Avignon on a segway
Take in the historic sights of Avignon and make a visit to Ile de la Barthelasse using this alternative mode of transport.
With the temperature reaching 30° Celsius I decided I needed to expend the least possible amount of energy while exploring the city so I rang Mobilboard, the Segway specialists in Avignon, and they were happy to bring me out for a tour of the historic old town at very short notice.
Their office on Rue Fourbisseurs is situated in a vibrant part of the old town with many nice cafés and high-end shops nearby, so after quickly showing Phillippe; the owner and tour guide, my slick skills on the Segway we set off over cobbled stones as he pointed out the features of the area. Navigating around and then stopping outside the Palais des Papes Phillippe explained that this huge building is the palace where popes resided before moving to the Vatican in 1377.
It was a surprise to be the only person on the tour, although it meant that once I was comfortable on the Segway we could pick up the pace as we raced uphill towards Rocher des Doms, an ornamental garden which gives stunning panoramic views over Avignon and as far as Mont Ventoux and the Alpilles.
Prepare for the first five or ten minutes of the tour to be a little nervy, but once you get the basics down you’ll loosen up and moving through the city on the futuristic Segway will become second nature. It was an enjoyable challenge to judder over the cobblestones of the old town and to statically balance when stopped to be able to take in the sights and the information Phillippe was imparting about them.
We headed towards Pont d’Avignon and with a pretty amazing story about the bridge’s history it was clear to me how much Phillippe loved his job and how great a tour guide he was, always knowing the best places to stop for a photograph and constantly smiling. He had probably told the story about the bridge hundreds of times since opening Mobilboard in Avignon 3 years ago, but it still felt like it was being told by someone who was passionate and knowledgeable about the city.
When manoeuvring the balance-guided machine it is important not to be too self-conscious as you will most certainly turn heads as you glide past; and it’s impossible to look in any way stylish as you stand atop the functional, yet obtrusive design. Be prepared for people to point in your direction and guffaw “Look! A Segway!”
In fairness that all adds to the experience and once you get accustomed to how the vehicle operates you can sweep past and give people the thumbs up as they laugh at this bizarre mode of transport.
The speed is limited to 10.5kmph inside the city walls and 16kmph outside, so before we cross over to Ile de la Barthelasse we stop for a 5 minute breather. Phillippe cranks these beasts up to the higher power and we cross the bridge and zip around the peaceful, leafy island nodding to people sunbathing on the grassy banks.
As we launch along some smooth uninhabited asphalt I wondered out loud about any tricks that can be done on the Segway. Instantly Phillippe has both hands off the steering bar and out to the side while he steers with his knees, swooping side-to-side like an alpine skier. I follow suit and the elderly couple at the roadside cheer us on as we dodge between the white lines in tandem.
The advantage of a Segway tour, apart from obviously getting to control a Segway for a few hours, is that you can see a lot more of the city in a shorter period of time as you float past everyone like a knight in this ancient Papal city.
Zipping around the exterior of the walled city for 1.5km and then dipping back inside it seems like only five or ten minutes have passed since the tour began and when the tour is finally over you feel like taking the Segway out again to an open space and trying to push the limits of what is possible on it.
Mobilboard Avignon is open every day from 09:30 to 19:30. A 2-hour tour of the city costs €50, although there are many other options available on the website.