The Rocher des Doms, AvignonA gentle five-minute stroll up a small hill, the Rocher des Doms offers a welcome refuge from Avignon's heat and bustle on a summer's day and panoramic vistas of the surrounding countryside. logo

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Avignon was born here. The vantage-point afforded by the rocky outcrop had already attracted inhabitants in the Neolithic era. It became an important oppidum, or settlement during the Roman occupation, while what later became the town proper began to grow at its feet.

In the Middle Ages shepherds used the terrain for communal grazing. Windmills were set up to take advantage of the Mistral, the fierce north-west wind that sweeps through this part of Provence.

As the cult of open-air exercise developed in the 18th century, the Rocher des Doms became a popular spot for strolling.

It was fully landscaped in the 19th century and has been a favourite venue for locals and tourists alike ever since. It's the perfect setting for festivals such as the Ban des Vendanges annual wine harvest festival in late August.

Generously planted with shrubs and trees, the Rocher des Doms covers 29,000 square metres / seven acres, dotted with signs in English and French outlining the park's history and with observation tables pointing to the surrounding landmarks.

Venus with Swallows by Félix CharpentierIt's designed around a large pond with swans, duck, geese and carp. The highest point, a small crag, offers some of the park's best sweeping views across the valley.

An adjacent snack bar serves sandwiches, salads, pizzas, hot snacks and waffles (note that its opening hours are restricted outside the summer season).

There are plenty of benches for the weary tourist, two small children's playgrounds, a picnic area and several toilets.

You'll also find an analemmatic sundial and statues of local notables, including Jean Althen (1710-1774), an Armenian refugee who introduced garance (red madder-wort dye) into the area. It paved the way for the production of les indiennes, the typical, colourful fabrics of Provence.

The pretty rue des Teinturiers (Dyers' Street) bears traces of this tradition of weaving and dyeing in Avignon, including four water wheels.

In the middle of the pond, the elegant bronze Venus with Swallows (1893) by Félix Charpentier (pictured above) was originally located in the city by the Church of Saint Pierre but was moved here after outraged local clerics organised a petition against her "immodesty".

From various points in the park you can look out over patchworks of vineyards, including a tiny one producing the only AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) wine to be made within Avigon's walled city.

You can also admire the magnificent sweep of the Rhône river, Barthelasse Island, the city of Villeneuve lès Avignon, Montmirail, the Luberon, Mont Ventoux, the Alpilles, the countryside unfurling south towards the coast and, at closer quarters, the Pont d'Avignon and parts of the Palais des Papes.

View of the Rhone from the Rocher des DomsWheel- and push-chair friendly access ramps have been created from the place des Palais des Papes. You can also enter the park by steps from the river or via the rue des Escaliers Sainte Anne.

The Rocher des Dom is open all year round, closing at dusk, and entrance is free. Go up in the morning to have the sun behind you if you want to photograph the Rhône and the city.

And avoid altogether on days of a fierce Mistral, as the Rocher des Doms is highly exposed to the wind.


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