WE’D stayed in an apartment with a lovely sea view and we’d stayed in an apartment with a cosy log fire.
But, until recently, my wife and I had never stayed in an apartment built on the orders of the Pope on the very spot where a bona fide miracle had taken place.
The apartment, booked through VacationRentalPeople.com, was in the former church of Notre-Dame Du Miracle, in the historic French city of Avignon.
The story goes that on March 24, 1320, a man and a teenager, both accused of homosexuality, were sentenced to be burned at the stake.
The older died in the flames, but the younger, still proclaiming his innocence and imploring the Virgin Mary to show mercy, was unharmed.
At that time, Avignon was the centre of the Roman Catholic world – the papal court moved there from war-torn Italy in 1309 and didn’t return until 1377.
Pope John XXII heard about the teenager’s lucky escape, deemed it a miracle and had the church built on the place of the stake.
The church has long since ceased being a place of worship and our apartment was on the second floor of a facade added in the 18th century.
It was perfectly situated for exploring Avignon and the Provence region, being just a five-minute walk from both the city centre and central train station.
The apartment was within the well-preserved, medieval city walls which are three miles round and punctuated with 39 towers and seven gates.
Sadly, visitors to Avignon could be forgiven for thinking the defensive structure was built to keep prostitutes out of the city centre.
The walls are lined with car parks which, come night time, are frequented by vans with little red lights on the dashboards.
It ruins what could be a romantic walk and is not something you’d expect to see in a city where seven popes built a mini-Vatican.
The Pope’s Palace was richly decorated by artists and craftsmen from Italy.
Today, its walls are mostly bare, but the building’s scale is still overwhelming.
Further evidence of religious splendour can be found across the River Rhone in Villeneuve-les-Avignon where a charterhouse founded by cardinals is the oldest in France.
A little further afield, in the famous wine-making town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the ruined keep and walls of the Popes’ second home still stand.
Avignon is perhaps best known for Pont Saint-Bénézet, the medieval bridge across the Rhone made famous by the popular 15th century nursery rhyme Sur Le Pont D’Avignon.
Its construction was inspired by Saint Bénézet, a local shepherd boy who, according to tradition, was commanded by angels to build a bridge across the Rhone.
Though ridiculed at first, he proved his divine inspiration by miraculously lifting a huge block of stone, thereby winning support for his project from wealthy sponsors.
Pont Saint Bénézet once straddled an island that was a popular spot for fairs and revellers would dance under the bridge (not on it, as the nursery rhyme suggests) as they sheltered from rain.
Over the centuries the bridge, originally 900m long, became increasingly perilous as arches frequently collapsed during floods and were replaced by rickety wooden sections.
The bridge was finally abandoned in 1688 after a flood which swept away much of the structure and today only four of the original 22 arches remain intact.
Besides Pont Saint-Bénézet, our week-long stay in Avignon was also memorable for visits to two other breathtaking bridges which spanned the centuries.
Fifteen miles away, between Avignon and Nimes, is the almost perfectly-preserved Pont du Gard, the tallest of all the Roman aqueducts at 48m.
Work on the three-tiered limestone structure started in 9BC and it was still carrying water over the river valley as late as the 9th century.
A two-hour drive away, forming part of the A75-A71 Paris to Montpellier route, is the equally impressive Millau Viaduct, designed by British architect Norman Foster.
It was opened in 2004 at a cost of €320m and at the welcome centre we learned that it boasts two world records – the highest road bridge and longest cable-stayed bridge deck.
The tallest of the seven masts is 343m – that’s higher than the Eiffel Tower – and the deck in 270m above the River Tarn. The overall length is 2,460m.
Of course, travelling to the Millau Viaduct means hiring a car.
But many other sights in the culturally-rich Avignon area can be reached by public transport.
Some of Ancient Rome’s best-preserved monuments are less than 30 minutes away by train – the theatre at Orange and the amphitheatres at Nimes and Arles.
Pont du Gard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Villeneuve-les-Avignon and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorge (‘The Venice Of Provence’) are all easily accessible by bus.
However, not hiring a car means missing out on the atmospheric hilltop villages of the Luberon Natural Park, such as Gordes, Lacoste and Oppede-le-Vieux.
In fact, there’s so much to marvel at in this part of Provence it would be a miracle if you saw it all in one week.