As Avignon is the jumping-off point for most trips to Provence, many Harper members have had to endure one of the least successful works of French public architecture in the last 10 years, the Avignon TGV station. Shaped like an upturned blade, this uncomfortable and inefficient building has inadequate seating for the throngs who use it daily, no protection from the sun or rain on the train platforms, and a dismal set of choices for anyone who wants a meal. It also has maddeningly confusing and inadequate signage.
On a recent trip to the south of France, I did some research to find a nice place for lunch within a 15-minute drive of the station — we were arriving at noon, and couldn’t check in to our hotel in the countryside until 3 p.m. We didn’t want a large or expensive meal, but a good one in a pretty setting where it would be easy to park.
And so we ended up at Le Prieuré, a charming Relais & Chateaux property in nearby Villeneuve-lès-Avignon that was taken over and renovated by chef-hotelier Jean-André Charial of Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux-de-Provence in 2007. Charial has installed a talented chef in the kitchen here — Fabien Fage — and the restaurant now has a deserved Michelin star.
Settling into the delightful rose-planted gardens of the hotel, we ordered from the excellent value lunch menu — €38 for two courses, a glass of wine, filtered water and a coffee — and proceeded to enjoy the type of wonderful meal that people come to France to find. I started with perfectly poached crayfish in a light saffron-spiked bisque, while Mrs. Harper chose asparagus with morel mushrooms in a jus de viande with a poached egg. We then had duckling breast with a roasted peach and lemon verbena, and cod steak with a shellfish foam, tiny clams and fresh peas.
The friendly sommelier served us generously twice, assistance was friendly and prompt, and a delicious assortment of petits fours came with our post-prandial coffee. This friendly, attractive establishment is an ideal lunch destination pre- or post-TGV.
N.B. The cheapest place to fill up your tank before returning a rental car is the Leclerc supermarket just before you arrive at the TGV station.
Le Prieuré, 7 Place du Chapitre, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. Tel. (33) 04-90-15-90-15.