A July 1997 trip
to Nimes by MichaelJM
Quote: Nimes provided a good focus for our exploration of The Vaucluse.
The blue, blue fields of lavender with the accompanying aroma gave picturesque views across the open countryside and the air felt so clean and unpolluted. Indeed it wasn’t too difficult to figure out why Van Gogh and his contemporaries painted in such vibrant colours. After all that’s how it is in this beautiful part of the world. Our gite was superbly set with views of the Luberon Mountains and well placed for tours of western Provence, The Vaucluse.There are some superb hill top villages around to the North of the Vaucluse region many of which involve a fair number of journeys up narrow winding roads followed by some strenuous walking. Crestet is a mighty fine example and this 12th-century village is perfectly situated with its cobbled streets leading to a castle and church and some fantastic views across the valleys to the summit of Mount Ventoux. By contrast Malaucene has a much livelier restaurant and cafe culture and for afternoon tea try something with cherries (Malaucene is the cherry capital)and look over some of the locally produced honey. The church is interesting as it emphasises some of the earlier dilemmas for the establishment—you see its a fortified church that has much under attack over the generations.
With that in mind it has to be high on the agenda to try the regional specialities. Many of these recipes involve the tomato (love apple) and we soon understood that tomatoes down here taste totally different to those we’d enjoyed at home. But the Provençal way does appear to involving stuffing the food. Any vegetable that has flesh is subject to "farci" and you’ll be guaranteed that garlic will also play a significant part in the process. We enjoyed, and continue à mange Provençal chez nous, stuffed aubergines, stuffed courgette and of course stuffed tomato. Bouillabaisse or Soupe de poisson (depending whereabouts you’re eating it) is an experience not to be missed. Although I’m not a lover of fish soup it seemed churlish not to try this regional speciality. So my big tip is become Provençal for your holiday -eat and enjoy
Although you'll need your car to get around you'll need to abandon it in many places and resort to walking. This is by far the best, and often quickest way to get round towns. Parking can be a bit of a nightmare in high season, but if you follow the signs for tourist parking and have a bit of patience you will find a parking slot. Some places are particularly reserved for visitors and that does make life a bit easier.If your on the coastal road have plenty of change or, more to the point, your credit card. This is a toll road and the charges are disproportionally high. We got well fed up with the toll stations that seemed to appear, out of nowhere, with alarming regularity.The larger towns like Nimes and Avignon will offer guided walks around the town and that can be a good way of taking in the sights.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 5, 2006
We’d heard about this construct and despite our lack of planning stumbled upon signs to the site. It was an absolutely stunning sight as we approached and it was hard to think that this was constructed over 2,000 years ago. This aqueduct was built by the Romans to service their prestigious settlement at Nimes (more of that later).
It spans the Gardon River and at 157 feet it was the highest bridge constructed by the Romans and a masterpiece of engineering. It started at the springs at Uzes and water tumbled along its 31-mile channel to the centre of Nimes. It would be a long and difficult job because most of the water channel was underground and dug out of the solid rock but the real artistry is recognised in the aqueduct itself. The limestone construction is three storeys and it’s incredible that these fantastic arches have escaped the ravages of time. The river below has burst its banks many times over the years but the aqueduct has stood firm.
We joined the throngs to walk the length of this mighty bridge and from here the true size of the beast struck home. Walking on the bridge with monolithic arches below, thrusting deeply into the river bed we imagined Roman soldiers pounding their way across here heading from the Roman stronghold to "educate the rest of France into Roman ways." As we looked skyward we speculated what a drenching these same men would have got if the channel above, supported by a further series of majestic arches on thick chunky pillars, had sprung a leak. This was carrying up to 20,000m³ of water a day to Nimes. It was clear that people came here not only to view the spectacular piece of engineering history, it was also a social centre for discussion and meeting up with friends. I guess the original architect would have been happy with that!
Beneath us the gently flowing waters of the River Gardon were in use. The site is a popular play area with the French who love to swim and dive in the waters of the river and although it was busy when we were there the cacophony of youngsters enjoying themselves did not seem out of place with this ancient monument. Around the bridge the development of a modern visitors centre, le portal, provides a variety of restaurants, an auditorium (in a disused quarry), and visitors "promenades." Vineyards populate the slopes over the river valley and on the "plains" nearer to the water’s edge are signs of the regions earlier, and still prospering farming heritage, the olive tree. An ancient, wizened tree, still bearing fruit, stands proudly where must have been for centuries.We found this to be a fascinating visit—ideal for its historical perspective, its leisure and social opportunities and, of course, the chance to enjoy good food (either in the restaurants or in the picnic areas). What a place to chill out in!
Pont du Gard
Crossing the Gardon River
Near Remoulins, France
Not only was the Avenue an important thoroughfare but it was also an important demarcation line between the rich aristocracy and the plebeians who resided in the Quartier Ancien. Both Hotel Arbaud and Hotel de Caumont are said to be the finest of all the 18th-century houses (I couldn’t dispute that) and the latter has a fine internal fountain and sculptured gods holding the ceiling in place. Befittingly, it’s an art college now, so they didn’t seem to mind me poking my head round this magnificent lobby.As you wander the streets with the fine old houses keep an eye open for those houses with bricked in windows. This is a sign that the owners had hit hard times and could not afford to pay the government window tax (it was assumed the bigger the house, the more window, the greater wealth—not a bad assessment I guess!)However, the Quartier Ancien has real character with its narrow streets and interesting open Places (or Squares). The eponymous Place d’Albertas is one such square and named after the parliamentarian who owned all the land and built his fine home back in 1720. Now it’s fully enclosed and complete with a 1900s fountain, and a mere stones throw away from Aix’s main shopping centre.I'll skip detailed reference to Place Richelm other than to say it can be a bit intimidating after dark and move down the road to Place de l'hotel de ville. The main attraction is in the clock tower, built in 1510 with four statues depicting the four seasons by the produce of the area (Spring with fruit and fish, wheat for summer, wine for autumn and timber for winter. The two other buidlings in the square are also fascinating; the town hall, and the 1718 granary (now being used as the Post Office).Make sure you're there for a market day (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). We found this to be a colourful and exciting ocassion with fresh fruit, flowers, bric-a-brac and stalls selling locally made Santons (small colourful clay figurines depicting Provencal life.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 5, 2006