The Rhône River starts in the Swiss Alps. It flows into and out of Lake Geneva (which is called Lac Leman in French) — so Lake Geneva could conceivably be thought of as a very wide and deep part of the Rhône. At the lower (=east) end of the lake, the Rhône has a brief moment of glory as one of the world’s cleanest rivers as it flows through the city of Geneva, the reason for this unusual cleanliness being that all the gunk has settled to the bottom of the lake. But after a few hundred meters the first tributary comes in, and the murkiness resumes.
By the time the Rhône reaches Avignon it is seriously polluted. You can row on it, as the people in this photo are doing, but you shouldn’t swim in it and certainly not drink the water.
The Rhône is especially picturesque when viewed from a distance. Up close, it turns out to be quite scummy in places.
When I visited the Grand Gallery of Evolution in Paris in 2012 I found this model showing the increasing pollution of the Rhône River as it flows through France down to the sea. Reportedly the Rhône has accumulated such dangerous levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) that the French government has outlawed the consumption of fish from the entire length of the Rhône, from the Swiss border all the way down to the Mediterranean.
The islands in the Rhône between Avignon and Villeneuve have been rearranged by flooding several times in the past millennium, destroying eight-ninths of Saint Bénezet’s bridge in the process. At present there is just one big island in this part of the river. It is called Barthelasse Island and is said to be the largest île fluviale (island in a river) in all of Europe.
The best way to get to Barthelasse Island is to take the free shuttle boat (navette) which leaves from a dock near Saint Bénezet’s bridge four or five times an hour. In July and August it runs every day from 11 am to 9 pm, with shorter hours in the spring and autumn. It does not run at all from the first of January to the fifteenth of February, and not on Christmas Day.
This “navette” is a boat, but there is also a “navette” which is a shuttle train between the two railroad stations Avignon TGV and Avignon Centre. (More about them some other time.)
The crossing on the shuttle boat really is completely free, and they also take bicycles, which is good because Barthelasse Island is a pleasant place to cycle around. It is also the location of the Avignon youth hostel, as mentioned in my story Evenings in Europe and Asia.
Here the shuttle boat is docked at Barthelasse Island, with the remains of Saint Bénezet’s bridge in the background.
This ‘Rock of the Monks’ (if I have translated Rocher des Doms correctly) is a steep outcropping behind the Palace of the Popes, overlooking the Rhône River Valley. At the top of the rock is a park with a pond, statues and walking paths. The first human settlements in Avignon are said to have been up here on the Rock, since it was easy to defend.
The tower off to the right in this photo is the Tour Philippe le Bel in the town of Villeneuve lez Avignon.
The medieval fortress in this photo is Fort Saint André. Next to it is the Abbey Saint André. Both are on Mont Andaon in Villeneuve lez Avignon.
The bridge in the foreground is the treacherous Pont Edouard Daladier, a road bridge with dangerously narrow bicycle lanes and sidewalks. In the background are the twin railway viaducts over the Rhône River and Valley. These are part of the high-speed railway line “LGV Méditerranée” (‘Mediterranean line of great speed’) that was opened in 2001.
My photos in this post are from 2012 and 2014. I revised the text in 2017.
See more posts on Avignon and Villeneuve lez Avignon, France.
1 thought on “The Rhône River in Avignon”
The state of pollutants shocked me, my impressions of environmentally conscious Europeans were shattered.