Follow in the footsteps of the Romans and medieval pilgrims who once traversed this glorious landscape, from its rugged gorges and verdant pastures to the windswept wilds of the Camargue.
HEART OF HERITAGE
UNESCO World Heritage site the Pont du Gard is, not surprisingly, the jewel in the Gard’s crown. Built 2,000 years ago, it is a remnant of the 52km Roman aqueduct that once carried water to the then 20,000 inhabitants of Nîmes. Guaranteed to blow you away, it’s the setting for many shows, concerts, exhibitions, fireworks and popular balls throughout the year.
The 12th-century Abbey of Saint-Gilles is listed by UNESCO for being a stage on the Santiago de Compostela. Treading in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims, you will first be struck by the many carvings on the Romanesque façade and the imposing red doors, the 50m nave and monumental crypt.
The Romans certainly left their mark on Nîmes, right down to the sewers! But of course, their most famous legacy is the 24,000-seat amphitheatre, the best preserved in the Roman world, built during the reign of Augustus. Then there’s the wonderfully intact Maison Carrée, where you can learn about the city’s history from its inception, the Magne Tower, part of the original city walls and a great place for views of Nîmes and its environs, and the castellum, the distribution basin for the water from the aqueduct which would be piped around the city.
As a ville d’art et d’histoire, culture vultures can enjoy a packed itinerary, with various museums and the modern art museum, the Carré d’Art to while away the hours. Or if spending is your thing, Nîmes is an incredible shopping destination… well, it is the home of denim (de Nîmes) after all.
Four of France’s Plus Beaux Villages can be found in the Gard, in the northeast of the département. At the edge of the Ardèche is Aiguèze, an 11th-century fortress; the medieval village of Montclus, where a square dungeon is the only remnant of the original castle, sits beside the Cèze river; the stone houses of La Roque-sur-Cèze are set among the vineyards, gazing down at the Sautadet waterfalls; and Lussan, perched on a rocky peak, offers the lure of a medieval city surrounded by ramparts.
You’ll also find Villages of Character, such as Barjac, home to two great flea markets, and Vézénobres, a perched medieval city with beautiful Romanesque mansions connected by steep alleys. Figs are harvested here, with festivities in August and October.
The Causses and Cévennes, listed in 2011 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their “cultural landscape of Mediterranean agro-pastoralism”, cover more than 300,000 hectares. You’ll find windswept plateaus, steep valleys and blunt peaks maintained by the sheep, goat and cattle that graze here and are farmed using the traditional transhumance method. It’s the perfect place for hiking and biking.
In the world-famous Camargue, with its marshes and reed beds and endless beaches, you can discover the flora and fauna by walking the Marette trail, either guided or alone. A good starting point is the Maison du Grand Site de France de la Camargue Gardoise, an eco-museum at Aigues-Mortes, with a discovery trail, exhibitions and other events and activities.
Or pop over to the Gardon Gorges, another Grand Site de France, and explore its remarkable ecosystem of garrigue, cliffs and caves, oak forests and farmland.
Alongside Nîmes, Uzès and Beaucaire are also villes d’art et d’histoire. Beaucaire is a river port with a charming marina and an historic centre with mansions dating to the 17th century. If you’re not too tired, climb to the fortress for a stunning view of the city. In historic Uzès, don’t miss the iconic 11th-century Romanesque Tour Fenestrelle (‘Window Tower’), France’s only round bell tower, or the fabulous Saturday market.
From France Today Magazine