The home of the movie Chocolat and inspiration to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. How much of you went unexplored. A first timer in this region of France and this time I didn’t make the same mistake as for Spain. I had no expectations!
If you go to south of France expect peaceful walks through medieval and Roman villages, endless fruit fields, the beautiful smell of fresh baked bread and of course, a never ending supply of the best cheese.
We really didn’t have a set itinerary for the south of France when we left Andorra. Basically we decided to search the quickest way to Switzerland and to stop on the way. That didn’t last long, since we found some unexpected treasures and culminated in the one of the highlights of the trip so far.
The main attraction is the medieval castle which inspired the tale of Sleeping Beauty. As you walk up the hill its impressive structure catches you almost by surprise. Although the interior is now a tourist trap, crammed with shops, cafés and restaurants, it is still a nice place to visit and spend some time.
There are food markets, beautiful streets and loads of carts pulled by horses which gives the town a medieval feel to it.
Probably one of the most interesting days on the trip. If you like Roman influence and history, Nîmes and Arles are probably the places for you.
Buying a ticket for the Arènes de Nîmes is the best way to make the most of it. Starting with the dream crushing your of the Amphitheater. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad with the way they demystified the role of the Gladiators; Very few died in combat and the ones to whom the thumbs down was shown, had to be paid for by the events organiser. Most of them weren’t actual slaves, they voluntarily got rid of all the privileges of a free man in search of glory and fame. Oh! And the thumbs up and down? Not a real thing.
The secret for this arena to be the best preserved of them all is that it has always been used (for different puposes) since it was built.
Another fantastic piece of architecture, very well preserved. Inside you get to watch a movie about the birth of Nîmes as a city made in the image of Rome.
La Tour Magne
It was an 18 meter stone tower built to show off; to let the enemy know they were being watched and how high the Romans rose above them. Stands at the highest point of the city and offers a beautiful view.
This city is a poor man’s Nîmes. And to think that, back in the day, they built Nîmes to reach Arles standard. But we weren’t there for more Roman business, we went with the promise of a Vincent Van Gogh tour of his favourite spots. I don’t know what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it. Obviously, the painted scenes weren’t what he saw in the late 1880’s but well.. I guess I don’t have a suggestion to make it better. The Langlois bridge was my favourite – it’s a little bit outside town, but it’s the only thing that stays true to Van Gogh’s paintings.
We are nearly two months into our trip and this place still remains on the top 3 of our favourite spots. Thanks to Robert de Joly, a chappy from Montpellier, we can now walk through a section of the 40km stretch of caves. 121meters below surface, magic happens. A kind of magic that takes millions of years to get to the punchline. We had the best guide ever! – Quentin, you are a Legend! – and the tour ended with a show of Sound and Light by Yann & Guilhem Cléophas (if I did this right, you should be listening to that same music as you read this post).
Chateau de Rochebonne
Epic drive with about 10 hairpin turns and a 25% incline to get to this hidden treasure. I know nothing about it. But whoever lived there had one of the most stunning views of the Ardèche region.
Aix-les-bains and Annecy
Beautiful lakes and a warm up for the prices we were going to face in Switzerland. Annecy, sometimes called “The Venice of the Alps”, had a beautiful view over it’s lake and two main canals that flow through the old town.