Tag: Languedoc-Roussillon

Marseille, Resilient After All

Admittedly, my old view of Marseille came from mob and war stories in books, on TV and movies.

Now after visiting the city, I’m impressed. To me Marseille’s story is one of resilience. It shows how perseverance conquers adversity.

Marseille’s Story: Prehistory and Ancient Massalia

Marseille’s StoryThe earliest settlements in the area, now know as Marseille, date back to the Paleolithic period (60,000 BC). Residents lived along the Marseille basin which was about the size of the current city. The location was ideal for all types of sea activities. It was protected on the opposite side from the strong northerly wind, Les Mistral, by a range of tall mountains.

Around 600 BC the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, arrived in the area to be close to their trading partner, Gaul. They named the city “Massalia.”

Marseille’s Story

Remains of Greek temple

A popular legend is that Massalia was a wedding gift from the Gallic king, Nannos, to his daughter upon her marriage to a Greek sailor. The story supports the belief that the nations were peaceful at that time. We do know the blending of the two cultures resulted in the introduction of olive oil, wine, ceramics and Grecian gods into the Gaelic world.

Marseille’s Story

From 600 BC to 49 BC the independent Greek city of Massalia grew into a prestigious seaport. Its sea trade, its infrastructure and its political system dominated the trade routes. They distributed goods along the coasts of Gaul to Iberia.

Marseille’s Story

Model of early Massalia

Marseille’s Story: The Roman City

Caesar captured Massalia in 49 BC. Artifacts unearthed at a site where the History Museum now stands attest to the Roman influence on the town. Massalia’s habits and customs, however, remained strongly Greek. Even the language.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: Sacked, Ravaged, Back on Track

From the Roman age through medieval times, the city that became Marseille saw great prosperity and near-total destruction. The Visigoths captured Marseille and the Franks sacked it. In the early 10th century, Marseille experienced a revival as part of a Provençal territory which was divided in two. Arles and Marseille were the capitals.

During the twelfth century, Marseille was an independent republic with strong trade relations and naval prowess. A currency of its own boosted the city’s stature as well.

Marseille’s Story: A French Center of Commerce

Marseille’s StoryMarseille maintained political autonomy until it was absorbed into the Kingdom of France in 1481 along with Provence. Through years of religious wars and changes in French rulers, Marseille maintained its role as a major center of commerce and a vital port for defense. The city had an arsenal and fleets of warships.

Marseille’s Story

Fort Saint John

Under Louis XIV, Marseille was given “free port” status. To affirm his political power, the king ordered a new urban plan for the city. The size of Marseille went from 65 hectares to 195. Straight streets lined with mansions appeared, including the Canebière that leads to the Old Port. The new city had a fort and a new town hall.

The Great Plague

Thought to be carried from Central Asia through ship crews, the Great Plague of 1720 devastated Marseille. Over 30,000 out of the city’s population of 90,000 died from the outbreak.

Marseille’s Story

Marseille’s Story: The Revolution

The people of Marseille supported the Revolution sending hundreds of men north to Paris to fight. Along the way the rebellious marchers sang a song that is now the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.

Marseille’s Story

Troops from Marseille as depicted on the Arch de Triomphe in Paris

Marseille’s Story: Boom Time and Gangs

The middle of the nineteenth century was a “boom” time for Marseille. The port became a maritime hub for the rest of the world. Trade with the Far East and major shipping lines boosted the creation of a modern culture. At the same time, prosperity cut a deep wedge between the already divided city. The rich against the working class.

Marseille’s Story

Refugees, expelled or fleeing from their countries after WWI, brought droves of Italians, Corsicans, Germans, Armenians and Spaniards to Marseille in search of work. The world of gangsters and the underground grew under leaders such as Carbone and Spirito.

Marseille’s Story

Paul Carbone (top) and François Spirito

Marseille’s Story: Modern War and Destruction

The image of Marseille as a den of violence, drugs and crime is persistent in the eyes of many. Big screen movies and TV series, still today, such as “Marseille” help perpetuate the city’s reputation. Marseille is the second largest city in France today, so an element of such activity can be expected.

It’s how Marseille survived the apocalypse during World War II that is nearly incomprehensible.

Marseilles’ Story

German troops seal off the Old Port quarter of Marseille, the harbour side community.

The Old Port and surrounding districts were bombed and destroyed. The Germans, the Vichy government, the Militia and the French Popular Party actively suppressed the people. In January, 1943, more than 2,000 Marseillais were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. 

Like a phoenix, Marseille thrives. 

Marseille has an enduring charm. The metropolitan area of 1.5 million people consists of a melange of people of all races, creeds and nationalities. It is a place of huge economic, social and cultural significance to France. Marseille is proud and it shows.

Marseille’s Story

For more about Marseille:

The Doors and Windows of Marseille

Marseille is for Foodies

Marseille: A Stormy Past. A Brilliant Future.

Wish for France

Easy Day Trips from Uzès: UNESCO Pre-Historic Caves and Ardeche River Gorges

For visitors to Uzès there’s always something to keep you busy. If you’re not shopping on market day or wandering through the ancient town and discovering its charming streets and alleyways, you’re walking beside the stream in the Valle du l’Eure.

Perhaps you would like to venture out a bit more? See a totally different part of France, but travel only an hour or so away? Taking easy day trips to scenic and historic spots is another thing that makes Uzès so appealing.

Easy day trips from Uzés

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

Gorges de l’Ardèche

The Ardeche River runs through southeast France from the Massif Central to the Rhône River at Pont-Saint-Esprit near Orange. Along the way the Ardeche tumbles into a gorge that’s surrounded in some places by limestone river walls over nine hundred feet high. Known as the “European Grand Canyon,” the area draws over a million tourists each year.

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

In summer folks head to the Pont d’Arc at the entrance to the Ardeche canyon for canoeing, kayaking, swimming and picnicking.

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

As you can imagine, in autumn the drive along the river and through the multicolored hillside is spectacular. Add a stop for lunch in the town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc.

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

Whether pre-history or cave drawings interest you or not, the UNESCO park and Cavern du Pont-d-Arc is a must-see if you’re in this part of France.

You can spend hours exploring the nature trails in the stunning park.

Easy day trips from Uzés

Friend Paula is leading the way. Or not.

Or head straight to the ultra-modern, twenty-first century exhibition center, the Cavern du Pont d’Arc, that houses a replica of one of the most important prehistoric finds in the world. The Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave.

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The Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave was discovered in 1994 by three amateur cave explorers. The cave’s interior is approximately 1300 feet (400 meters) with numerous chambers and galleries. Displayed on the walls, crooks and crannies of the cave are more than 1000 drawings dated from 32,000 to 36,000 years ago.

Cavern du Pont d’Arc

Caverne du Pont-d’Arc is a near-exact copy of the Chauvet cave which is the oldest known and the best preserved cave decorated by man. The modern-day designers of the Cavern were scientists and computer geniuses who mimicked every aspect of the original cave with the help of 3D graphics and highly advanced computer imaging techniques.

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On entering the exhibition area of the Cavern Du Pont d’Arc, you are immediately enveloped with the sights, the sounds, and, yes, even the smell of a 30,000 year old, Paleolithic shrine.

Easy day trips from Uzés

You transcend time to a place where Stone Age artists visited and left behind drawings to depict their everyday lives, images of themselves, their animals and their imaginings. Disney could not have done it better.

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

 

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

“This is a scientific and cultural site with touristic potential,” says Sébastien Mathon, a scientist and one of the 500 artists, engineers and special effects designers who worked on the Pont d’Arc project.This is a place to give a sense of the origin of us all.”

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

If you’re wondering why you must visit a replica and not the real cave, there’s a good reason. The Chauvet cave was discovered in 1994 and sealed off to the public the same year. Why? Scientists discovered from the Lascaux Caves in the Dordogne that CO2 from  humans breathing creates mold that deteriorates cave drawings. The destruction within the Lascaux Caves in the Dordogne was not to be repeated here.

The Aurignacian Gallery

While at the cavern plan to spend a few minutes … or hours, especially if you’re with children, at the Aurignacian Gallery. There you literally step back in time as you walk past life-sized humans and creatures that roamed this part of the world 30,000 years ago.

Easy Day Trips from Uzès

Easy Day Trips from Uzès: A Holiday Special Occasion

Visitors to the Cavern du Pont d’Arc December 27 and 28, January 3 and 4, 2018 are in for a big treat. You can meet the discovers of the Chauvet Cave, Eliette Brunel, Jean-Marie Chauvet and Christian Hillaire.

The cavern and park are open year round. If you want to skip the line, be sure to order tickets in advance.

https://m.facebook.com/cavernedupontdarc/

Memories Tour Interrupted

When the Barefoot Blogger sets out for a new adventure, it’s hard to predict the trouble I might get into. On the eighth day of the South of France Memories Tour with author Patricia Sands and sixteen lovely ladies, I ended up in a French hospital.

Broken bones! 

A tour of the French medical system was more than I bargained for, yet, here I am.

French hospital tour

French Hospital Tour

It all started in Aigues-Mortes, the ancient walled city near the Camargue. Patricia and I were on our way back to the bus after finishing our guided tour and our lunch. We were running a bit late.

When we walked out of the main gate of the town, we saw the tour ladies had already boarded the bus. They were waiting for us. As we hurried across the busy street, laughing that it was the tour leaders who were holding things up, Patricia stumbled and fell. Out  of the corner of my eye, I saw her falling.

Next thing I knew, I tripped on the street curb. My face was headed straight for the sidewalk. I threw out my left hand to catch myself, then rolled to the right. My shoulder and hip pounded the pavement.

Immediately, I knew I was hurt. I was nauseous. It was just like I’d felt seven years before when I fell off the countertop in my kitchen.

French Hospital Tour

Since that fateful day in Aigues-Mortes, I’ve had surgery to put pins in my hip. My right arm is strapped to my side so the broken shoulder will heal itself, without surgery.

I’ve spent twelve days in the hospital. First the university hospital in Nimes. Now I’m in a rehab hospital that’s in a field somewhere between Nîmes and Uzés. Really. That’s all I can see.

French hospital tour

View from my private room at the rehab hospital

The medical care I’ve received — from ambulance to emergency room, to surgery and aftercare– has been superb. I couldn’t ask for better. The rehab hospital where I am now is brand new and modern. I’m in a private room.

Promise, I’ll write a post about the whole hospital experience later. Like me, some of you who travel worry about accidents. She far, so good.

Clipped Wings

Needless to say, I was really sad to leave Patricia and the Memories Tour. We were having a ball. The group of women that joined us from the US, Canada and Australia were an extraordinary bunch. It was like we were made to travel together.

French hospital tour

Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France, who made all the arrangements for the South of France Memories Tour, dropped all she was doing to stand in for me the last 3 days of the trip. Along with Patricia, they made certain that everything went along as planned.

The good news for the ladies was that they gained the benefit of a seasoned travel pro on their tour. In addition to her destination planning company, Nancy is known for her walking tours in Sete, Montpelier, Pezenas and more, and she teaches classes at the university in Montpellier to future travel agents.

French hospital tour

Sad News All Around

As discouraged as I was about my plight, I was distraught to hear of the damage done by Hurricane Florence back in the US. The storm hurled through areas I’d called “home,” causing friends and family to flee to safe places. To any of you who were affected, I pray you are faring well now.

Memories Tour Continued

Now that I know I can type with the thumb of one hand on my iPad, I plan to pick up where I left off on documenting the Memories Tour. My accident is not the memory I want to leave you with. Instead, it’s the friendships and experiences we had that I will be remembering for a lifetime.

Stay tuned …

French hospital tour

South of France Memories Begin in Nice

Around and About Nice: Memories Tour Day 2

Hot Spots on the Côte d’Azur: Memories Tour Day 3-5

 

Wish for France

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: History, Torture and Transformation

There are hardly more historically significant towns in France than Aigues-Mortes. Within the walled city, legends and facts reveal a rich history of conquering heroes and suffering martyrs. Today the place has transformed into a popular destination for travelers, filled with souvenir shops and sidewalk cafes. Visit with me inside Aigues-Mortes’ walls.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Matafère tower[

It all started with salt

From its earliest days Aigues-Mortes was significant for its salt fields and its location bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks and later the Romans, led by Gaius Marius (102 BC), occupied the land known as “Aigas Mortas,” meaning”dead” or “stagnant water.” Benedictine monks resided in the area in the 5th century and lived off the abundant fishing, hunting, and salt production. So important were the monks and the region to Charlemagne that in 791 he ordered the Matafère Tower to be erected amid the swamps to warn the residents if there were enemy fleets approaching. 

Before you can grasp the significance of Aigues-Mortes to kings and conquerors in France, it is essential to understand the importance of salt in the ancient world. As a trade item it was as valuable as gold. It was used a religious offering and a currency. A landowner who possessed a salty pond was considered a rich man.

In the 13th century it was Aigues-Mortes’ salt fields and the proximity to the sea that appealed to King Louis IX (Saint Louis). Intent on creating a passageway for trade and for his crusades, Saint Louis turned his attention to the spit of land in the marshes. He obtained the land from the Benedictine monks in exchange for property in Languedoc where the monks could plough the soil and grow crops. When the Benedictines left, Saint Louis built the town; rebuilt the Matafère Tower; named it the Tour de Constance; housed his garrison there; and used Aigues-Mortes as the point of departure in 1248 for the Crusade of Egypt (7th Crusade) and for the crusade where he died in 1270 (8th Crusade).

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

King Louis IX

As Louis IX had envisioned, Aigues-Mortes became prosperous as a trade route. The population and town grew on its own, but largely because those residing in Aigues-Mortes were exempted from paying tolls, tariffs and taxes. The Carbonniere Tower (Tour Carbonniere) was constructed as a watchtower in the marshland outside of town. The narrow road beneath the tower was the only land access to the town. Guards were stationed there to control who entered and exited the town and to collect tolls. The passageway continued be used as a toll road into the 1700s.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

The Carbonniere Tower (Tour Carbonniere)

In 1272, Louis’ son and successor, Philip III the Bold, ordered the construction of the walls that completely encircled the town. The work was not completed until 30 years later. Aigues-Mortes was a busy port in the 13th and 14th centuries, but when Provence was reunited with France, Marseille took over in prominence and prestige.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: Battles and Torture

From the 14th-19th century Aigue-Mortes was the site of battles, torture and merciless imprisonments. In the 14th century Templars were incarcerated in the Tower of Constance, tortured and burned at the stake. During the winter of the Armagnac-Burgundian civil war in the 15th century, a troop of marauding Burgundians were killed. Their bodies were dragged inside the walls, salted and stacked into the Tower of the Bourguignons (Tour des Bourguignons).

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

Tower of the Bourguignons (Tour des Bourguignons)

Protestants who pillaged Aigues-Mortes in 1575 and took it over as their own were imprisoned there after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). They remained in prison until their deaths. In the late 1800’s, one of the largest massacres of immigrants in French history took place inside Aigues-Mortes walls. A riot broke out between French and Italian workers who  labored together in the salt fields. Police were unable to contain the riot and, reportedly, up to 150 men were killed — all Italians.

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

“Resist”inscription in the Tower of Constance

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: Women Prisoners

After religious freedom was declared in France, it is said there were fourteen women prisoners in the Tower of Constance.

They were hidden away in a room deprived of air or of the light of day. The governor of Languedoc, who was on an official visit to the prison, found them there. It is said “they fell at his feet, overpowered with weeping so that they could not at first speak, and when speech came, they all together recounted their common sufferings. He was interested by the story of Gabrielle Guinges, who had given two sons to die in the French wars, yet was permitted to languish in prison. He was touched by the miserable appearance  of Jeanne Auguiere and Isabeau Maumejan, who were eighty years of age, and of Isabeau Anne Gaussaint, of Sommieres, who was ninety years and who had been imprisoned for 36 years.” The most famous women prisoner was Marie Durand who engraved the word “Resist” on the prison wall. Incarcerated at the age of 17, she was released 38 years later.

Inside Aigues-Mortes’ Walls: A Transformation

While Aigues-Mortes is no longer the important port it used to be, salt remains a major product of the region. Compagnie des Salins du Midi, now known as “Salins,” is one of the main salt producers in Europe. It is tourists that have captured the ancient city recently. Aigue-Mortes’ walls seem to bulge and vibrate with all the energy.

If you plan a visit to Aigues-Mortes, please stop by the tourist office and take a guided or audio tour. You can read about the history, but there’s nothing quite like hearing it from an expert. Time and money well spent!

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More reasons you should visit Aigues-Mortes? The Camargues!

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

Day Trip from Uzes: Arles, Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer and the Camargue

A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard

 

Inside Aigues-Mortes' Walls

7 Great Ideas for An Awesome Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

 An autumn weekend around Uzes makes living in the south of France even more delightful for this expat. 

The tourists have left, or at least the crowds are gone. The weather is cool. The colors of nature and the man-made village walls, homes and regal buildings are all the shades of red and yellow against the autumn sky. Most noticeably, there’s a calm in the air that has been missing.

Being that this is the Barefoot Blogger’s third autumn in Uzes, I now know a few more people and a few more places to roam. My world is expanding. However, I’ve discovered you don’t have to go very far away to enjoy sights and experiences that are familiar. But as you’ll see from the photos here, it’s all somehow very different in France. Come with me to spend a weekend around Uzes.

Vernissage

October is when many artists show off their latest works to the locals. In the nearby village of Cavillargues, an art exhibit — or vernissage — was hosted by town officials in the Mairie (town hall.) Andy Newman — one of my favorites who lives part-time in the US, part-time in Cavillargues — was the center of attraction at this event. The village is less than an hour’s drive from Uzes, so it was a perfect start for weekend activities. (See the earlier post for more on Andy’s exhibit.)

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Dinner in Uzes

After the vernissage with all its wine and apéros (snacks), a visit to the cozy Italian restaurant, La Voglia, in Uzes was a perfect choice for a late, casual dinner.

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Vallée de l’Eure Festivities

In the valley park near Uzes there is almost always something going on. This weekend the main event was “Envolée Céleste” or “Heavenly Flight.” Twenty hot air balloons lifted off the valley floor to soar above the town and countryside. We watched the pre-flight setup from ground level, then we climbed up a rocky, narrow path — filled with prickly bushes — to reach the highest viewpoint.  The sights along the way and at the top were amazing, even though it was an overcast day. If you have 5 minutes and want to feel like you were actually there to see the huge balloons pop up behind the trees and hills around Uzes, watch the video.

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Saturday Dinner and Jazz at Au Petit Jardin

To round out the balloon day events, friends gathered at the Au Petit Jardin for dinner and music.  To top it all off? Caraxés: A new taste from France — spirits made with rum and aquavit.

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Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

Le Zanelli’s in Uzes

Sunday Lunch at Le Zanelli’s 

One of the best Italian restaurants in Uzes, in the opinion of many friends, is Le Zanelli’s. I confess this was my first visit, so I reserve my vote for a later time. A small salad was all I cared for after a large meal the night before. I will say, it’s one of the prettiest restaurants in town. Indoor and outdoor seating makes the location ideal for a Sunday, rain or shine.

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A car ride into the Cevennes

As a child in the Carolinas, we’d often go for a “ride” on Sunday afternoons. We’d visit friends and relatives, or drive into a town nearby just to see what was going on. The habit is one I will pick up again now in France. So many interesting places are only a few hours away from Uzes.

A drive into the Cevennes sounded like a great idea, especially with the changing colors of foliage in the mountains. So off we went in good ‘ol Lucy —  me, Paula and Rich — and we picked up Geoffrey to add humor and guidance. After an hour or so on the winding road, we ran upon a market where the locals were selling apples and onions. It wasn’t long before we discovered there was a festival farther up the road. Too bad we hadn’t looked at an events calendar or we would have made an earlier start. Next time! There’s a famous book to read about the area, too —  Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Lewis Stevenson.

 

What an amazingly beautiful ride! Stops along the way to take pictures of the French countryside proved this was no ordinary “Sunday drive.”

Nosey me, I insisted we stop to peer into the yard and garden of a luxury château.

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A Monday afternoon walk in the Garrigue 

Depending upon how much time you have to spend in and around Uzes, try to find an opportunity to take off to explore by foot. Recently I’ve joined a “newcomer’s” group — AVF — and one of their popular activities is hiking. This walk, however, was with a leader of the AVF hiking group who was doing a “test” walk on an unfamiliar course before offering it to AVF. By the end of the afternoon, we’d travelled 8-10 kilometers along rocky trails, up and down large and small hills, in the garrigue (scrubland) area outside Uzes. Even where there is little more than short trees and sparse vegetation, the scenery was enchanting.  (For a wonderful review of the garrigue, read this article at The Good Life France.)

Back to Uzes

After a very busy weekend, there’s no place like home. For me, this is the way…

Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

More on autumn in the Cevennes:

The Cevennes: Saint Jean du Gard

Halloween Train to the Cevennes

 

Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

Halloween Train to the Cevennes

Cevennes Halloween Train

There’s nothing like a ride on a train through the Cevennes with a gazillion Halloween goblins!

Now that Languedoc-Roussillon has become the “in” place to visit in the world, there will be lots of tourist on the way. One adventure that’s too good to miss is a Cevennes Halloween train ride. Luckily, when I showed up to take the ride, there were scores of school children enjoying a break from school. What fun it was to watch them in their Halloween costumes. Even though Halloween isn’t widely celebrated in France, apparently no one told these happy kids, parents and teachers. They were having a blast!

Cevennes Halloween Train

Anduze to Saint Jean du Gard

Cevennes Halloween Train

Waiting at the station

Cevennes Halloween Train

Cevennes Halloween Train

Cevennes Halloween Train

All aboard!

Cevennes Halloween Train

Cevennes Halloween Train

Cevennes Halloween Train

Smokey train car through the mountain pass

More on autumn in the Cevennes:

The Cevennes: Saint Jean du Gard

7 Great Ideas for An Awesome Autumn Weekend Around Uzes

An Autumn Week South of France

Cevennes Halloween Train

Happy Halloween!

 

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