Two Weeks of Trips from Nimes Through Southern France

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It rises like a bony finger from the forest, the highest feature in the landscape, just as it has for over 2200 years. The Tour Magne, initial beacon of ancient Nimes, still marks the centre of what yet remains an empire within its reach. The southern French city of Nimes has a host of sites and events within easy reach for those who come to experience it and all that is within its realm.

At the end of each busy day the tired explorer can partake of the services and ambiance of old Nimes -- its outdoor cafes, squares, fountains, shopping, markets, car free streets and relaxed atmosphere; perhaps lazing back with an evening coffee in the old Roman forum, sharing space with the silent, enigmatic Maison Carree.

Accessible and economical travel options permit Nimes, in the Languedoc-Rousillon region, to provide an ideal staging point for a two week excursion to sunny southern France; ensuring every day offers a unique destination or event. The train and bus station is conveniently located near the old city and provides a wealth of connections. Shuttle bus service is available from the station to the local airport. And remember this is southern France so it goes without saying cafes, bakeries, wine, foods and shopping abound at virtually every location.

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Day One -- Roman Nimes

Called the Rome of France Nimes is rich in Roman remains immediately within or near the old pedestrianized medieval city. The recently polished Maison Carree gleams like a pearl in the old Roman Forum, arguably the best preserved Roman temple in the world. Presently used for a 3D presentation on Nimes' history it has been in constant use for over 2000 years. A short stroll away is the arena which still seats over 16,000 people in its ancient confines. From bull fights to Leonard Cohen concerts it continues to draw the throngs as it has for over 2000 years. Explore the Roman city gates, the castellium, which distributed water to the 60,000 people who called Roman Nimes home, the temple of Diana near the original city springs and the presiding statues of Emperors Augustus and Hadrian before climbing Mount Cavalier to the Tour Magne (great tower). Even at two thirds its Roman era height it yet towers over the city, providing panoramic views to the distant horizon. It has loomed so as Nimes' beacon since the pre-Roman Celtic period.

Day Two -- Aigues Mortes (40 minutes by train)

An inexpensive short train trip has you in this medieval, walled crusader town, seemingly too real to be anything but a Disney creation. Yet its highly organized grid patterned construction, gates and ramparts are the genuine result of Louis IX of France's ambitions to have a French port on the Mediterranean. Now reverently acclaimed as Saint Louis his proud statue presides at the main town square close to Notre-Dame-des-Sablon church where he and his crusaders had their quest blessed before setting sail for the middle east. Outside the gates you can pick up a relaxing river cruise through the Camargue; the vast wetlands with its famed white horses, wild black bulls raised for the bull rings and the French cowboys, les gardian, who tend them. Add to this flamant rose (flamingoes), egrets and panoramas. It can make for a long day to explore both town and wetlands. Some may prefer to spread their visit over two days.

Day Three -- Le Grau-du-Roi (50 minutes by train)

Not far from Aigues Mortes the beach and fishing town Le Grau-du-Roi rests against the turquoise Mediterranean; its sandy beaches bounded by services and accommodation. Its main canal gives the Rhone River access to the sea and remains a hub for both commercial and recreational boating. Along its walk are all the facilities a seaside visitor could desire. Ideal for bathing in Sun or sea its beaches stretch long and sandy.

Day Four -- Arles (25 minutes by train)

Arles shares its Roman heritage with Nimes as revealed in its arena, theatre, varying remnants of city walls and the hippodrome ruins to which must be added its bright new museum housing the only known bust of Julius Ceasar. Arles is also where Vincent Van Gogh completed some of his most famed works. The tourist information centre has a self-guided walking tour map of sites where he painted, with reproductions of his works overlooking the sources of inspirations. He produced 186 paintings during his brief but dramatic presence here between February 1888 and May 1889.

Day Five -- Avignon (30 minutes by train)

The strains of the famous childrens' song Sur-le-Pont d'Avignon echo from a passing river cruise ship as you stand upon the remnants of the famed bridge that crosses but halfway to the Rhone's opposite shore. The well maintained medieval bridge and museum is joined by the Pope's Palace as two of Avignon's major attractions. For 400 years Avignon was the home of the Papacy and their awe inspiring palace (now a world heritage UNESCO site) remains a stunning and popular legacy. Climb to Rocher des Doms to enjoy its gardens, walks, fountains, statues, pools and view points over city and river. Enjoy the short but free ferry ride to the long mid-river island with its riverside walkways.

Day Six -- Uzes and St. Quentin de Pottery (45 minutes by bus)

The chateau of the Duchy of Uzes is the centre piece of the hillside town famed for its lively Saturday market. Stalls abound, seemingly in every nook and cranny, crammed with everything from foods to clothing and more and punctuated by strains of buskers. A steel drummer echoes his offerings in a closed setting, a Gypsy Kings-style duo strolls the arcades their vibrant music lending life to the air and an Edith Piaf singer pounds out her oh-so-French chansons with an accompanying accordion player.

A short distance further is the artist town of Saint Quentin la Poterie perched on its hill with winding streets passing colourful homes and street art which betrays the artist community presence. Art studios abound complimented by a museum attesting to the scale of local artistry.

Day Seven -- Sommieres (45 minutes by bus)

Famed for its Roman bridge, which dates back to 19 AD and was last renovated in the 18th century, this medieval town rests beneath the heavy presence of its old chateau. Once counting twenty arches in Roman times the bridge has now but seven arches spanning the Vidroule River. The remaining thirteen rest below the medieval town behind the clock gate which once stood at the middle of the bridge. The community's problem with flooding is a constant reminder it originally belonged to the river gods. Its narrow streets feature arches and enclosed spans which open out upon hidden squares, arcades and fountains. A pleasant tree-shaded walkway runs alongside the river making for an ideal spot to share a boulangerie treat.

Day Eight -- Sete (50 minutes by train)

The grand canal of this Venice of France pours into the welcoming Mediterranean; its piers packed with boats, both commercial and pleasure, old hotels, restaurants and cafes. Rising high above is the viewpoint of Mount Saint Clare which affords an expansive vision of Sete and the surrounding watery world of canals, rivers and pools. Rich colours dazzle in the Mediterranean Sun and the long sea side promenade provides for a seemingly endless walk alongside the ever dancing sea.

Day Nine -- The Cevenne Steam Train (45 minutes by bus) *

Catch a bus to Saint-Jean-du-Gard in the sculpted world of the Cevenne Mountains where the period steam train puffs in anticipation of its 40 minute journey to Anduze. Its glory days, just after the turn of the 19th century, are recalled as it wends its way along the Gardon River past high perched homes, river side mills, nature's sculpting of mountainside, a bambo jungle (which you can visit), pastoral scenes and through long dark tunnels leaving a trail of steam in its wake. You can catch the return trip or take the bus back to Nimes from Anduze. If you prefer the latter stroll about Anduze as it has its own treasures of winding streets, squares, cafe's and shops.

Day Ten -- Nimes

Time for a break and enjoyment of medieval Nimes. Walk its pedestrianized streets to take in the many old churches, museums and parks. Visit the water world and awe inspiring Jardin de la Fountain dating back to the 18th century, stroll tree lined Jean Jaures Boulevard, experience the market and walk the new boulevard from the Esplanade de Charles de Gaulle to the bus/train station. Plan your trip to take in the experience of an event in the arena. Be it bull fights or music events it is so very worthwhile to experience an event where audiences have been entertained for over 2000 years.

Day Eleven -- Montpellier (25 minutes by train)

Montpellier does grandeur very well. A short walk from the train station has you in the huge expanse of Place de la Comedie. It trails off in the distance to a long tree shaded boulevard with water features and is crowded with outdoor cafes, colour and activity. The tourist information centre is handily located there. Grab a free map of the down town and set off gadding about and you will find all sorts of squares and features to keep you exploring around each new corner. Cafes abound if your feet tire. Check out the expansive and terraced Place Royale du Peyrou park which lies behind a cleaned and gleaming Arch de Triomph dating from 1715 which in turn frames the massive horse-mounted statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Behind him rises a chambered edifice adorned with molded ornamentations and silent faces staring upon its facing pool and the trailing aqueduct built in 1754 to bring water to a thirsty city.. Tree shaded parklets lie astride the broad pounded gravel parkland and below it falls away terraced gardens.
Beziers makes a great day trip from Nimes

Day Twelve -- Pont du Gard (45 minutes by bus)

This edifice, best preserved and largest of any remaining Roman aqueducts, was built to transport waters from the springs of Uzes to the thirsty citizens of Nimes fifty kilometers away. A UNESCO World Heritage site, its three arched levels soar above the Gardon River and its features include a museum, walking trails and tourist services. From Spring to Fall it features concerts and fireworks. It can be reached by bus from Nimes.

Day Thirteen -- Beziers (1 hour 15 minutes by train)

Cathedrale Saint-Nazaire sits atop Beziers like some great mother hen and provides a stunning view of the city and area from its bell tower, reached by a winding staircase. A little narrow and not for those uneasy with heights but what a vista. This colossal church is the second coming and the dark history of Beziers records that during a crusade against a perceived heretic sect called the Cathars atrocities included the burning of the first church and all who took refuge therein. Across the street from the train station is the Plateau des Poetes which greets you with an impressive war memorial and past which rises the hillside park. Climbing its walkways leads you past pools, fountains, busts and statues of famed writers, playgrounds and finally to a viewpoint near the upper park gates. It in turn opens up on to the main city square which runs long and car free to the distant city theatre. Trees shade the street with its abundance of features from statues and fountains to carousels and kiosks.

Day Fourteen -- Camargue Race

This unique sport has the bull as the star and living to play another day. It features raseteurs who attempt to remove attributs (items) from the bull's horns and then fly to safety over a ring of boards running inside the ring proper. The famed wild black bulls of the Camargue play their macho part when they burst into the arena and assume territoriality which is challenged by the host of raseteurs and their assistants (who serve to divert the bulls attention). Each bull gets its fifteen minutes of fame and trots off to the applause of the fans who ring the arena. Colour, music, drama and suspense bring the ring to life. The season extends from March to late October and it can be experienced in Nimes, Arles, Le Grau-du-Roi, Saintes. Maries-de-la-Mer and other Camargue region towns.

If You Go

Marseille is the nearest main airport and is accessible by train from Nimes to Vitrolle Station from where a shuttle bus transports you to the airport. For regional travel make sure to check for special rates on both buses and trains as fares can range as low as 1 Euro on the train and 1.5 Euro for the bus. Train rates vary dependent upon the time of your departure and return with savings of up to 50%. websites include for trains

Accommodation -- Check out the excellent Nimes tourist site Down town accommodations are recommended in order to fully appreciate old Nimes.

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Glen Cowley Since 1994 Glen Cowley has parlayed his interest in sports, travel and history into both books and articles. The author of two books on hockey and over sixty published articles ( including sports, biographies and travel) he continues to explore perspectives in time and place wherever his travels take him. From the varied landscapes of British Columbia to Eastern Canada and the USA, the British Isles, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece and France he has found ample fodder for features. His latest book, Amber River, a guide to unique pubs of Vancouver island and the Salish Sea.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: July 27th, 2015

Updated: September 6th, 2015

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