Reviewed by Christine Charlesworth
This week I visited Avignon in Southern France and stayed with my husband at a place frequented by Napoleon Bonaparte. King Edward VII of England also stayed here as did Pope Leo XII, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo and many other historical dignitaries over the years, as the reputation of the Hotel d’Europe dates back to 1580, being one of the oldest residences of the Vaucluse aristocracy. Today the hotel combines all the modern conveniences expected in a 5* establishment while preserving many of the original features, atmosphere and elegance of a bygone era.
Avignon is a walled city on the edge of the wide Rhone river. Hotel d’Europe is set on the edge of the city, close to the ramparts and the Porte de L’Oulle gate, one of the entrances to the city. The main entrance to the hotel faces Place Crillon, named after Marguerite de Crillon who lived at the residence from 1652. There are 7 entrances to the city through the ramparts and most of the roads in Avignon are narrow, winding their way between the old buildings. We did actually get a little lost trying to find the hotel as, although we did find some signs once we were close to the hotel, more directions were needed from the main areas of the city and we had to stop outside the Tourist Office to ask for directions.
Arriving late afternoon we parked our car at one of only two parking slots beside the hotel. There is a pull-in at the front, arched entrance that overlooks the square and another to one side, in a small street at the side entrance to the main courtyard. As soon as we parked the car we were met by a porter who took our bags and showed us the way into the main reception. The staff at reception were very welcoming, were expecting us, asked for our car key and arrange for our car to be parked during our stay. We made sure that we had all that we wanted out of the car and then the porter took us, with our bags, up on the lift to our room, on the first floor. On the way he explained where we could find other areas of the hotel, such as the dining room, bar and sitting room and when we arrived at our room he spent quite some time showing us where everything was and how to work the safe, air-conditioning and door to the large balcony. He insisted on putting up two suitcase holders and arranging our suitcases.
Our room had one large bed and the furnishings and decoration were very much in keeping with the age of the hotel. Entering the room we had a lobby with fitted wardrobes facing us and separate toilet to the right, at the end of this area. A door to the left led into the main bedroom, which had separate seating, a desk and chair for the computer and a very large bathroom, which was some way from the toilet. In the bathroom there was a good sized, russet coloured marble-topped washbasin and extremely large bath, also topped with russet coloured marble. Two bathrobes hung beside the bath, there was a bidet, a large curtained window and a shower above the bath. In the bedroom, facing the bed, a French window led out onto a balcony, furnished with large wicker chairs and a small table. The balcony was covered in very realistic looking imitation grass which was an excellent idea, I thought. As the room overlooked the small inner courtyard beside the restaurant it was a very quiet place and the balcony was a welcome sunny spot to sit during a short break from visiting the many sights in Avignon. There was a mini bar in our room but, unfortunately, no tea or coffee making facilities. On top of the mini bar there was a very large, flat screen, television.
Although it was in November when we stayed at the hotel we experienced good, sunny weather. The large entrance courtyard to the hotel was set with comfortable chairs and tables so that guests could enjoy the winter sunshine. This courtyard used to be the main entrance for the horse and carriages and it was easy to imagine them coming in through the covered, arched entrance from the square. We could see that the converted buildings to one side of the main hotel used to be the carriage and stable block. Overhanging part of the courtyard was a very large, hollow tree, still in leaf.
Large stone steps led up from the courtyard to the reception area. There were a good selection of leaflets and details of things to see in the area and the staff were extremely helpful in giving directions to places of interest. A must-see in Avignon is, of course, the Palais des Papes which was built when Pope Clement V abandoned Rome in 1309 and was the papal seat for over 70 years. It is immense, with 3m thick walls, portcullises and watchtowers. It is the most important medieval Gothic building in Europe and it was just a very short walk from the hotel. In the evening I certainly recommend a visit to Avignon Opera House on Place de l’Horloge. This was built in 1825 and hosts music, dance, theatre and opera throughout the year. On our second evening in Avignon we went to an excellent concert of classical and modern orchestral music, which extended well beyond time due to the many encores.
We stayed at the Hotel d’Europe on a bed and breakfast basis. Each morning we had our breakfast in the main dining room, just off the central hall area. This Hall had a minstrels gallery hung with large tapestries with a large ceiling roof light giving the impression that you were in an outside courtyard. The stone staircase beyond was curved, edged with an elegant metal, wood-topped banister and a view up the whole height to the top floor. The dining room was pleasantly furnished and dived into two rooms. The walls were hung with elegant prints and poetry and the tables were each laid with imitation candles, which gave a good atmosphere. Breakfast was a selection of items from a small buffet and freshly-squeezed orange juice and a large pot of excellent coffee was brought to us soon after we sat at our table. Cooked eggs and other items can be ordered at an extra charge.
The hotel has a very good restaurant (La Vielle Fontaine which has a star in the Michelin guide), but it is also well placed for a variety of small restaurants only a very short walk from the hotel, or even just over the other side of the square. On our first night we ate in an excellent family-run libanaise restaurant just round the corner from the hotel.
This was a lovely hotel to spend two nights as it was so well situated to visit all the places of interest in Avignon. However, when guests arrive there are only 2 parking spaces outside the hotel which are used for dropoff/pickup but it does have valet parking available. It does state on the website that parking is available by valet, this is charged at 20 Euros per night so we were not pleased to be charged 40 Euros when it was time to leave as this wasn’t explained to us, so maybe this could be better explained upon arrival.
Hotel d’Europe is a member of Great Hotels of the World Premium Collection. Double rooms start from £180. For more information or to book, please visit www.ghotw.com/heurope or call 020 7380 3658.
Hotel d’Europe, 12 Place Crillon, 84000 Avignon, France