A Travellerspoint blog

Based in Nîmes

..with outings to the Camargue, Uzes, Pont du Gard, Avignon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape

sunny 25 °C
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Apologies for a longer than usual blog. For a change we had given ourselves long enough in one place to explore the area, so it all fits together - for me at least!. On our first day out, just outside Nîmes, we spotted a sign at Aire de Caissargues which looked interesting, so pulled in. We had the impression that the Theatre in the grounds was Roman but it turned out that it was all that remained of a theatre which had been built in Nîmes in 1827. After it burnt down in 1952, and after some agonising by the local council, the columns that remained of the facade were moved to this site. Adjacent to this, in the aire, is an interesting little museum about the prehistory of the area.

Intriguing sign at the aire

Intriguing sign at the aire

View across park to the theatre facade

View across park to the theatre facade

Wildflower near the theatre facade

Wildflower near the theatre facade

Closer view of the theatre facade

Closer view of the theatre facade

We continued to the Camargue and paid our entry fees at the Pont de Gau, the best place to see birds in the area. The reserve started after WWII when André Lamouroux acquired a blockhouse and some ground on the western side of the Camargue. He later bought two hunting grounds to the east, which allowed for expansion. Initially, he lived there and had a small garden. He then noticed that there were many injured birds, so he built aviaries to house them and, until 1972, visitors came to see the birds in the enclosed spaces. André died in 1974 and his son, René, demolished the aviaries and started creating the Ornithological Park which exists today. Initially, visitors were not charmed to have to find relatively few birds in their natural habitat but, gradually, more and more birds became attracted and, to some extent, habituated to human presence, so that they can now be observed fairly easily. The family continues to operate the park with two main trails, 2.6km and 4.3km. The shorter walk takes in the areas where the ludicrously beautiful Greater Flamingos gather while, on the longer walk, birds were less numerous but equally very interesting. One of the surprises was to find that Coypu were wild but quite unafraid. These are large South American rodents that I had not expected to find in France but it seems that a colony has grown from some escapees and they appear to do no harm, so are tolerated as exotic visitors.

Our first sight of a Coypu

Our first sight of a Coypu

A flamboyance of Greater Flamingos

A flamboyance of Greater Flamingos

Greater Flamingo starting to sweep its beak through the water to sift out food

Greater Flamingo starting to sweep its beak through the water to sift out food

Two Little Egrets

Two Little Egrets

White Stork

White Stork

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Greater Flamingo wading through the lagoon

Greater Flamingo wading through the lagoon

Greater Flamingos reflected

Greater Flamingos reflected

Having spent the morning in the park, we had a light lunch there before driving down to the pretty seaside town of Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer. We enjoyed a walk by the Med and spotted some new (to us) dragonflies. On our way out of the town, we saw some of the famous Black Bulls of the Camargue. Driving back into the Camargue, near Cacharel, we found some of the lovely semi-feral White Horses that live in the area.

A glimpse of the Mediterranean

A glimpse of the Mediterranean

4e9f6000-3086-11ea-9698-6d1881f94d56.jpgMale and female Red-veined Darters

Male and female Red-veined Darters

We found some White Horses after quite a search

We found some White Horses after quite a search

One of the White Horses

One of the White Horses

Showing off!

Showing off!

Cattle Egret getting a lift on a White Horse

Cattle Egret getting a lift on a White Horse

One of the semi-feral Camargue Cattle

One of the semi-feral Camargue Cattle

Having driven half way round the Etang de Vaccarès, the largest lagoon in the park, we decided that we would return to the Pont de Gau to explore the reserve further. Initially, we took the longer walk on which we found more horses as well as some different birds but returned to "Flamingo Central" for the best of the afternoon light.

Mothers' meeting?

Mothers' meeting?

Coypu

Coypu

Grey Heron showing off in front of egrets

Grey Heron showing off in front of egrets

Orb Spider

Orb Spider

Camargue Horse with Cattle Egret

Camargue Horse with Cattle Egret

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank

Snipe

Snipe

Some Greater Flamingos are more flamboyant than others

Some Greater Flamingos are more flamboyant than others

A Eurasian Spoonbill found itself slightly outnumbered by young Greater Flamingos

A Eurasian Spoonbill found itself slightly outnumbered by young Greater Flamingos

Who can resist reflections in the afternoon?

Who can resist reflections in the afternoon?

Beauty contest winner?

Beauty contest winner?

Synchronised (well, almost) preening

Synchronised (well, almost) preening

Another sunset reflection

Another sunset reflection

And at this time of day, the Greater Flamingos take to the air

And at this time of day, the Greater Flamingos take to the air

By the time we returned to our hotel, there were clouds of Starlings and Jackdaws wheeling around outside our room before suddenly dropping down to their roosts below, just to add to our bird-watching enjoyment for the day.

During our travels we plan to visit some places and others we chance on. Some are such a delight that it is hard to say what they mean to us. However, I have just been re-reading Byron's "Childe Harold" in which there is a line "And life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim". I am not an academic but I think that Byron was saying that thereafter it all goes flat! However, taking the line out of context, I feel that it describes the feeling when we come across places like Lescun, Sarrant, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert and Uzès far better than I can in my own words. This in no way means that the other places visited are the dregs!

The following day, we were a bit ambitious and drove out to Uzès, where I thought we would spend little time before pressing on. I had not realised what a lovely town this was, nor how interesting. As we walked through the town, we came across the Ducal Palace. The site has been occupied since Roman times but the present building has elements of the Middle Ages, the Renaissaince, the 17th century and modern times. It has had mixed fortunes but is now being restored by the family who re-acquired the property from the government around 1950/51. As a private residence. we could not amble in, so we walked on towards Cathédrale Saint Théodorit and la Tour Fenestrelle. The cathedral is actually now just the parish church, as the diocese of the Bishops of Uzès was abolished in 1801. The building had been destroyed in the 12th century Albigensian Crusade, was destroyed again during the French Wars of Religion, was rebuilt and then gutted during the French Revolution and was restored over the centuries to its present state. The oldest part of the complex is the campanile, known as La Tour Fenestrelle, although even this is two storeys shorter than it was when built in mediaeval times. There was a 'fun run' in progress so many access points were blocked off and we had to admire the runners' fitness before wandering back into the town where we found a lovely market in Place aux Herbes - and also an excellent place for lunch.

Street cafés abound

Street cafés abound

Strange things can be found in side streets!

Strange things can be found in side streets!

The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace

The Ducal Palace

Coat of arms on the Ducal Palace

Coat of arms on the Ducal Palace

Cathédrale Théodorit and La Tour Fenestrelle

Cathédrale Théodorit and La Tour Fenestrelle

Rue Saint Théodorit

Rue Saint Théodorit

Some of the arcades around Place aux Herbes

Some of the arcades around Place aux Herbes

Dining areas and the market in Place aux Herbes

Dining areas and the market in Place aux Herbes

Steve enjoyed a long cool drink with lunch in the shade of the arcades

Steve enjoyed a long cool drink with lunch in the shade of the arcades

I had thought that we would just drive to Pont du Gard, park on a hill, take a couple of photos and move on. I really must read up more before we visit places! We had to park in a massive car park and then pay (no complaints, very good value) to go through the reception area before getting onto a path leading to this amazing aqueduct - the tallest ever built by the Romans and, apparently built without any mortar! Built around 50AD, in its heyday, it carried water from Uzès to Nîmes. It is an amazing three-level arched structure, straddling the Gardon river and was in use until the 4th century when it became so clogged with mineral deposits that the water ceased to flow. Over the centuries, stones were removed for building and parts of the aqueduct were endangered when extensions were added to facilitate traffic. Napoleon III realised that this structure was of national importance and had it restored to, very largely, its former glory - even if no longer operating as an aqueduct. One of the first things seen as you walk from the visitor centre is a large old olive tree, This was originally grown in Spain in 908 and was transplanted to this site in 1988 but I could not find the significance of this.

Ancient olive tree

Ancient olive tree

Olive tree and first sight of the aqueduct

Olive tree and first sight of the aqueduct

View of the central portion of the aqueduct

View of the central portion of the aqueduct

The aqueduct from a viewpoint high on the left bank

The aqueduct from a viewpoint high on the left bank

Closer view of the arches from the viewpoint

Closer view of the arches from the viewpoint

View from the aqueduct up the Gardon river with the old mill on the left and the right bank visitor centre to the right

View from the aqueduct up the Gardon river with the old mill on the left and the right bank visitor centre to the right

Between Uzès and Pont du Gard, we were now running well behind 'schedule', so it was getting late in the afternoon when we reached Avignon. We had a few problems with Gladys, and the one-way system, before we reached a position from which we could see and photograph the famous bridge - all four spans of the original 21 spans which made up the Pont Saint-Bézénet, better know as the Pont d'Avignon. Clearly, to see anything else in Avignon was perforce left for another visit.

Pont Saint-Bézénet

Pont Saint-Bézénet

A closer view of part of the bridge

A closer view of part of the bridge

We reached Chateauneuf-du-Pape while it was still just light enough to visit the ruins of the chateau which was built in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second pope to be based in Avignon. After the popes left, the building was neglected and stones were taken for building. At the time of the Revolution, the building was sold off and only the donjon remained. During the Second World War, Germans attempted to destroy it but only managed to demolish the northern half. What is left is now respected and the site gives superb views out over the Rhone. We have seen many vineyards around the world but none so stony as the ones near the chateau. Maybe that is why the wine from this region is so superb.

Panoramic view over the village from the ruined chateau

Panoramic view over the village from the ruined chateau

The remains of the chateau

The remains of the chateau

Small vineyards below the chateau

Small vineyards below the chateau

Part of the vineyard near the chateau, showing the stony ground

Part of the vineyard near the chateau, showing the stony ground

Our last day based in Nîmes, allowed enough time for some exploration of the city. We bought a pass which allowed entry to the Arènes de Nîmes, the Maison Carrée, the Tour Magne and the Théatre Antique d'Orange - we just managed the first three in the day and felt that it was good value for money. The Arena is an amazing construction, the first Roman Coliseum we have seen. From a photographic viewpoint, it was a bit disappointing that a stage was being dismantled in the main arena and that scaffolding covered many areas. However, it is a 'living' building which is probably why it is the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre in the world, some 1,800 years after its construction. The free audio-guide is excellent and really brings the structure to life but it is quite easy to become temporarily 'mislaid' in the maze of corridors and stairways covering several levels. The atmosphere of the annual three-day Feria each May must be something which would remain with you for ever, although the bullfighting central to this is not to our taste! Nonetheless, a return visit one May could be memorable!

Part of the Arena from outside

Part of the Arena from outside

Some of the seating area inside, showing the scaffolding

Some of the seating area inside, showing the scaffolding

A stark contrast is the Musée de la Romanité viewed from one of the external corridors of the Arena

A stark contrast is the Musée de la Romanité viewed from one of the external corridors of the Arena

Steps leading down to where the gladiators gathered

Steps leading down to where the gladiators gathered

Work continues to keep the Arena in good condition

Work continues to keep the Arena in good condition

Part of one of the many corridors

Part of one of the many corridors

By the time we left, we were becoming peckish, so we made our way through the city to Place du Marche where, I regret to say, we had probably the worst meal we have ever had (even the cider was barely potable), with poor service to match - a real disappointment, as by now we had fallen in love with Nîmes. Not really fortified, we walked on to the Maison Carrée, a beautifully preserved Roman Temple. The interior has been converted to a cinema, where our pass allowed us to see a fascinating film about the origins and history of the city - what a history!

Maison Carrée

Maison Carrée

On the way to the Jardins de la Fontaine, we found ourselves in Place d'Assas. This is a lovely open area with a narrow watercourse running from a fountain through to a large head. The sculptor of the figures was Martial Raysse.

One of three fountains

One of three fountains

The watercourse and head

The watercourse and head

Tumulus with figure of the Gardener of the Mount of Olives, reading the Book of Wisdom

Tumulus with figure of the Gardener of the Mount of Olives, reading the Book of Wisdom

Statue of Ernest Denis, a French historian born in Nîmes

Statue of Ernest Denis, a French historian born in Nîmes

We walked on to the Jardins de la Fontaine much of which had originally been constructed by the Romans. Sadly much of the original had fallen into ruin and had become buried. However, in the 18th century, the ancient traces were uncovered when another source of water was required and the gardens were recreated, becoming the first public gardens in France. Apart from the water features, there are walking areas with many statues and, tucked away to one side, a ruined building which is believed to have been the Temple of Diana.

Shady watercourse leading to the gardens

Shady watercourse leading to the gardens

Fountain at a junction of water courses

Fountain at a junction of water courses

View over the gardens with sculptures and water features

View over the gardens with sculptures and water features

The start of the ascent to Tour Magne

The start of the ascent to Tour Magne

Having explored the ground level ares of the garden, we then wound our way up the hillside through a pleasantly shady series of walkways, to reach the Tour Magne. This is the only remaining part of the Augustan fortifications. The original Celtic tower was 18 metres in height but Augustus had it doubled in size - the current tower has lost a few metres but is still a bit of a climb. The population left the heights but the tower was still used as a defence against the English in the Hundred Years' War and, in the 19th century, was used as a telegraph relay station. Today it is preserved as an ancient monument and affords panoramic views over the city.

Tour Magne

Tour Magne

View from Tour Magne to the Church of St Baudile

View from Tour Magne to the Church of St Baudile

View from Tour Magne to the Arena

View from Tour Magne to the Arena

By this time we realised that we did not have time to reach the museum so walked through to the Cathédrale Notre Dame which looked fairly tired on the outside but, as usual, the interior was interesting, colourful and in good condition. We were pleased to find a good tea shop just outside, in Place aux Herbes, where we treated ourselves to soothing Earl Grey tea with a couple of yummy pastries. When we returned to the car park, we found that it had been rather expensive and then our tag pinged as we exited. However, it seems the tag system is quite sophisticated as, when the charges came through for toll roads, there was no duplicated charge for the car park - a nice surprise. In future, we must check carefully for signs that the tag is readable. It is only the second car park we have come across in which the tag operates, the other was in Agen. Tomorrow we start wending our way home after a thoroughly enjoyable drive across part of southern France.

Stylized statue of a bull on Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle

Stylized statue of a bull on Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle

Posted by SteveJD 07:46 Archived in France Tagged animals birds horses france avignon flamingoes nimes pont_du_gard camargue pont_de_gau chateauneuf_du_pape coypu

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