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 Étienne, pictured top. An institution here since 1990, it's 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.

In 2016 the eponymous Monsieur Étienne sold the restaurant to his long-time deputy chef, Guilhem Sevin. He has retained some of its most popular features, including the legendary multi-course tomato menu - and has also succeeded in hanging on to that Michelin star.

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

hotel deurope restaurantSadly 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 at Le Prieuré, a 14th century former priory converted into a hotel.

Its proprietors are Geneviève and Jean-André Charial, who also own the Cabro d'Or in Les Baux de Provence and the chef is Marc Fontanne, who joined the restaurant in summer 2018 and will need to re-confirm his predecessor's star.

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

The worst offenders tend to be at the lower end of the square. At the top of the place de l'Horloge and just round the corner on the place du Palais, 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 des Papes itself. Also here is the Carré du Palais, a lavish, brand-new showcase for Provence food and wine which opened in 2017 after a rather troubled history.

hotel du palais des papesLegal disputes have held this project back for several years and it's still a lot less ambitious than the original concept. At the moment it serves light meals and a vast selection of regional wines, as well as offering wine tasting courses. A gastronomic restaurant, shops and more are promised.

But you don't need to venture very far from the Palais des Papes to find an decent 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 very disappointing on our most 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.

Also in this part of town: Pollen, a new restaurant from the award-winning young chef Mathieu Desmarest, who was named one of France's six Greats of Tomorrow in the 2017 Gault & Millau guide.

Desmarest previously headed up the kitchen at the Hotel d'Europe. Opened in summer 2018, his new venture is already getting great word of mouth.

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. The 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, serves Asian-influenced fusion fare and is open for lunch and dinner (even when the gallery itself is closed).

avignon lagape exteriorBehind the other side of the rue de la République, the pedestrianised place des Corps Saints, pictured, teems with open-air bistros all set around a beautiful central fountain and is an ideal spot for an informal lunch or early supper.

At no.21 on the square is the very popular L'Agape, pictured. 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.

Antonia Pyemont-Coughlan and Russell Coughlan of Fou de Fafa, AvignonAnd 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.

Its 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 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 in the main bar area), was taken over recently and offers good, cheap 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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