avignon au coeur facadeSet in a lovingly restored 19th century mansion, Au Coeur d'Avignon is an intimate, elegant and super-affordable guesthouse. It's a peaceful retreat right in the heart of the old city.

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The first impression is highly deceptive. You dive down a narrow, scruffy back alley just off the rue de la République (Avignon's main street) to find, with difficulty, an unremarkable front door with a tiny nameplate.

But that door opens into a sort of parallel universe: a light-drenched secret garden flanked by a period stone fountain, a glassed-in orangerie and an open terrace. Indoors, the salon and large kitchen-diner are just as attractive for lingering.

Eclectic but harmonious, the décor mixes original features (beautiful stained glass windows and light fixtures; a monumental working fireplace) with cheekily revamped ones such as a funky grandfather clock painted green.

Family photographs hang alongside Dali prints and posters from the Avignon Theatre Festival. Everything feels chosen with care, without being precious. The place is luxurious, but with an informal, lived-in vibe.

avignon au coeur salonUpstairs, each of the three bedrooms and two apartments is different. Cunningly designed, the crimson and pale grey "Remparts d'Avignon" is a little on the compact side.

But it does boast an enormous and very secluded private outdoor terrace overlooking the city rooftops with enough space for a big dining table, a sofa, two sunbeds and a lively picnic or party.

Back inside the bedroom, a discreet wall of white panelled wooden doors folds back to reveal a fully equipped kitchenette – with washing machine, dishwasher and even a little stool in case you’re not tall enough to reach the upper shelves. The bathroom has traditional provençal floor tiles of colourful patterned concrete and a bath/shower.

The "Pont d'Avignon" room (soft green) features a mezzanine and small private terrace. The "Palais des Papes" (indigo blue) lacks its own terrace but the room itself is long, spacious and sunny with three large windows overlooking the garden. The apartments have a more modern flavour.

Apart from the place itself, Au Coeur d'Avignon has two major trump cards. One is the location. The street is very quiet, but dozens of shops, bars and restaurants, the Tourist Office and major museums and art galleries such as the Collection Lambert, the Musée Lapidaire and the Musée Angladon are all just round the corner.

The Palais des Papes, Pont d’Avignon and river are a ten minute walk, as are – in the opposite direction - the bus and Avignon Centre train stations. You could hardly be more central.

avignon au coeur gardenThe other "secret weapon" is the owner, Lionel Rossi. Formerly a senior motorway engineer, he left life in the fast lane to pursue this dream of creating an exclusive B&B.

Au Coeur d’Avignon, which opened its doors in 2016, is a personal labour of love, and Rossi is omnipresent to chat to guests, proffer tips and drinks and generally make sure everyone is happy.

Breakfast costs extra (as usual in French hotels). But it includes home-made fruit salad, yoghurts and pastries and represents good value. A very good artisan cheese and charcuterie board is stocked with choice produce from the nearby Les Halles gastronomic market.

There was no evening catering when we visited (a wine bar offering light snacks is being added in 2018). But dozens of brasseries and restaurants are nearby. And, if you want to stay in for the evening, informal drinks are available in the dining room / kitchen.

A couple of downsides: the hotel doesn’t have its own parking, though spaces are available (for a small extra charge) in a nearby private car-park. And all the accommodation is on the upper floors, with no lift / elevator.

A bedroom with ground floor access is being added, but there are still a number of low steps within the public areas, so Au Coeur d'Avignon may not be suitable for visitors with certain disabilities.

However it is a nice spot for families: the apartments and one of the bedrooms sleep four and free cots are available on request. The fountain runs with chlorinated water and does double duty as an impromptu paddling pool in summer! And, as a fabulous romantic hideaway, Au Coeur d'Avignon could scarcely be bettered.

Visited September 2017

Where: Au Cœur d'Avignon, 9 rue du collège d'Annecy, 84000 Avignon. Tel (+33) 6 87 72 32 77. Book a room at Au Coeur d'Avignon


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