Getting to Know France’s Gard Region
If you’ve fallen in love with France as I have, you have probably traveled there more than once. Now that you have seen Paris and beyond, including all the regular tourist attractions, its time to learn about the fabulous Gard region of France.
The Gard is located just west of Provence in south central France. This magical region abounds with natural beauty and less touristy towns, which makes it even more attractive to those looking for the France Profonde (The authentic France).
Pont du Gard
The Gard’s most popular attraction is the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct that is considered a magnificent engineering feat, but is also an architectural masterpiece. The graceful arches of the Pont (Bridge) cast a warm glow in the sunlight as it frames the lazy Gard River below.
A visit to the Pont du Gard must also include a visit to the recently constructed visitor’s center which contains a museum and a hands-on Children’s Learning Area. There is also a comfortable outdoor café on the grounds serving very tasty lunches and snacks along with an excellent view of the Pont du Gard.
If you love nature, you must visit the wild Camargue, or more formally, The Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, a World Heritage site. Located between the Mediterranean Sea, and the two arms of the Rhone River delta, the Camargue and the Petit Camargue are natural wonderlands. Here you will see hundreds of flamingos, plus as many as 400 other bird species. Bring your binoculars!
You can also hike, ride the famous Camargue white horses or take a boat trip within the 360 square miles of this natural marshland. You will likely also observe wild bulls grazing in the long grasses.
Cevennes National Park
For an adventure in nature of a different sort, consider the Cevennes National Park. The Cevennes is a maze of deep valleys with winding rivers and hills covered in forests and mulberry bushes that were planted ages ago for feeding the silkworms which were bred in the mills called magnaneries. This is a wonderful place for camping, hiking and enjoying nature.
There are a few towns that I believe are must-see when you are in this region. Number one has got to be Nimes and of course Aigues Mortes, Beaucaire, and Uzes.
Your favorite jeans are made of denim, the fabric originally made in Nimes: de Nimes (of Nimes) beginning at the latter part of the Middle Ages. Nimes was also a center of the silk trade.
Nimes’ Coat of Arms is a crocodile chained to a palm tree. When the Romans conquered Egypt, a coin was struck in Nimes with that depiction as well as the words Col Nem (colony of Nimes) to celebrate the event. The Nimes populace grew to love the coin and adapted it as the city’s crest.
There are several Roman artifacts adorning this compact city. The Maison Carree or Square House is a Roman Temple set in the center of town. Built in the 1st Century AD, it was completely restored at the end of 2010. The Roman Amphitheatre is one of the best preserved of the Roman world. Built in the 1st century AD, it is still used to this day for bullfights and other events.
On the western edge of the Camargue, is the medieval town of Aigues Mortes (dead waters). The city was a Roman town built in about 10 AD. The walled city we see today was re-built by Louis IX in the 13th century as France’s only Mediterranean port at that time. It was the embarkation point of the Seventh Crusade (1248) and the Eighth Crusade (1270).
Beaucaire sits across the river from the castle town of Tarascon. Like Tasascon, Beaucaire has its own castle and dragon legend. Beaucaire was a rich market town in the middle ages. You can see the vestiges of magnificent hotels, used to house the visiting merchants, now used as apartment buildings and palatial homes.
Uzes captured my heart the moment we arrived. It is a small, walkable town that oozes charm around every corner. I loved the Saturday market, held in the Place aux Herbes. It is a favorite because of the vast variety of market items on sale. If only I could stuff more into my suitcase!
The palace of the Duc of Uzes is set right in town, and there is still a Duc who lives there, on occasion. On our tour, we spotted the Duc talking with one of his employees. Here’s a hint: if the flag is flying at the castle, the Duc is in residence.
Uzes lies at the source of the Eure river, and it is from here that the Roman aqueduct was built to carry the water 25K away to Nimes. The Pont du Gard is part of this aqueduct.
I have honestly just scratched the surface of this little corner of France. On your next trip to France, be sure to check out the Gard.
About the author: Terri Fogarty is the publisher of EuropeUpClose.com.