Although the department of the Gard is strictly speaking in the Languedoc Roussillon, it has a distinctly ‘provençal’ feel to it – thanks to it sharing a border with both Provence and within easy reach of the famous Camargue national park, famed for flamingos, wild horses and bulls.
Nîmes is the largest city in le Gard, and famous for its Roman amphitheatre, the best preserved Roman arena in France. Another interesting fact is that it was in Nîmes that the fabric denim was created – originally called Serge de Nîmes. However, as I wasn’t in the mood for negotiating city traffic, I headed for the Pont du Gard – the famous Roman aquaduct bridge that crosses the Gardon River, from which it takes its name. You can choose to view the Pont du Gard from the left or right bank of the river. But whichever you opt for, it’s a really spectacular and impressive sight.
From the Pont du Gard I headed across country towards St Quentin La Poterie – a small village a stone’s throw from Uzès, but which is home to over 23 different artisan pottery workshops. The village itself is quite attractive, and if, like me, you have a penchant for pottery its worth visiting the Friday market as well as visiting any of the artisan workshops. I There’s also a Mediterranean Pottery Museum that’s in the village if you want to know more about the traditions of pottery-making.
From here I headed to Uzès which has a history dating from Roman times. The circular streets around the historical centre were once walls that protected the medieval castle in the 11th and 12th centuries. The ancient centre houses Le Duché, a medieval castle with four towers and the tall Fenestrelle tower at the cathedral, reminiscent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The centre of Uzès old town is full of medieval streets ideal for wandering and exploring. The Tourist Office has a printed tour of the historic town with a good map and describing the key places of interest. I decided to have lunch in one of the many restaurants in the Place aux Herbes. This attractive square with its central fountain, historic buildings of white stone and many arcades is the centre of the Uzès Saturday market and is a great spot for people watching.
After lunch and a wander around the old winding streets of Uzès I headed to Montarens where I had booked to spend the night in a maison d’hôte called Monte Arena. Set in a lovely old stone village house, the rooms are spacious and beautifully and tastefully decorated. Martine is a wonderful hostess who takes a real interest in her guests and is full of good tips for what to see in the local area. Monte Arena is well worth considering if you’re planning on visiting this part of the Gard. Martine recommended a restaurant in the village called La Table 2 Julien and I decided to dine there rather than go back into Uzès. I had an excellent meal – dishes were sophisticated and beautifully presented – and service was friendly and helpful. Definitely recommended.
Saturday morning dawned and, after a delicious petit déjeuner courtesy of Martine I headed back into Uzès to visit the famous market. It was relatively easy to park in one of the large car parks, although the traffic was extremely busy, even in September. I expect visiting the market in July and August must be quite a challenge. The market more or less takes over the whole of Uzès. The Place aux Herbes and all the surrounding streets are crammed with stalls selling mainly produce from the local area – everything from fruit and vegetables to saucisson, cheese and olive oil. There are a few stands selling local pottery, olive wood kitchen accessories, soaps and textiles. And a whole section of the wide boulevard that surrounds the city has stalls selling everything from CDs to fashion. It’s a bustling and lively market, but in my opinion, not nearly as good as the Wednesday morning market in St Remy de Provence which has many more stalls with local artisan craftsmen and women selling their wares. So my advice is that although is Uzès is definitely worth a visit, you shouldn’t worry about scheduling your visit for market day – St Rémy or Aix would be a better bet.
Other places worth visiting in this part of southern France (things I didn’t get to see, but plan to visit at some stage) would be the Gorges du Gardon, the Cirque de Navacelles and the villages of Montclus, Aiguèze and La Roque sur Cèze – all three on the list of France’s Most Beautiful Villages.