12 days of Christmas: day 5

This is the magnificent Pont du Gard which we visited this summer during our trip to Uzes,  to see the start of the Vuelta a Espana in Nimes. It’s an ancient Roman aqueduct, the highest and best preserved, across the river Gardon, near to the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard.  The bridge was built in the 1st century AD to carry water from Uzes to Nimes. The aqueduct fell into disuse after the fall of the Roman Empire but earned its keep as a toll bridge, an early peage! Rescued by the state in the 20th century, it’s now one of France’s most popular tourist attractions, becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.

More Postcards from Paris I

The early morning train journey in winter along the coast is simply splendid. As the sun rises, everything is gilded in soft rose gold light and the sea looks like liquid mercury. Having woken up at 06:00, I felt I should grab some more shut-eye but I couldn’t tear my eyes from the view which is easily one of my favourite parts of the train trip to Paris. You also get some fabulous views of the spectacular seafront property porn though much of it is closed up and dormant at this time of year. 

As we head inland, mist veils the fields and the sun’s a ghostly orb just starting to peer over the hills. The lush once green foliage of the harvested vines has taken on a variety of autumnal hues, as have some of the trees, a few of which have lost all their leaves. But once the mist lifts, the sun shines and everything looks as pretty as a picture, albeit one in autumn’s more muted colour palette. I even spotted the Pont du Gard which we recently visited. 

It’s only as we near our destination that you get a sense of the approaching urban realm. First, large warehouses and then the creep of urban sprawl, and all that it entails. Typically, once we arrive at Gare de Lyon, we’ll lunch at Le Train Bleu but not this time as we had an afternoon meeting with a client whose offices are in the 10th arrondissement. Instead, we walk to our rented apartment in Le Marais, the same place we stayed at in September, drop off our luggage and head back out for lunch in one of the many neighbourhood restaurants.

Porte-Saint-Denis – originally a gateway through the Wall of Charles V built between 1356 and 1383 to protect the Right Bank of Paris.

We decided to walk to and from the client’s offices in the 10th arrondissement, passing through an area popular with France’s African and Caribbean community. The road we walked along was lined with shops selling hair and beauty products for persons of colour, and simply loads of hairdressers. I’ve already written about the number of hairdressers per capita in France but this number, one after the other, was quite extraordinary.

A small glimpse of Saint Vincent de Paul
Eglise Saint Laurent

When we walked back at about 18:00 these places were abuzz (literally) and heaving with clients. More people were hanging around outside chatting. Possibly waiting for their other halves or, maybe, just shooting the breeze with friends. In addition, there were lots of small restaurants; little more than stalls, selling French-Caribbean and African food. It was such a lively and colourful scene but it was too dark to photograph with my iPhone.

Place de la Republique

Having walked plenty of kilometres, we’d now worked up an appetite which we satisfied with some Middle Eastern fare before opting for an early night. It had been a long, enjoyable and very satisfying day.  

For reasons best known only to himself, when in Paris, my beloved is happy to fetch breakfast, putting the coffee on before he leaves the flat to buy a variety of breads and croissants. The latter are for him and maybe that’s why he enjoys going out. There’s a large selection of bakeries nearby though he usually goes to the closest. 

Heavy rain was forecast, so we were happy to spend the morning pottering around the various food shops, markets and traiteurs picking up provisions for the next couple of days. We ate lunch in the apartment before my beloved settled down to answer a slew of emails. He likes to keep on top of them daily, even when on vacation. 

In the afternoon, I popped into one of my favourite stores for a cup of tea, a chat and a try on of most of their winter collection. I enjoyed having a mooch about on my own, something that’s more difficult to do when my beloved is around as he loves to stride off, at least 20 metres ahead of me, demonstrating that his leg is now working much better. This renders it more difficult to indulge my love of window shopping and enjoying the architectural delights of the arrondissement.  

Having eaten a lightish lunch, I decided that for dinner we were going to try one of Hank’s Vegan Burgers. My beloved was less convinced but prepared to concede. The chips were excellent and while the burgers were tasty we both felt they were under spiced and under seasoned. However, two glasses of red wines, 2 burgers and chips all for Euros 14 was easily our cheapest meal of the trip. We paid more for two pots of tea at Mariage Frères the following day. 

 

Postcard from the Vuelta

Unusually, this year’s edition of the Vuelta a Espana kicked off in Nimes. It’s only three hours down the motorway from us and it’s a place we’ve only ever driven past, never visited. We drove down on Thursday afternoon after an expensive lunch in Antibes. I rarely park in the road but there’s no parking fee in France during the lunch break (12:30 – 14:30)  – so civilised. We parked on the opposite side of the road, about 100 metres down from the restaurant. Tom was looking particularly fine as he’d just been for a wash and polish. When we went back to the car after a very pleasant lunch, I noticed someone had keyed the length of the passenger side of the car. I checked the cars either side but mine was the only one chosen for such treatment. Hence my comment about an expensive lunch.

I’d decided we would stay in Uzes, in a small, highly rated B&B which lived up to its billing. Uzes is a chocolate boxey, bastide town in the Occitane region, on the western fringes of Provence, 45km west of the Medieval walled city of Avignon, 25km north of the Roman city of Nimes and a mere 6km from the world UNESCO heritage site, Pont du Gard. Aside from its Roman origins, it’s home to the first duchy of France, whose glorious Ducal Castle, built on the site of the Roman Castrum (camp) is still in family hands.

There are plenty of grand Renaissance mansions, plus the Cathédrale Saint-Théodorit d’Uzès, a place of worship since Roman times, which dates from the Middle Ages. It has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. What remains is largely from the 19th century, only the organ remains from pre-Revolutionary times. Next door is its fascinating and iconic Fenestrelle tower, the only Lombard style campanile tower in France which dates from the 11th century and stands guard over a wonderful Medieval garden, restored to its former glory in 1995.

The town’s cobbled, largely pedestrianised streets spill out into elegant squares, shaded by gently worn, pale golden stone and shuttered buildings. In the centre of town, ancient sycamore trees dominate and shelter the Place-aux-Herbes and its fountain which is fringed by golden arches. This is where you’ll find the town’s famous twice-weekly (Wednesday and Saturday) market. The place is a gourmet’s delight, surrounded by truffle plantations, vineyards and home to Le Musee du Bonbon, opened in 1996 by Haribo. Though the town’s traditionally famous for its liquorice rather than gummy bears.

To be honest, all we did was stroll around the town, meandering along its cobbled streets, pausing every so often to oooh and aah over its captivating architecture, its wonderful specialist food shops and plentiful restaurant menus. We also visited Pont du Gard, an incredible World UNESCO heritage site, 275 metres long and 48 metres high, spanning the river Gardon, which was built in 50AD as part of the Nimes’ Roman acqua-duct, in use until the 6th century.

Sadly there was no time to visit any of the many wineries, olive oil mills or the Haribo Musee du Bonbon – next time! Nor, aside from Nimes with its amphitheatre, did we see much of the rich Roman heritage in the area in Arles, Orange, Avignon and Chateauneuf-du-Papes  –  another time.

Saturday was devoted to wandering around Nimes and watching the Vuelta’s opening team time-trial. The city is located between the sea and the Cevennes hills. It was established by the Romans, on the edge of the Mediterranean plain, some 16 kilometres inland, and has the finest collection of Roman remains in France, plus an attractive old town.

Nimes Maison Carree

The teams started on the steps of one of Nimes’ most famous Roman remains, the Maison Carrée – the best preserved Roman temple anywhere – and rode through the 2,000 year old Arena, one of only three large Roman arenas in the south of France. The city has several other Roman remains, in particular the Temple of Diana and Tour Magne.

Apart from its Roman monuments, Nimes has an attractive and historic centre, with narrow streets and tree-lined boulevards typical of the south of France. The park of the Jardins de la Fontaine, the site of Friday’s team presentation, laid out in 1745, is one of the oldest city parks in France, and a delightful area of greenery, fountains and shade on the edge of the old town. It also has some striking modern civic buildings designed by Jean Nouvel, Lord Foster and the Portzamparcs.

I had hoped to follow in the Vuelta’s footsteps for a few stages more but my beloved had to fly off to China at lunchtime on Sunday. While I might not visit Nimes again, I’d certainly consider a return trip to Uzes and its gummy bears!