Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Visit to Historic Pont du Gard

With daughter Tricia and family visiting, we planned activities that would interest grandchildren Avery and Caedon and frankly use up their seemingly boundless energy including hiking and swimming as often as we could. We figured a visit to Pont du Gard would be perfect.

Our favorite Roman ruin in the South of France is the Pont du Gard, the aqueduct bridge located in the Gard Department of Languedoc-Roussillon about 60 km (37 miles) from our home in Sablet, between Remoulins and Uzès.

The Pont du Gard is part of the 50 km (31 mile) Nîmes aqueduct constructed by the Romans in the 1st century between 41 and 54 AD to bring water from a spring near Uzès, the Fontaine d'Eure, to the Roman city of Nîmes where it was distributed to fountains, baths and private homes around the city.

On our most recent visit with daughter Tricia and family, we parked in the lot on the Rive Gauche - Left Bank, there is a small charge for parking but access to the bridge is free, and strolled along the path until the Pont du Gard came into view.

View of Pont du Gard as you arrive from Visitor's Center

The 900 foot long Pont du Gard has three levels of arches: six crossing the Gardon River, 11 in the middle tier and 35 smaller arches at the top which support the water channel. The Pont du Gard is 161 feet high above the Gardon river.

Stonework on the Pont du Gard, showing the protruding blocks that were used to support the scaffolding

You can walk across the bottom tier which has been used as a thoroughfare for centuries - in 1285 the bishop of Uzès ordered that a toll be collected from all travelers crossing the bridge.

Shirley and grandchildren Caedon and Avery

The Pont du Gard was built of limestone from nearby Estel quarry that borders the Gardon river's left bank and assembled largely without mortar or clamps. The stones, some of which weigh up to 6 tons, were cut to perfectly fit together eliminating the need for mortar. The cut stone was lifted into place with a human-powered treadmill providing the power for the winch.

View of Pont du Gard from upper trail

Shirley and I always look at the arches and admire the skill it took to design the Pont du Gard without computers and imagine the thankless labor of soldiers, craftsmen and slaves who built the bridge almost 2000 years ago without cranes or other equipment.

Swimmers along the Gardon River near the Pont du Gard

The Aqueduct of Nîmes had a capacity to carry 35,000 cubic meters of water a day that took nearly 27 hours to flow from the spring to Nîmes. The aqueduct descends in height by only 17 m (56 feet) over its entire 50 km (31 mile) length, an indication of the precision the Roman engineers were able to achieve using rudimentary technology.

View south down the Gardon River from the upper trail near Pont du Gard

Bringing water from the spring near Uzès to Nîmes was easier said than done. Although the distance between the spring and the city is only 20 km (12 miles) in a straight line, the Romans built the aqueduct 50 km (31 miles) mostly underground in a long, winding route to cross or circle the natural obstacles of the countryside.

Side view of the Pont du Gard showing the three levels of arches

The Pont du Gard carried water in the channel seen below across the gorge of the Gardon River.

Channel on top of Pont du Gard that carried water across the Gardon River

The Pont du Gard is remarkably well preserved and was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1985.

View of the Pont du Gard from the Right Bank of the Gardon River

The Pont du Gard can be accessed from either the right bank or left bank of the Gardon River. There are several places where you can swim in the river if you so choose.

Another view south of the Gardon River from the Pont du Gard

I remember visits to the Pont du Gard when I was very young, probably in connection with visits to my grandmother's family who lived near Anduze in the Gard Department, and swimming in the Gardon River near the Pont du Gard.

View south down Gardon River from Pont du Gard

View north up the Gardon River from Pont du Gard

Make sure to look at the ancient olive tree on the Rive Gauche - Left Bank on the path to the Pont du Gard from the Visitor Center. The sign by the tree says it was born in 908 and lived in Spain till 1985 when the Counsel General of the Gard adopted the tree and planted it here in 1988.

Ancient olive tree along path to Pont du Gard from Left Bank Visitor's Center

A good way to explore the Pont du Gard is as part of a visit to nearby Duchy of Uzès which is worthwhile. There is a wonderful Marché Provencal in Uzès on Saturday mornings, one of our favorite markets after the Tuesday morning market in Vaison la Romaine.

With our grandchildren visiting, we didn't go to Uzes but rather after grabbing snacks at the Visitor's Center, we headed to Collias France to get canoes to go up the Gardon River under the Pont du Gard. Check back to see my next post where I share pictures of our visit to Pont du Gard by canoe.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Friday in Cassis

If you have been to Cassis, you won't be surprised to know that it's one of our favorite towns in Provence. Happily, it only takes 1 hour and half to drive from Sablet to Cassis. The picturesque town is tucked into a stunning location along the Mediterranean Sea between the calanques (little coastal fjords with tall cliffs), about 20 km east of Marseille.

In case you don't know, Cassis is a small fishing port on a steep hillside with vineyards and pastel-colored houses which tumble down to a seaside port lined with more pastel-colored houses and shops with 8,000 inhabitants. The port is filled with little fishing boats, yachts and a collection of charter boats that take visitors out to the calanques.

When you visit Sablet, we will take a day trip to Cassis. We like to go on Friday mornings since that is one of the days (Wednesday is the other) that the Marché Provençal takes place. That is exactly what we did one Friday this summer, when daughter Tricia and family were visiting Sablet.

Cassis Marché Provençal

We try to get to Cassis early in the morning since parking is often a challenge. From time to time, we have to park in a remote lot (Relais des Gourgettes) and hike or ride the navette (shuttle bus) to the port. This time we are lucky, and found parking very close to the port.

Musicians on market day near Place Gilbert Savon

There are more shops and restaurants on the narrow streets of Cassis away from the port.

Cassis street

The port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet in the center of Cassis.

Port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet

Another view of the port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet

There are four public beach areas in Cassis. The Grand Mer beach is the main beach near the center of town and consists of sand and pebbles.

Grand Mer Beach

The Romanesque style Saint Michel Church was built near the port a short distance from the center of town between 1859 and 1867.

The bell tower of Saint Michel Church is visible from the port

Pastel colored houses and shops line Quai des Baux

Fishing boats tied up along Quai des Baux

We love the flowers that adorn the light poles in Cassis

The port is lined with tourist shops, terrace cafés and restaurants which offer a variety of food and prices. As you can imagine, it's great fun to watch people stroll down Quai (dock) des Baux and Quai Jean-Jacques Barthélémy while you soak up the sun in front of one of the eateries that line the port. Unfortunately, the view is much better than the food so we usually just order drinks.

Tourists walk down Quai des Baux

Pretty house along Quai des Baux

Pretty house over shop along Quai des Baux

Another view of Quai des Baux

Le Bonaparte Restaurant is our favorite restaurant in Cassis. The restaurant is located on a side street several blocks off the port. There is a small dining room and seating on the street. Le Bonaparte Restaurant is owned by the chef Jean-Marie who has been in business 23 years. That's where we headed for lunch that Friday.

Daughter Tricia and grandson Caedon at Le Bonaparte Restaurant

Yes, it was a very warm day.

Me with son-in-law Alvin

Alvin with granddaughter Avery

Shirley and Caedon

On Fridays there is a meatless tradition in Provence called Aioli. So we were not surprised that the special being served that Friday by chef Jean-Marie was Aioli. So that is what we all ordered.

Platter of Grand Aioli

Aioli, which comes from the French "ail" (garlic) and "oli" (the old langue d'oc word for olive oil) has two meanings: First, it's a thick, aromatic garlic mayonnaise that accompanies various foods including cold roasts, poached fish and boiled vegetables, and even serves as a tasty thickener for fish soup.

Second, the word refers to "le grand aioli," an abundant Provençal meal traditionally consisting of a cornucopia of boiled vegetables, salt cod and some seafood accompanied by copious amounts of aioli sauce. Generally, all of the food is served at room temperature

Plate with selection of items from the Grand Aioli platter

This is what you do after spending the morning under a hot Provencal sun, eating a delicious Grand Aioli and drinking chilled white wine from Cassis.

Siesta time

More musicians in Cassis

Evidence suggests that Cassis was settled as early as 600 BC around the same time as Marseille. Ligures, Greeks and Romans all passed through there, thriving on an economy based on fishing, trade with North Africa and the Middle East and the limestone in the nearby calanques.

During successive waves of barbarian invasions, the population took refuge in the Castrum de Carsisis, a mighty rectangular castle of 52,200 square feet perched high on a cliff overlooking the port.

The Castle seen below was built in 1381 by the counts of Les Baux and refurbished last century by Mr. Michelin, the boss of the company that makes tires and publishes the famous Green Guides. Today it is privately owned and partially converted to a luxury B and B.

Maison des Baux Castle

You often see locals playing intense games of the Provençal sport known as Boule near the port at Place Gilbert Savon. Not today, it was hot and they were probably taking a siesta at home or laying out beachside.

Place Gilbert Savon

The water teems with fish

Nature lovers have been attracted to the Massif des Calanque's solid limestone, whiteness and weather-worn peaks for a long time.

But the unique charm and beauty of the Massif des Calanques stem from the deep walled, narrow inlets --the famous calanques, chiseled out along the coastline creating a beautiful trilogy of sea, sky and rocks.

Boat tours operate from the Cassis port, the tourism office there sells tickets for trips that take you to 3, 7 or 13 calangues. We opted for a 45-minute boat tour of 3 calanques.

The following are pictures of Cassis from the Regali--our 47.6 foot boat for the trip, and tour along the coast out to the calanques and back.

Tricia and family stand in front of Regali

View of Quai des Baux from the Regali

View from Regali down Quai des Baux

View from the Regali towards port area near center of town

The port area in front of the shops and restaurants which line Quai Jean-Jacques Barthélémy

The calanque of Port-Miou seen below is the calanque closest to Cassis.

Calanque of Port-Miou

View from Regali

A few of the calanques are accessible on foot and rocks along the way provide perfect spots for sunbathing.

Another view from the Regali

Some areas are accessible by foot and provide great spots for sunbathing

The large calanque of Port-Pin seen below with its sandy beach surrounded by pine trees.

Calanque of Port-Pin

Limestone rock formation

More white limestone rock formations with the backdrop of the magnificent blue sky.

Cap Canaille which rises up between Cassis and La Ciotat, is one of the highest cliffs of Europe at 399 meters (1,309 feet) and the highest cliff in France.

Cap Canaille

Grande Mer Beach

The Cassis lighthouse sits at the mouth of the port. It is a great place to sit on the quay and watch the fishing boats, yachts, and calanque tour boats sail through the narrow passage way that leads from the port to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Cassis Lighthouse

Back in Cassis.

The beautiful town of Cassis and its port

We had a great time with the family in Cassis. Hard not to, with the beautiful weather and vistas all around. Have a great week.