My first house guest came to visit recently. During her two-day stay, my college-aged friend and I saw some of my favorite spots around Uzès in November: Pont du Gard, San Quentin La Poterie, and Nimes.
Uzès in November
When I learned that my friend from North Carolina’s daughter wanted to visit Uzès in November as part of her break from college, I was thrilled. She is a Tulane student studying abroad in Copenhagen for a semester.
A “20-something” wants to spend time with me!”
Through emails, I learned my visitor wanted to plan her time around a market day on Wednesday or Saturday. Since she reads my blog and knows how I rave about “markets,” she wanted to see one for herself. She planned to arrive in Nimes by train on Tuesday evening and return to Copenhagen by train on Thursday evening.
The tour we decided upon would allow her to go to the Wednesday market in Uzès, see Pont du Gard, and shop in San Quentin les Poterie — a quaint pottery village. On Thursday, we would visit Nimes before meeting the train for her return.
Uzès in November: Day One
I was so excited about meeting my visitor that I got to the train station in downtown Nimes well ahead of time. The train was delayed, but she arrived close to schedule at 7 p.m. She was more adorable than I remembered when she stepped off the train to greet me. The last time we saw each other was when she was in middle school.
After quick “hellos” and hugs, we took the elevator from the train station to the parking lot below. We hopped in Mustang Sally and took off for Uzès — a 40-minute drive along a very narrow, curvy, downhill road. The exact route the Tour de France cyclists often travel.
First impressions of Uzes – When we entered the town of Uzès, I deliberately drove slowly down the tree-lined street, around the tall cathedral, and along the walled passage. I could tell my young friend was taking it all in. Before we got to the main street, I pulled Sally into the almost empty underground parking lot. We walked up the steps, through the garage’s staircase, and into the fresh air.
A short walk through a backstreet alley led us to the Duche — Place de Duche.
“Oh my,” my friend blurted out as we rounded the corner; I knew the feeling. Seeing the Duche, the towers, and the ancient stone buildings for the first time is pretty amazing.
When we reached the apartment building and entered the massive entrance door, I led her up the fifty-five steps to my place and to her room for the next few days — decorated just in time for her visit. A room with a view.
Knowing we would be returning to Uzes late, I’d planned a simple dinner, one of my favorite meals in France so far: Mont d’Or over boiled potatoes with a green salad. As hoped, she loved it and claimed Mont d’Or is” the best cheese I’ve ever eaten.”
Rise and shine – Not one to awaken early, I made an exception this day so we could cram in as much sightseeing as possible.
Our first stop: a cafe for “petite dejeuner.” After visiting three of my favorite places, we learned that restaurants here don’t serve pastries with their coffee. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to bring a bag to a cafe with your own. (You can tell that eating out this time of day isn’t part of my routine.) Happily, we went to the boulangerie to choose from a decadent selection of fresh, hot bakery items. Our choice: croissants — two chocolate, two almonds. Then, off for coffee at the nearest cafe.
Market vendors and tourists are dwindling in numbers with the cooler weather in Uzès. Anyway, there was enough activity that my guest could picture the Place aux Herbes crowded with people and things to buy.
Shops were open that displayed the season’s new fashions. Wishing she had brought a giant suitcase, my young friend found a ruffled dress she could easily stuff into her backpack.
Pont du Gard
The aqueduct built by the Romans to supply water to the early Gaelic city of Nimes was next on the tour.
I started to worry about the weather on the 20-minute drive from Uzès to Pont du Gard. The sky was cloudy, and the wind was ferocious at times. I was concerned about our plan to walk through the expansive, open grounds at Pont du Gard, then across the long, open bridge that is part of the aqueduct.
My mind darted back to last summer when crossing the Pont du Gard; my hat flew off and almost went over the side. It’s a long way down to the river and valley below. I didn’t want to be a “killjoy,” but I related the hat story and added that the wind was blowing much harder now. My companion wasn’t worried at all. She had seen worse in Copenhagen. We forged ahead.
There’s a post about Pont du Gard that I wrote this summer. It details my feelings about the first time I saw Pont du Gard. I really hoped it would have the same effect on others. I wondered how I would react to seeing it again.
In the fall, with few visitors in the park, the view of Pont du Gard is still amazing.
San Quentin la Poterie
Right on schedule, after a half day at Pont du Gard, there was plenty of time for sightseeing and shopping in San Quentin la Poterier. The small village on the other side of Uzès is known for its artists, pottery, and laid-back atmosphere.
Uzès in November: Day Two
We accomplished a lot on Day One of the two-day tour, including plenty of time to eat lunch at Pont du Gard, sip coffee in a tiny cafe in San Quentin la Poterie, and enjoy a “mashed cod and potato” pizza (brandade) at “Pizza les Duche” when we returned to Uzès.
The next day was just as busy, filled with visiting more sites of the Roman occupation of Gard. A tour of Nimes.
The city of approximately 150,000 citizens is called the City of Art and History. Its beginning started over 2000 years ago, with many sites dating back as early as 25 BC.
Including Nimes on a visit to Uzes is not only a must-see, but it’s also convenient. The train station is in the middle of the city — the closest around. Trains connect to Paris and the rest of France, where you can get almost anywhere in Europe. My house guest’s train to Marseilles, then onto Nice, was scheduled early that evening, allowing us to walk around the historic town leisurely.
La Maison Carrée – The grand, majestic Maison Carrée is a well-preserved Roman temple in downtown Nîmes that dates back to the 1st century AD. Its stunning Corinthian columns and impressive architecture represent the splendor and prosperity of early Roman times in Nimes.
Thomas Jefferson, it is said, was highly inspired by classical architecture, especially the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, France. When designing the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, he incorporated elements from the Maison Carrée into the structure. It was completed in 1788 and is considered one of Jefferson’s most notable architectural achievements.
The Arena, also known as the Coliseum, is one of the most spectacular places in Nimes. It is one of the few remaining arenas from the Roman days and is reportedly the most well-preserved.
The park-like historic district where the Arena sits in Nimes gives the giant structure the space it deserves. Even though it is in the center of town, no tall buildings hinder the view.
Oops! Okay, there was a slight interference with the view that day — a Ferris wheel.
Just a reminder that Nimes is a lively, modern town.
Our lunch stop in Nimes allowed me to introduce a local dish to my guest — moules and frites.
When I see mussels and fries offered on a street menu as the “plat du jour,” I go for it. To pay nine or ten euros, it’s a good value. Plus, it’s delicious! Especially with an icy, cold glass of beer from the tap.
Tour Magne – The Great Tower is at the highest spot in the city of Nimes and the only remaining remnant of the ancient wall built by Augustus near 15 BC.
Getting to the Tour Magne is a mission in itself. Standing tall above the beautiful Jarden de la Fontaine, the monument is reached only by climbing the stairs at the top of the terraced garden. The views along the way are magnificent, even in late fall.
By the time we reached the monument, visitor hours had just ended. It just as well for me since I swore the last time I climbed the Tower’s stairs would be … well … the last time. My energetic friend could have quickly taken it on, but she assured me she wasn’t disappointed. To see Nimes from this height was quite enough.
Missing the climb to the top of the Tower meant we had more time to relax, visit, and see other parts of Nimes.
It also meant we had time to take in one of the most interesting, amusing spots of all — the cafe near the train station. My guest agreed these out-of-the-way places and people you meet make France the place to spend as much time as possible.
Uzès in November: Farewell
The non-stop, three-day visit to this part of the Gard in southern France was over.
Before leaving on the train, I heard my “20-something” friend proclaim: “I’ll be back … soon!”