Since Nîmes is less than a 2-hour train ride from Carcassonne, we’d been there on a day trip and now we were staying a few nights to explore some of the surrounding sites. On previous rail journeys through the area we had spotted two castles across from each other on the Rhône river in the towns of Beaucaire and Tarascon so we wanted to see those up close. Before that, however, was a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site connected to last week’s blog post about Uzès. The word “connected” is especially fitting since it’s the 2000-year-old Pont du Gard aqueduct that formed part of the link that brought water from its source in Uzès to Nîmes, 50 kilometers (31 miles) away.
It was a 5-minute walk from the Pont du Gard bus stop to the historic site’s main entrance where we showed our 8 € online ticket that gave us access to the museum, movie theater, any special exhibits, and a walk across the aqueduct. We already knew the basic facts but the museum presented them well: 49 meters (160 feet) tall; 273 meters (896 feet) long; 5 years to build by 1000 workers; 10.5 million gallons of water crossed it per day. It was so sturdily built that even after 2000 years it maintains its original slope of 2.5 cm (less than 1 inch) from one side of the river to the other. To have a relaxed and comfortable view of this beautiful national monument we had lunch at the onsite riverside restaurant Les Terrasses.
For something more “modern”, the next day we took the train to what was in a sense in 1229 a sister city to our hometown when the King appointed officers in both Carcassonne and Beaucaire as administrators over our region of Languedoc. Although our local castle fared much better over the centuries than its distant sibling, we still wanted to see what remained as well as take the self-guided walking tour through the Medieval streets. In fact, part of the time we would have been treading on a Roman road since this was part of the Via Domitienne that was completed in 121 AD to connect Italy with Spain.
The 20-minute walk from the train station to the 12th century castle, known as La Forteresse, took us along the riverside meadow, Le Pré, that brought great wealth to Beaucaire for hundreds of years. An annual enormous tax-free trade fair allowed merchants from countries around the Mediterranean and beyond to sell their goods for distribution all over France. The result was the building of many fine mansions in the center of town. Sadly, the castle didn’t benefit from all this good fortune, but still we were pleased to finally explore the remaining walls and towers that we had only glimpsed from a speeding train window.
To get back to the bridge to cross over the Rhône, we wandered some of streets adorned with those 17th and 18th century homes of the successful international traders, photos in the gallery below.
Within a few steps from the bridge we were at the foot of the Château de Tarascon, a castle built from 1400 to 1435 to exert control over the border between the two French regions of Provence and Languedoc. According to the guidebook this national monument has been conserved and restored to its condition in 1480 when owner Italian King René I died and who himself had made only cosmetic changes to the original structure.
Although guided tours were available we preferred to follow the downloadable pdf document (link below) to see the 30 rooms on display and to go out on the rooftop terrace for a view across the Rhône back to Beaucaire and the castle there that we had just seen earlier in the day. We had access to a multitude of reception, dining, and sleeping quarters and even to a bathroom called a “steam chamber” because the floor was heated with water much as the ancient Romans had done. Although the castle did a great job of keeping intruders out, those impenetrable walls did the same for prisoners locked inside from as early as 1480. Several rooms throughout the building were temporarily transformed for this purpose while the ground floor purpose-built room bears carved graffiti from its earliest “guest”, a Catalan shipbuilder and opponent of King René I.
If you go: To get to the aqueduct Pont du Gard we took Bus #121 from the Nîmes Gare Routière bus station (behind the downtown train station) to Pont du Gard (bus stop Vers-Pont-du-Gard, Rond Point Pont du Gard; the return bus stop has the same name but is on the opposite side of the roundabout); 45 minutes, 1.50 €.