What's in a name? La Mirande refers to an ornate reception room in Avignon's astounding Popes' Palace (below), where the pontiff would greet visiting dignitaries. You see what they're saying: at La Mirande you will be received with honour. What was the Pope doing in Avignon? Running the Vatican, which had moved to the southern French city in 1309, following a conflict between the French monarchy and Rome. He stayed in Avignon until 1377. A string of French popes built an enormous papal palace in the centre of the medieval city, and it remains one of the glories of French architecture, overlooking an immense square. Is the hotel nearby? It couldn't be closer, facing the towering southern walls of the palace across a narrow street. Having begun life as a cardinal's mansion in the 14th century, it was remodelled in the 17th century as the Hôtel de Vervins with a fine baroque façade. The building became the Hôtel Pamard in 1796 and stayed in the influential Pamard family into the late 20th century. So it's been a hotel for several centuries? Not at all. " Hôtel " here means a grand town house, bearing the name of the residing family. It only became a hotel in the hostelry sense in 1990, after a radical reinvention. The new owners, the Stein family from Germany, revamped it with a Parisian designer and a local architect, keeping with the historical styles and using materials from around the region. So it's a kind of museum? If you like, although in a supremely comfortable way. The hotel has been modelled on the luxury living of past times, where you feel enveloped in history but can also enjoy the amenities of 21st-century life. The furniture and furnishings are based on historical designs, and some pieces are antique. Such has been the care put into the building's embellishments for more than a quarter of a century by general manager and co-owner Martin Stein that he bears the alternative title of artistic director. Does it evoke any particular period? Yes, the 18th century, which was the Age of Enlightenment as well as when the French aristocracy took their last gasp. While some features reflect the building's early origins, the Steins wanted to recreate the atmosphere of an 18th-century aristocratic residence, where period wallpaper and silk-lined curtains complement tufted armchairs and parquet flooring. Any mod cons? More than it seems on first glance. Settling into your elegant period room, you see no television, but then you spy a remote. Click it, and a TV screen appears magically within the gilt-edged mantelpiece mirror. In a flash, you are catapulted forward almost three centuries. In the marble-finish bathroom, the washbasins have a solid Edwardian look, but work like a dream. What else have the Steins cooked up? Some very tasty things. The hotel's gourmet restaurant offers classic French cuisine in its Cardinalice room, with its Renaissance-style ceiling, while a cooking school occupies the antique-style basement kitchen (above). Does anything happen in Avignon? You must be joking. Europe's second biggest arts festival after Edinburgh annually enlivens the city (July 4 to 25 this year). If you can get a room at La Mirande, you'll find yourself in the company of leading directors, conductors, actors and musicians. Isn't there something about a bridge, too? Absolutely, in the old folk song which goes, " Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse " - "On Avignon Bridge, we dance, we dance". The medieval bridge was ruined in a 16th-century flood but its remains still arch halfway across the wide River Rhone, which flows alongside the city. What's the bottom line? The hotel has 27 double rooms (below), 21 of which look out on the Popes' Palace. Rooms are priced between €350 (HK$2,900) and €650. The suite and apartment accommodation is €470 to €1,550. For more information, visit www.la-mirande.fr .