Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Arles, Nimes, Uzes and the Pont Du Gard

So it was time to quit the French Riviera, sadly, but in the not too far distance were the Roman Coliseums at Arles and Nimes and we could look forward to being back in our home region of Languedoc Roussillon.

Roman Coliseums & Romanesque Buildings

Hard to believe that the Romans built two such magnificent coliseums in such close proximity to one another.

Admittedly they wouldn't have had the benefit of a modern motor car, but even so there was only about a half hour drive between Arles and Nimes over a distance of about 34km.  So to find two buildings of such stature that essentially performed the same function was, to me anyway, astonishing.

I actually got a bit confused to begin with because someone had told me there was only one coliseum and it was at Arles not Nimes. Just goes to show you shouldn't believe everything you are told!

This whole area of France is full of the evidence of the amazing ability the Romans had for building spectacular structures from sandstone and it is reported that the coliseums, along with the Roman theatre and the Pont Du Gard are the best preserved evidence of the Romanesque period in France. Unesco certainly think so and have given the coliseum in Arles and the Pont Du Gard world heritage status, two of a total of thirty eight sites in France. Carcassonne and the Canal Du Midi are two more a little closer to home.

My personal opinion is that the coliseum in Nimes was probably more deserving than the coliseum in Arles, but to be honest there isn't much between them. So if you find yourself in a situation where you need to chose between the two. you really wouldn't be disappointed by either one.

We stayed the night in Nimes and visited the coliseum the following day, a missed opportunity I think because we were only 15 minutes from the centre and could have seen the coliseum lit up at night time. I am pretty sure that would have been really spectacular, so we were left kicking ourselves we didn't head in town for the evening.

Uzes and the Pont Du Gard

I can't really remember who told me or where I saw it, but I knew that Uzes was a must see place to visit if you are in this area. 

So we plumbed the town into our sat nav and set off to find it. Have to say we were not disappointed and we arrived just as the lunch period was getting going, so had the added bonus of sitting down for a lovely meal in this beautiful sandstone built town and alfresco of course. 

It felt a little like wandering around a Cotswolds town with a French twist, probably because the sun was shining and we had some lovely weather for our sightseeing. Although I think September in the UK wasn't so bad this year either. 

So yes I would add that if you are in this area, Uzes is a must see place and well worth the trip to have a look at it. virtually the whole town is built from sandstone and there are a myriad of cobbled streets and medieval arches in and leading from the centre square. Very nice. Next stop then was the Pont Du Gard, the Roman aquaduct.

Pont Du Gard

Not far from Uzes you will find the Pont Du Gard, which in Roman times was a little bit of ingenious engineering. Built around 50 AD to carry water from the Source d'Eure in Uzes towards the city of Nimes, serving this purpose until the 6th century. It was partly destroyed during the middle ages as a source of stone for other constructions..... bit like Hadrian's Wall really. Fortunately there is still an impressive structure there and a museum, open from 9.30 am until either 5.00 pm or 7.00 pm depending on the time of year, to tell you all about it.

If you roll up in your car, it is going to cost you €18, but that is for up to 5 people and includes access to the whole site.

So you could actually plan to spend the whole day there. There is plenty to do and it is lovely spot, just to sit by the river for example and admire the aquaduct. Or you can go walking and of course visit the shops and museum. So all in all €18 isn't actually so bad if you use your visit to its full potential.

So that was it, after the Pont Du Gard it was full steam ahead back to the Aude and our little place in France which, as you all know you are welcome to visit.

We did make one more stop, just past Narbonne for a quick driver change. It was as the sun was setting and I couldn't resist one more snap, this time it was a modern structure in the services area of the A61 as you turn off for Carcassonne and Toulouse. I thought it was a pretty nice photograph, so hope you do too.

Well it is different anyway, and perhaps it is just not the Romans that can knock a structure together. Does make you wonder what they would have thought of it had they stumbled across something like this back in their day.
This is where you will find a few more photographs https://plus.google.com/111129889170644567486/posts/XsYjjpun19M

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Living in France - A Little Look Back at the Highlight of 2013

After a bit of a wet start 2013 turned out to be a very good year at Le Moulin. We had lots of lovely visitors, made some new friends and, in a special birthday year, we decided to visit the French Riviera to see some of the places we had dreamed of visiting ever since we arrived in France to live, back in 2008. It was this trip that was without doubt the highlight of the year.

I have already talked about our trip to an extent on the post called The Cote d'Azure and the French Mediterranean. But to fill you in a little on the details, I should explain that around twenty seven years ago I went on a lone trip to the South of France. After arriving in Marseilles by train, I took a little advice from the tourist information office and caught a bus to the seaside town of Cassis. Unbeknownst to me, it was the beginning of the French national holidays, so as I was going around town looking for the best rate at the hotels, everyone else was actually booking in. End result was by the time I worked out where I wanted to stay, and could afford, everything was booked up.

Taken from just about where I slept on the floor for ten nights
The only option I had left was to head for the nearest camp site.   When I arrived and enquired after a pitch, I was asked how big my tent was.....to which I had to reply 'I haven't actually got a tent'. So to cut a long story short, I was charged 10 francs a night (about a £1.50) and took up residence on a rush mat in front of the bar. The weather was glorious and I stayed for 10 nights, made loads of friends and got an invite to Paris, on my way home, where I was offered a place to stay for a few nights.

So why am I telling you all this, other than to demonstrate how naive I was in my twenties, well it was because that was also the year that I met Angela. After telling her the story of my trip to France she said I would love to go there.  It only took 27 years but we got there in the end and the campsite was exactly as I remembered it, bar and everything. The main difference this time, with Angela along for the trip, was she insisted on a tent!

So Cassis was the starting point of our little adventure to the French Riviera and I was instantly reminded of how beautiful the French Mediterranean coastline is.

After a few nights at Cassis we headed off to Port Grimaud, a water taxi's ride from the famous St Tropez resort that has hosted so many of the rich and famous, including the infamous French siren - Bridget Bardot. We found a lovely little Italian cafe in the back streets of St Tropez, where BB had dined. An occasion the owner remembered very well, despite the fact he had seen many famous celebrities come and go, it is not hard to figure out why he remembered her so well when you are told it was around 40 years earlier.

Port Grimaud is a great place to stay for a while, even though the Port was actually only developed in recent times and is still relatively young. Most of the construction was done in three stages starting in the 1960's, then phase 2 was in the 70's and a final third stage was completed in the 90's. It has been built in a Venetian style canal system but with buildings based on the style of the housing in St Tropez, originally a fisherman's village. I know there will be people that crave the more traditional medieval buildings that abound in France, but the Port really is quite quaint and the nearby town of Grimaud can provide any medieval fix you need, including a hill top Chateau with views across the Mediterranean to St Tropez.

 Next on the agenda was a trip to Monaco. Port Grimaud is only a couple of hours from Monaco and we were staying in a mobile home at the lovely Holiday Marina resort. It is a bit English there (mainly because so many English stay there) but very well located, with a nice pool, friendly staff and a really good bar and restaurant.

But we wanted to make the most of Monaco, so we decided to book a hotel at the lovely resort of Villefranche-Sur-Mer, only about 1/2 an hour from Monaco heading back along the coast following the Corniche coastal road. That meant we could spend the whole day in Monaco sightseeing and having lunch near the casino at the Cafe de Paris.

The lunch was good, but be prepared for the snooty waiter who clearly prefers his customers not to look like a typical tourist, guess we should have gone black tie instead of St Tropez T shirt! That aside, Monaco is a fabulous place and it is worth getting the little red train from the Musée Océanographique that takes you all around Monaco. Then, when you get back, there is just a short walk to the Royal Palace and another short walk to a convenient bus station where you can get a ride back to where you parked. There are lots of car parks by the way and it is best to leave your car rather than trying to weave your way around the city using your own transport.

Once we were done with Monaco we headed off down the coast road to Villefranche Sur Mer which I have already discussed on my previous post (link at the top), but I couldn't resist sharing another photograph with you and of course recommending that if you ever do travel this coastline, make sure you are carrying your very best camera. The scenery really is spectacular, especially around Saint Jean Cap Ferrat which you can see either from Villefranche or as you approach it after leaving Monaco.

When we left Villefranche we decided to drive the Corniche coast road all the way back to Port Grimaud. This meant that we were lucky enough to lunch at Antibes and to pass through a long list of famous locations all along the French Riviera:
  • Nice
  • Cagnes-Sur-Mer
  • Antibes 
  • Cannes (Of film festival fame)
  • Saint Rapheal & Frejus
  • Sainte Maxime
Port Grimaud - a mix of Venice & St Tropez
Not the quickest way to get back to Port Grimaud but worth every extra minute. After one more night spent in Port Grimaud and a night out listening to a live band singing the Rolling Stones' best known songs it was time to think about heading back towards Languedoc Roussillon.

It was sad in some ways but not in others, because we are lucky enough to live in France and where we are is also very stunning, plus it has the added benefit that the roads are significantly quieter. 

Plus the trip wasn't over yet, there was still Arles, Nimes, Uzes and the Pont Du Gard on the agenda. So all I can say for now about our trip to the French Riviera is watch this space......to be continued.

In the meantime if you would like to see some more photographs from the trip go and have a look at the album on the Google+ page. Don't forget to like it while you are there.

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