Avignon Festival events are primarily theatrical events performed within the context of two different festivals. It is the oldest festival in France, and occurs over three weeks during the month of July in this historic city on the Rhone River. It is France's oldest festival and one of the most prestigious theatrical summer festivals in Europe.
Avignon Festival Facts
Of the two festivals held here, one is the official Festival d'Avignon France called the "In" that was founded by celebrated French actor and director Jean Vilar in 1947 in order to revitalize the Theatre National Populaire (National People's Theater) after World War II.
Then...there is the more difficult to describe Avignon Festival "Off," which began in 1966 with an almost spontaneous avant-garde performance held outside of the official venue. That remains a good description of "Off," which is a combination off-beat street fair, bazaar, and theatrical party with inexperienced actors, famous actors, street performers, mimes, acrobats, musicians, and just about anything else that can be considered performance art. Today, this formerly unofficial Festival d'Avignon France is an officially-sanctioned counterpart to the main festival, and there are dozens of performances in dozens of venues.
As many as 1,000 shows are performed during the three weeks of the festival, and that doesn't include all the street performers. Even the city's schools are commandeered for performances. July in Provence cities like Avignon, Arles, and the more southerly cities of the French Riviera is a busy time of year for tourism in the first place. A good 200,000 people attend the Avignon Festival meaning you need to make your arrangements as far in advance as possible. Hotels are full, restaurants are busy, and crowds fill the street. There are plenty of other France events held in this region during July should you decide to branch out. Head to Nice or Toulon for some of the best jazz festivals or to Saintes Maries de la Mer for the Festival de Cheval, a colorful celebration of the Camargue's Spanish heritage. For something unusual, you can head to Marseille for the Mondial de Petanques—a championship of this uniquely French form of boules.
Avignon Festival Location
The main official venue of Festival d'Avignon France is the Court d'Honneur (the main courtyard) of the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). This huge medieval Gothic palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is located at 3 Place du Palais in the heart of the city, and is where the Popes of the Vatican set up their residences from 1309 to 1403 to escape the chaos and violence of Rome.
Avignon Festival Lodging
There are hotels located throughout the town of Avignon, and several right around the palace. Whether you are in town for the festival or not, these can be excellent places to stay right in the heart of town near great attractions. Hotels include Kyriad – Avignon Palais Des Pap Hotel at 26 Place de l’Horloge and Hotel Mercure Cite des Papes at 1 Rue Jean Vilar. These are both essentially next door to the palace. Other nearby options include Hotel Mignon, La Mirande Hotel, and Hotel d’Europe.
Image: jean-louis zimmerman (flickr)