venture very far from the Palais des Papes to find an excellent meal. Just off the place de l'Horloge, D'Ici et d'Ailleurs serves inventive fusion cuisine, though it struggles to cope at busy periods and we found it disappointing on a recent visit.

Just a couple of minutes away is L'Essential, a small restaurant with a pretty courtyard based in a 17th century hôtel particulier. It offers tartines (open sandwiches) at lunchtime and set meals in the evening.

The city's main street, the rue de la République, is also lined with serviceable, unremarkable brasseries. Many of them offer a cheap plat du jour (dish of the day) at lunchtime but the chief attraction is people-watching from a pavement table.

The best of these restaurants, the long-established Hiély Lucullus, is actually on the first floor at no.5. But there are some tasty finds just behind the rue de la République.

A bright newcomer is the Italian eaterie Italie Là-Bas! at 23 rue Bancasse. Michelin awarded it a bib gourmand in its 2017 guide to good-value dining.

Place des Corps Saints AvignonThe rue Joseph Vernet has a number of interesting spots including Les 5 Sens and the designer-chic 83 Vernet.

In the adjacent rue Violette, there's a terrific new restaurant in the courtyard of the Collection Lambert. It's called Le Violette and is open for lunch and dinner (even when the gallery itself is closed).

Behind the other side of the rue de la République, the place des Corps Saints, pictured, teems with open-air bistros and is an ideal spot for an informal lunch or early supper.

At no.21 on the square is the very popular L'Agape, which opened in 2014 and, just a few months later, earned a Michelin bib gourmand. as well as kudos in the Gault & Millau guide. 

Veggie / organic options are on the menu at Terre de Saveurs, just off the place des Corps Saints, at 1 rue Saint Michel and at Cuisine et Comptoir which serves bistro food at 24 rue des Lices.

And a few minutes off the square in the opposite direction is Fou de Fafa, a little restaurant started in 2010 by a British couple, Antonia Pyemont-Coughlan and Russell Coughlan, pictured.

Antonia Pyemont-Coughlan and Russell Coughlan of Fou de Fafa, AvignonIts simple, yet stylish and affordable menu has made it a firm favourite, especially - though not exclusively - with English-speaking visitors in town.

Nearby at 29 rue de la Saillerie, New Ground has quietly built up a great reputation.

Another high concentration of good bistros and bars can be found in the pocket of back-streets around the picturesque, cobbled rue des Teinturiers and the nearby rue Thiers.

They are particularly buzzing in summer, when the area is the focal point of Avignon's Off (fringe) theatre festival, though they can be rather deserted in the winter months.

Locals recommend Le Zinzolin, which is primarily a wine bar but also serves excellent food while L'Offset, in a former printing works (complete with vintage printing press), was taken over recently and offers good basic fare. Both venues have live music on certain evenings.

Finally a special mention for La Cuisine de Dimanche at 31 rue de la Bonneterie which offers great value set menus and plats du jour with fresh local ingredients sourced from Les Halles, Avignon's gourmet food market. As the name suggests, it's also open on Sundays.

Click here to view a complete and up-to-date list of all the Michelin-starred restaurants in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA).


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