Two castles and an aqueduct

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.

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Uzès in 1 day

According to the tourist office brochure, as you approach the town of Uzès your first impression will be of “the three towers of power: ducal (Bermonde tower), royal (King’s tower) and religious (Bishop’s tower)”. Since there’s no train, we were taking the 45-minute regional bus from Nîmes and although that dropped us off at the edge of town, we were still only an 8-minute walk from the furthest point on our map. That gave us plenty of time to see all of the sites, have lunch with one of our blog readers, and even discover a fourth tower, the only one like it in France. This officially-designated “City of Art and History” (Ville d’Art et d’Histoire) was indeed impressive from a distance and up close. 

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Arcachon in 1 day

When a city consistently makes it to the top of an annually published list of where French people say that they would like to retire, it makes you curious why this one place is so attractive. We’d been to Bordeaux several times but had never taken the train less than an hour further west right to the Atlantic coast to visit Arcachon. Adding that 53 minutes to the trip would only cost an additional 5 € so we thought that this would be a good time to see for ourselves why everyone wants to move there. This was a wintertime excursion to a summer beach resort, it seemed, so we didn’t have our hopes too high. To our pleasant surprise we found a lively town with plenty of pleasant walks, shops to peruse, and restaurants to enjoy and it didn’t hurt that our hotel room had a great view of the sea!

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St.-Jean-de-Luz and Pau

We were expecting to take today’s trip two years ago and I was going to call the blog post “Walking to Spain”. We would have gotten off the train at the last station in France, Hendaye, walked across the La Bidassoa river bridge to take a photo of the Bienvenido a España sign and then returned to France to continue our journey. The arrival of Covid and all of its associated travel restrictions forced a postponement and a rearrangement of our schedule but it all worked out fine. We still took a southbound train from Bayonne but exited 2 stops before the border (featured photo above) to spend the afternoon where Louis XIV, the Sun King, married his Spanish bride and future Queen of France. The next morning it was time to discover where the Sun King’s grandfather had been born 100 km (62 miles) to the east in the city of Pau.

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Amiens in 2 days

We’ve visited the cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris a few times including climbing up 422 steps to where the gargoyles stare out at the city and it has always been impressive in size, height, and history. When I read that the similarly named cathedral in Amiens could hold the Paris landmark inside with room left over, I knew that it would be something that we would want to see. That “someday” visit turned into a “let’s go now” trip when I learned that author Jules Verne (Around the World in 80 Days) had lived in the city for 18 years and that his house where he wrote many other novels was now a museum. But those were not the only surprises that awaited us.

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Arras in 1 day

Carcassonne has 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites (Canal-du-Midi and the Medieval Walled City) plus 48 listed historic monuments, which I find pretty impressive. Arras also has 2 UNESCO sites (the Belfry and the Citadel) but 225 monuments. Well, it would seem that this city, 45 minutes north of Paris by train would be worth a visit. Since we were already in Lille this was going to be an easy train trip with 2 departures each hour so we would have time for sightseeing, lunch, and still be back “home” to the hotel for dinner. With so many choices of places to visit, where should we start?

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Lille in 2 days

Legend says that Lille was founded in the year 640 and for the next thousand years control of the city included the Dutch, the French, the Vikings, the Spanish, and the Flemish before Louis XIV, the Sun King, took the city back in 1667 and it has remained in France ever since despite periods of occupation by the Austrians and the Germans. Much of the Flemish influence remains today in the baroque architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries in the section of town called “Old Lille”. Since friends had suggested that we stroll along the cobblestones of Place Louise de Bettignies (featured photo above) and rue de la Monnaie, that’s where we began our first day of exploration.

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