Details on the 'Holy Cities' of Provence
GETTING THERE: Marseille and Montpellier are convenient to the "holy cities" of Provence. Air France flies to both from Washington, connecting through Paris, currently starting around $725, including taxes. An alternative is to fly to Paris, then take a train to the south of France or drive (about 6 1/2 hours to Avignon).
WHERE TO STAY: To visit the four cities, it's convenient to make your base in Avignon, with the widest choice of hotels, restaurants and historic sights. The top spot, at the foot of the Palace of the Popes, is La Mirande (4 Place de la Mirande, 011-33-(0)4-90-14-20-20, http:/
WHERE TO EAT: Situated in an ancient building next to the Palace of the Popes, Restaurant Christian Etienne (10 Rue de Mons, Avignon, 011-33-(0)4-90-86-16-50, http:/
SYNAGOGUES AND CEMETERIES: Synagogue of Avignon (Place Jerusalem, 011-33(0)4-90-85-21-24). Closed Saturdays. The cemetery, outside the medieval city walls, is on the Avenue Eisenhower across from a bustling commercial center. Visitors can request a key to the burial grounds from the rabbi at the synagogue.
In Cavaillon, the 14th-century bakery in the basement of the synagogue houses the Jewish Comtadin Museum (52 Place Castil-Blaze, 011-33-(0)4-90-76-00-34, http:/
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, called the Venice of the Comtat, is the most picturesque of the four cities of the pope's Jews. Of the former Jewish quarter, several street signs remain, among them Place de la Juiverie (Jewish Square) and Rue Hebraique (Hebrew street). The only element that survived the destruction of the synagogue during the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution was the grill that separated men from women during services. It is now in the Notre Dames des Anges cathedral (Place de la Liberte), where it separates the congregation from the altar. Open daily.
In Carpentras, the former capital of the Comtat Venaissin, the synagogue (Place Maurice-Charretier), built in 1367, is the oldest Jewish house of prayer in France still holding regular services. Closed Saturday, Sunday and Jewish holidays. Guided tours available (call 011-33-(0)4-90-63-39-97). A few steps away, the flamboyant Gothic St. Siffrein Cathedral (Place Saint-Siffrein) has a "porte juive" (Jewish door) for converts, topped by a "Rats' Ball" to ward off attacks by heretics. The walled-in Jewish cemetery, outside the town center, is locked with no access for visitors.
WHAT TO DO: The Palace of the Popes (Place du Palais, Avignon, 011-33-(0)4-90-27-50-00, http:/
In Cavaillon, there is a Roman arch on the Place Francois-Tourel. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is known internationally for its expansive antiques and brocante (secondhand goods) markets, with more than 300 dealers Saturday-Monday year-round.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Next weekend, Avignon kicks off a year-long celebration marking the first pope's arrival 700 years ago. Contact the Avignon Tourist Office (011-33-(0)4-32-74-32-74, http:/