Hope you had a good week last week and this one has started well. Apart from our, now regular, activities at home (Art – more on that next week – French lessons, Dancing, Church and trips into town to shop), we spent 4 days exploring in the south, specifically looking for things built by the Romans many centuries ago. We saw some good stuff!! And some beautiful scenery.
The drive south from Clermont Ferrand is amazing (took about 5 hours, with a couple of stops along the way) and takes you from rural central France down through massive limestone escarpments, tunnels and across the Millau viaduct to the Mediterranean coast. The Millau viaduct is a massive 2.5k long bridge over a steep valley. The road level of the bridge is 270m – 890 ft – above the valley floor. Our destination was the walled, medieval town of Carcassonne which is spectacular. Our photos don’t do it justice – it really needs to be seen from above, to appreciate its size and layout. The hilltop on which the town sits, was fortified by the Romans in 100BC. The Visigoths, Saracans and Frankish all took possession of it at various times and, like many of these places, it eventually fell into disrepair until restoration began in the 19th century. In 1977, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Carcassone was an important trading city close to the Pyrenees Alps and the border to Spain.
From Carcassonne, we went to Narbonne – a town established in 118 BC and built on the first Roman road in France (then known as Gaul) which connects Italy to Spain – then stayed the night in Beziers which is a member of the ‘Most Ancient European Towns Network.’ Apparently occupied since Neolithic times, the city was refounded by the Romans in 36 BC.
On Friday, we went to Montpellier – a brief stop to do a bit of shopping – then on to Nimes which, at 2000 years old, is home to the best preserved ampitheatre in the world and one of the largest. It was amazing, sitting inside the arena, knowing it was the site of many a battle between gladiators. It is still used today for bull-fighting. On to Arles, another town taken over by the Romans, this one in 123 BC, is a pretty little place on the Rhone river. We stayed the night here. Arles also has an ampitheatre and a great Saturday morning market!
A highlight of our trip was seeing the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge – part of the Nimes aquaduct which is 50km long. It is also a UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and is simply awesome! Its 3 tiers of arches are 49m high and it’s an amazing achievement of architecture and construction, with huge stone blocks fitted together without mortar. To top it off, the surrounding scenery is beautiful. Walking around the Pont du Gard made us think – did the men who built it have any thought that they were building something that would last for 2000 years and that one day millions of tourists from all over the world would come to marvel at what they had built?……probably not! A clear learning from looking at all the Roman sites is that not only did the Roman army conquer the known world, they were the masters of building impressive cities and infrastructure that is still used today.
Lunched in Avignon on Saturday (I mis-read Roquefort salad as Rocket salad, realising after I’d ordered that it was actually Roquefort – not only a strong cheese, but a strong blue cheese! – was nice nevertheless) then took an impromptu detour to Mont Ventoux – another highlight (not man-made!) of our 4 days. The drive up the 1908m mountain is great, if not a little hairy in parts, and the view from the top, wonderful. The road up Mont Ventoux has been used as a stage in the Tour de France and it’s very popular with bike riders of all ages and abilities. Torture, if you ask me! (It’s a good thing we could drive up – everything else we’d seen required walking up lots and lots…and lots of stairs – why is all the good stuff at the top of a hill with no chair lift?) The Citroen Car club was out for the day which was an interesting sight and we followed 3 old Citroens down the mountain. Taking the back roads from there to Orange gave us a peaceful, stunning drive.
After overnighting in Orange and a look around this lovely town on Sunday morning, we headed north, arriving back at the cottage around 4pm. Hope you enjoy the photos of our little trip.
Well, we’re still really enjoying being in France – we learn more about the country and people everytime we go somewhere. The weather is changing – becoming cooler – and the days are getting shorter as we head further into autumn.
Hope all’s well with you; would love to hear from you…
Chris and David