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France Travel Articles

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Regions and Departments of France France is divided into thirteen regions (not including overseas regions). Regions are further divided into departments. In total there are 96 departments (not including overseas departments). In some cases the department is better known than the region. For example, the Dordogne is a department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region but travel articles may refer to the Dordogne, not mentioning the region it is in. In this website we group France information by region. The thirteen regions of France. Base map from Chessrat at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons The Thirteen Regions of France as of 2014 In 2014 France made an administrative change to the regions, reducing from 22 regions to 13 by combining some regions into super regions. This is very confusing for those of us who had memorized the previous regions (me!). Some regions are the same but several super regions were created combining two or more of the old regions. I have noted this below. Starting in the north-western corner of France and going south, the new regions (French name after English version) and their relation to the pre-2014 regions: Hauts-de-France: This new region combines two of the old regions - Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy. This is the north-western corner of France and contains many of the WWI sites. Normandy (Normandie): This region has not changed. The main tourist attractions are Mont Saint-Michel and the WWII sites on the coast. Brittany (Bretagne): This region has not changed. Brittany is know for its beautiful coastline and the stone alignments at Carnac. Île-de-France: This region has not changed. It includes Paris and the surrounding areas. Centre-Val de Loire: This region has not changed. Here you will find the Loire Valley, vineyards and chateaux. Pays de la Loire: This region has not changed. This is a popular coastal area. Nouvelle-Aquitaine: The new region combines three of the old regions - Limousin, Poitou-Charentes, Aquitaine. Dordogne with its castles and prehistoric cave art is in this region. Occtanie: This new region combines two of the old regions - Languedoc-Rousillon and Midi-Pyrénées. This region borders Spain and the Mediterranean. Carcassonne and Nimes are in Occtanie. From the northeast corner of France: Grand Est: This new region combines three of the old regions - Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne. Strasbourg, one of the EU centers, is in Grande Est on the German border. Bourgogne-Franche-Comté: This new region combines two of the old regions - Bourgogne and Franche-Comté. This area includes the Burgundy (Bourgogne) wine region. Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes: The new region combines two of the old regions - Auvergne and Rhone-Alpes. Lyon and Mont Blanc are in this region. Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur: This region has not changed. The Luberon in the heart of Provence is a popular tourist destination. Corsica: This region has not changed. This island in the Mediterranean is famous for its beaches. Resources Wikipedia - Regions of France Wikipedia - Departments of France - This page has a good map showing the 96 departments and the regions each belongs to. Note: This article will be expanded to include more basic travel information for France. I wanted to post it now because this 2014 change in the France regions still has me confused.
The town of Fréjus sits on the western edge of the Estérel Mountains, on the Mediterranean coast. During ancient Roman times Fréjus was an important port town called Forum Julii and situated at the crossroads of Via Augusta and Via Domitia. There are various Roman remains in and around the town, but the most interesting are the remains of the Fréjus Aqueduct. The aqueduct, built in the 1st century AD, covered a distance of about 40km bringing water from the mountains to the town. Many parts of the aqueduct remain. The water for the aqueduct came from the Rivers Foux (near Montauroux) and Siagnole (near Mons) in the mountains above Fréjus. The aqueduct was 40 km long and came down 481 meters to the highest point of Fréjus. Much of the aqueduct ran underground. Where it came into Fréjus it was on tall arches - these are what remain. Location: France - Provence - Var - Fréjus The best way to see the remains of the aqueduct is to arrive from the east on DN7, a modern road that follows the route of the ancient Roman road Via Aurilia. Exit from the autoroute and at the first roundabout, do not follow the signs for Fréjus but instead take the D37 (Route du Gargalon) heading east and signed Cannes. After about a mile you see a large arch on your left (remains of the aqueduct). More remains are across the road. Continue to the DN7 and turn right towards Fréjus. (If you are a Jean Cocteau fan, visit the Notre-Dame de Jerusalem chapel near this intersection. He designed the chapel in the 1960s.) Following the DN7 into Fréjus, turn into the Parc de la Villa Aurélienne on your right to see more arches from the aqueduct. You can park and walk around them. Continuing on the road to the center you drive by more arches and then reach the parking lot where the historic center starts. The tourist office is nearby. Website: Fréjus Tourism Source of the Aqueduct: When we visited we also drove up to Mons, high up in the mountains on very narrow and winding roads, to find the start of the aqueduct (at La Roche-Taillée where a passage for the aqueduct was carved through thick rock), but gave up when we reached Mons and realized there were several more miles to go on even narrower roads. Another time I would park in Mons and walk to La Roche-Taillée to avoid driving the very narrow lanes. Frejus Roman Sites The aqueduct is the main Roman site but there are other sites scattered around Fréjus. - Roman Amphitheater (Les Arenes de Fréjus). Built in the 1st century AD from local green sandstone and could hold up to 10,000 spectators. Much of the amphitheater remains but modern buildings have been placed within it. You can visit inside (closes at lunch) or walk around the outside. The park in front of the Amphitheater honors the 423 people killed in December 1959 when the Malpasset dam collapsed and the water rushed into the town. The Roman Amphitheater is on the western edge of the town. We drove to it and parked on the road in front. It is near the Porte des Gaules (remains of Roman baths). - Gates of Gaule (Porte des Gaules). Remains of the Roman baths. - Roman Theater. Probably built in the 1st century AD. All that remains are the surrounding walls. Modern seating has been added and the theater is in use today. Located north-east of the town center. There is an Archaeological Museum in the town center. We visited Fréjus in October 2016. We arrived just as the Amphitheater was closing for lunch, so did not see inside. However, you can walk around on the outside and see a good deal of it. Our main focus was the aqueduct and we found a few different places to see the remains of it. The historic center of Fréjus is pretty, but the town is surrounded by ugly suburban sprawl. It is not a glamorous seaside town like some of the others in the Cote d'Azur. If you are in the area, it is worth a visit to Fréjus to see the aqueduct remains, but it is not as fabulous as the Pont du Gard. Arches brought the aqueduct into town. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/hkxrPJwAwSm83mnD9 More Photos
Loupian Roman Villa (Villa-Loupian) is the remains of a 5th century Roman villa with beautiful and well preserved mosaic floors. The villa was discovered under a farm field and many parts of the mosaics were damaged, but they saved what they could and reconstructed the walls of the villa so you see the layout of the rooms. They put a building around the villa to protect it. Highly recommended - beautiful, detailed mosaics. We arrived in the late afternoon in time for the last tour and since we were the only ones there, the guide gave us the tour in English. The guide takes you into the big building and you walk around on a platform above the mosaics. Our guide gave us good information about the villa and how it was used and about the style of mosaics. Location: France - Novelle-Aquitaine - Herault - Loupian Check the opening hours before you visit. When we were there it was open only in the afternoon, with tours on the hour. Website: Loupian Roman Villa Mosaic floors in the Roman villa. Google Maps https://goo.gl/maps/2S3foXsNz6mB3NeY8 More Photos
Carcassonne is a city on the River Aude. Within Carcassonne are two historic areas: the Medieval City (La Cité) and the Bastide Saint-Louis (the historic center). La Cité, the medieval city, is the main attraction. It sits on a hill south east of the Bastide, surrounded by the modern town of Carcassonne. There has been a fortified settlement on this hill since the 6th century BC. What you see now is a medieval fortified town, with massive walls encircling the castle and the town and a fine Gothic cathedral. People still live in La Cité, but it is mostly set up for tourists, with restaurants and shops. It may look touristy, but this is a wonderful place to explore. Most of La Cité was built in the 13th century. The Castle was built in the 12th century, the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire in the 14th century. La Cité has 52 towers and two concentric enclosures adding up to a total of 3 km of ramparts. Two gates are noteworthy: the Porte Narbonnaise (the main entry) and Porte d'Aude (on the west side). Bastide Saint-Louis is the historic center of Carcassonne. It is a large residential and commercial area surrounded by city walls built in the 14th century. Location: France - Languedoc-Roussillon - Aude - Carcassonne There is a large parking lot near the main entry to La Cité. If you are staying in Carcassonne, it is a short walk from the city center. There are many shops and restaurants within La Cité. Entry is free, but you pay to tour the castle. The walls are lighted at night and it is a very pleasant place to go for dinner (many restaurants to choose from, most with large outside seating areas). Website: Carcassonne Tourism Walking around the city walls. The Canal du Midi runs through Carcassonne. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/F4RdAoNDbvCZi6Cz9 More Photos
Lectoure Museum (Musée de Lectoure or Musée archéologique Eugène-Camoreyt) has an important collection of Roman altars used in "Bull Worship" (ceremonies using bull's blood) in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Some very good Roman mosaics found in the nearby area are also on display. Lectoure is a very pretty small town. We visited this museum in 2011 and enjoyed the displays. The Roman altars are fascinating and there are some good Roman mosaics. Location: France - Midi-Pyrénées - Gers - Lectoure The museum is located in the center of Lectoure, near Condom in Gascony. The entrance is off the main square by the tourist office, in the Hotel de Ville. The museum is in the basement of the building. Website: Lectoure Museum Roman alter with bull head. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/Qpaz9eLpRNXZnJLN6 More Photos
The Eauze Treasure (Le Trésor d'Eauze) is displayed in a small museum in the center of the charming town of Eauze, near Condom. The treasure includes 28,003 Roman coins and jewelry discovered nearby. Coins are displayed on shelves grouped by type. Upstairs they have a small display of other Roman finds. Location: France - Novelle-Aquitaine - Gers - Eauze The town of Eauze is interesting with many beautiful old buildings. There are restaurants, cafes and shops. There are other interesting historic sites nearby - Seviac Roman Villa, Biran Roman Tower, the museum in Lectoure. Website: Eauze Treasure Having seen this museum, I don't feel the need to ever search out Roman coins again. It was amazing to see the whole treasure displayed in one place and near where it was discovered. Everything is displayed beautifully - we spent a long time looking at the different coins (displayed behind glass). Archaeological museum, Eauze Treasure, located in the center of Eauze, near Condom. The vault contains the Roman Treasure (Le Trésor d'Eauze). 28,003 coins and jewellery discovered nearby. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/Bd2vxWgHewTyMESq5
Séviac Roman Villa (Villa Gallo-Romaine de Séviac) is the remains of a Roman villa from the 4th century. There are mosaic tiled floors throughout the site. It is a large site with good information (they give you a book in English describing the parts of the villa). Séviac Museum is in the Tourist Office in the central square of nearby Montréal. Some of the best mosaics from the villa are displayed in the museum, along with other Roman artifacts recovered at the site. The Trees mosaic is exceptional. Location: France - Novelle-Aquitaine - Gers - Montréal The Roman villa is just outside Montreal. In the winter they close the site and cover the mosaics with sand. The associated museum, Seviac Museum, is in Montreal. Website: Villa Gallo-Romaine de Séviac When we were visiting Séviac Roman Villa a small group of people were part of a tour in French, but they gave us a book in English and we wandered around on our own. The setting is beautiful and the mosaics are some of the best I have seen (written before I saw the mosaics in Sicily - which really are the best). Afterward we went into Montreal (a beautiful town) to see the small Seviac Museum. The best quality mosaics were in this "bird" room at the villa. In the museum, large Trees mosaic recovered from the villa. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/BZhmmgqoG2p9jtJM8 More Photos
The Biran Roman Tower (Pile gallo-romaine de La Turraque) is one of a few Roman towers in the countryside in southern Gers. We sought out three of these towers near Biran, in the River Baise valley. The Michelin map for the Midi-Pyrenees #525 has three towers marked - Biran Roman Tower, Lasserre Roman Tower and St Lary Roman Tower. The Biran Roman Tower is the best preserved and easiest to find. Location: France - Novelle-Aquitaine - Gers - Biran On the day we were finding these towers we had a lovely lunch at Le Pas Pareil on the main street in Vic Fezensac. These are the three towers that we found: - Biran Roman Tower. This is the best example in the area and is easy to find. The tower sits in a field beside the River Baise. From the N124 between Auch and Vic Fezensac take the D939 south in direction Mirande. Take the second left lane to Biran, cross the river and you will see it in a field on your left. - Lasserre Roman Tower. It is on a small road that goes from the N124 west of Auch north to St Lary on the D930. This road is signed for the town of Larroque with a sign for the Roman tower ("Pile gallo-romaine"). This tower is in a field at the top of the hill. Turn right on the first lane you come to and you will see the tower. You can walk right up to it. Well worth seeking it out. - St Lary Roman Tower. This one is hard to find and you can't get close. It is on a hillside in the woods near St Lary (on the D930, south of Valence sur Baise). I would skip this one. (If you want to see it, take the lane west from the D930 in St Lary, go over the river, turn right on a lane along the river. When you come to a few modern cottages on the left, look up past the cottages, past farm fields, to the woods and you will see it peeking out of the trees.) Biran Roman Tower sits in a field beside the River Baise. Lasserre Roman Tower sits in a field at the top of a hill. St Lary Roman Tower is hard to find and you can't get close. The red arrow points to the tower. Google Map Location of Biran Roman Tower. https://goo.gl/maps/i5BAVP5BP3QxfD8L7 More Photos Photos of all three towers.
Flaran Abbey (Abbaye de Flaran), a Cistercian abbey founded in 1151, is one of the best preserved abbeys in the southwest of France. Inside the abbey is a permanent exhibition on the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage route that passes through Gascony to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Two interesting statues in the Museum show pilgrims wearing the traditional scallop shells. - Pelerin de Saint-Jacques, 18th century (estimated 1772) from Mezin (Lot-et-Garonne). Statue of a pilgrim walking, wearing scallop shells. - Saint-Jacques, 19th century from Church of Saint-Pierre, Auch. Pilgrim with scallop shell. The ancient pilgrimage path, the Way of St James (Les Chemins de Saint Jacques dans le Gers) starts in many places in Europe but all lead to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There are two routes through Gascony: - The Puy route passes through Saint Antoine, Lectour, Condom, Lagraulet, Bretagne d'Armagnac, Eauze, Sainte-Christie d'Armagnac, Nogaro, Lanne-Soubiran, Luppe, Aire-sur-Adour. - The Pyrenees route passes through Pujaudran, L'Isle-de-Noe, Montesquiou, Saint-Christaud, Marciac. Both routes converge at Ostabat and lead to the famous Ronceveaux pass. These routes were described in 1140 in a pilgrim's guide book. Pilgrimages became popular in 1000 AD, the first millennium. Many churches were built throughout Europe at that time. Location: France - Novelle-Aquitaine - Gers - Valence-sur-Baïse This abbey is located in the beautiful Gascony countryside near Condom. Website: Abbaye de Flaran Saint-Jacques, 19th century from Church of Saint-Pierre, Auch. Pilgrim with the scallop shell. Google Map https://g.page/abbayedeflaran?share More Photos
The Vézère Valley (La vallée de la Vézère) in the Dordogne (in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of south-west France) has some of the most significant archaeological finds of the Paleolithic period (200,000 to 10,000 years ago) and many are open to the public. It is home to several caves with prehistoric cave art. Lascaux, the replica of a cave showing the prehistoric cave art, is here. There are others caves where you can visit the original cave, not a replica. The main towns of the valley are Les Eyzies, where the National Prehistoric Museum is located, and Montignac, near the famous Lascaux Cave. The other cave art locations are in the area - Font-de-Gaume and Rouffignac. We spent a week in this area, saw several caves and visited the museum. It was an amazing experience. Two more significant cave art sites are outside of the Vezere Valley. Niaux Cave in south at the foot of the Pyreness. Pech Merle is east in the Lot department. We visited Pech Merle on the way to our Dordogne stay and Niaux on another trip when we stayed in Carcassone. All these caves are interesting but if I had to pick one, it would be Pech Merle, or maybe Niaux. Both of those caves require you to walk deep into the cave to see the art. Font-de-Gaume is a smaller cave if you don't like being deep in caves. Font-de-Gaume Cave The Font-de-Gaume Cave (Grotte de Font-de-Gaume) contains over 200 prehistoric polychrome cave paintings of bison, horses and mammoths. There are also engravings. Small groups of people are taken on a guided tour of the cave. Font-de-Gaume is located near the town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in the Vézère Valley. Location: France - Aquitaine - Dordogne - Les Eyzies-de-Tayac Tickets: Purchase tickets at the on-site ticket office, on the edge of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. Parking is nearby. You cannot reserve ahead. On weekends and high season, you may have to line up in the morning before they open (9:30am). On slower days you can drop in during the morning and get tickets for later that day. (This information was valid as of 2013.) Tour: The guided tour takes about 30 minutes, but allow 10 - 15 minutes to walk up to the cave. There is a short (500m) walk, mostly uphill, to the cave entrance. There is not much walking inside the cave. The cave is small and narrow and you may feel a bit claustrophobic. It is not deep underground like some of the other caves in this area. Website: Prehistoric sites at Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in the Dordogne We visited Font de Gaume in May 2013. We tried to get tickets on the weekend, but they were sold out each time when we arrived during the day. Finally we joined the morning line and got tickets for an English language tour that morning. It was a small group of 12 and our English-speaking tour guide was very good. The cave is not large and you don't walk that far in the cave. I really liked this cave (I liked all the ones we visited). Group tour at the cave entrance. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/c6g36zKkfXBp6BqA8 Lascaux Cave Lascaux Cave (Grotte de Lascaux) contains prehistoric cave paintings from the Paleolithic period (17,000+ years old). There are over 2,000 drawings of animals and people. The cave was discovered in 1940 and opened to the public in 1948. The many visitors caused damage because of the carbon dioxide produced by breathing and the cave was closed in 1963. A replica cave opened in 1983. Lascaux II, which opened in 1983, reproduced 90 percent of the cave's wall art (the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery). It was located in a natural cave near the original. Lascaux 3 was a traveling exhibition showing highlights from the site. With Lascaux 4, opened December 2016, the entire Lascaux cave has been reconstructed. This reproduction took a team of 30 workers four years to complete at a cost of 66 million euros. We visited Lascaux II on a rainy day in May 2013. The site was well worth visiting. Even though it is a replica, you are in a cave and the drawings have been reproduced exactly. The tour was less than an hour long. We also visited several of the smaller caves in the area, where you see the original paintings. Location: France - Novelle-Aquitaine - Dordogne - Montignac Lascaux Cave is located near the town of Montignac in the Vézère Valley. Lascaux is the best known cave art site but there are others where you can visit the original cave, not a replica. The town of Les Eyzies, south of Montignac, has a good archaeological museum. Website: Lascaux Cave Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/EcBuvi81quPGNRYN6 Rouffignac Cave Rouffignac Cave (Grotte de Rouffignac), a few kilometres from the Vézère Valley, is a large cave with more than 8 km of galleries and more than 250 animal drawings from prehistoric times (over 14,000 years ago). These are black line drawings and engravings, 158 of which are drawings of mammoths. You don't have to do a long walk to see the drawings in this cave, you are taken in on an electric train. Location: France - Aquitaine - Dordogne - Rouffignac Saint Cernin Rouffignac is located near the Vézère Valley (La vallée de la Vézère). Tickets: Tickets are sold at the site for visits the same day. The number of visitors is limited and you cannot reserve ahead. Bring warm clothes, these caves are cold. This cave does not involve a long walk. Instead you tour the cave on an electric train. Website: Rouffignac Cave We visited Rouffignac in May 2013 after seeing Lascaux. We were able to get tickets for the next tour, but had to wait nearly an hour for it to start (and there is nothing to do there while waiting). They take your group in on a small open air train, stopping at a few places to show engravings on the cave walls. They stop the train at the large open cave where you get out to view the drawings, most of which are on the ceiling which is not that far above, so you get a good view of them. I thought this cave might prove "too touristy", more of a theme park ride than archaeological experience. In practice, however, the train serves as an effective and practical way to move visitors through the distances between notable groupings of art in a way that minimizes the deteriorating effects of human presence. Entrance to the cave. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/s1SgvP4ApmNkqk9S6 Niaux Cave Niaux Cave (Grotte di Niaux) has prehistoric cave paintings made more than 13,000 years ago. You can take a guided tour into the cave and see the original paintings in one part of the cave. This is one of the few caves with cave paintings that is open to the public. The Prehistory Park nearby shows detailed replicas of parts of the cave not open to the public. Location: France - Midi-Pyrénées - Ariege - Tarascon-sur-Ariège The cave is located up a hillside from the town of Niaux and the drive from the town is on a narrow (but paved) mountain road. There is lots of parking at the cave entrance. The way to the cave is well signed. It was a 1 1/2 hr drive from Carcassonne (where we were staying). If you drive this route, stop in Mirepoix on the way. This town has a beautiful medieval center. Tickets: Book in advance to visit the cave. Nearby is the Prehistory Park (Parc de la Préhistoire) with information on the history of the cave plus replicas of the caves showing the art. Website: Tourist Sites in Ariège I highly recommend visiting this cave if you are in the area. The cave drawings are amazing, the cave itself is interesting and this area in the foothills of the Pyrenees is beautiful. Visiting Niaux was the highlight of our trip to southern France and was the first time I have seen prehistoric cave art. We booked the day before by phone for the English tour. The tour was full (20 people). Our guide was very good and gave us great information about the cave art. The tour took 1 1/2 hours. The drawings are located in the "Salon Noir" about 800 meters from the cave entrance. It took 30 minutes to walk in, we spent 30 minutes looking at all the drawings, then 30 minutes to walk back out. In the cave there are no lights (they supply flashlights), no walkways (the cave floor has a thin layer of concrete so it is easy to walk on but it is a bit damp) and railings only in a few places. The cave is large, with a very high "ceiling" so you don't feel closed in. There is only one short narrow passage that you go through. There is a short uphill walk at the end, but overall it is not a difficult walk. It is cool in the cave but not cold. Wear a sweater or jacket and good walking shoes. Entrance to the Niaux cave. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/P8mbiiT8p6hiux1N7 Pech Merle Cave Pech Merle (Grotte du Pech Merle) is a large cave with prehistoric cave art from as long ago as 20,000 BC. This cave has drawings of spotted horses, bison, mammoths and hands. You can see footprints left by the prehistoric people. The cave was closed off during the thawing of the last Ice Age in 10,000 BC and was discovered again in 1922 by two teenagers. It has been open to the public since 1926. There are many other caves with cave art in this area but they are not open to the public. Location: France - Midi-Pyrénées - Lot - Cabrerets It is a bit of a drive on country roads to get to Pech Merle. Parking onsite. The cave entrance is in the gift shop. Tickets: Pech Merle is not open year round; check the website for opening times. Reserve online and pay for your tickets on the day of the tour. English tours available. Website: Pech Merle Cave We visited Pech Merle in May 2013. We spent the night at a hotel in St Cirq and visited Pech Merle the next morning before driving up to the Dordogne where we spent a week. This is an amazing cave. I liked seeing the reverse hand prints on the walls. Our tour was in English and the guide explained the cave and the paintings in detail. It was a wonderful experience. Cave entrance in the visitor shop. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/MgqAkQ2bd5cs8uJ88 National Prehistoric Museum The National Prehistoric Museum (Musée National de Préhistoire) in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac has collections from archaeological sites in the Vézère Valley. The museum is built into the hillside, almost like a prehistoric cave. The collection is very interesting. Combine a visit to the museum with a visit to the nearby Font-de-Gaume cave. Location: France - Novelle-Aquitaine - Dordogne - Les Eyzies-de-Tayac The town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac is the center of the Vézère Valley. The Vézère River is a tributary of the Dordogne River. The prehistory theme park, Le Thot, in this area. This river valley also has many outdoor activities like walking/hiking, biking, canoeing. Website: Vézère Valley Entrance. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/nygbuLRXWCqDtZ5V9 More Photos You cannot take photos inside the caves, but I have photos of the cave locations and some replicas.
Fontenay Abbey (Abbaye de Fontenay) was a Cistercian abbey founded in 1118. Guided tours are offered but you may walk around on your own. The grounds are large and beautiful. In the complex you can visit the large church, the cloister, and the forge (and a few other buildings). The Cistercian Order was a Roman Catholic religious order of monks and nuns founded in Burgundy, France in the late 11th century. It spread throughout France, Britain, Ireland and other European countries in the 12th century. The Medieval architecture is Romanesque, stressing simplicity and functional use. The monks and nuns lived a simple life based around manual labor and self sufficiency. In England the abbeys were dissolved in the 16th century by order of King Henry VIII (the Dissolution of the Monasteries), so only ruins remain. In France many abbeys were closed during the French Revolution in the 18th century, but some survived and are still in use today. Location: France - Bourgogne-Franche-Comte (previously Burgundy) - Cote-d'Or - Montbard Fontenay Abbey is located north of Montbard, in a beautiful and peaceful valley. Website: Abbaye de Fontenay See our article The Three Sisters of Provence for information about other Cistercian abbeys in France. https://www.sloweurope.com/community/threads/cistercian-abbeys-the-three-sisters-of-provence.5609/ The church in the abbey complex. Inside the church. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/GkthTfekRAFhbHGe9 More Photos
The Bayeux Tapestry (Tapisserie de Bayeux) is an embroidered cloth nearly 230 feet (70 meters) long. In about 50 scenes, the tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England, ending with the Battle of Hastings. It was created in the 11th century, possibly in England. Location: France - Normandy - Calvados - Bayeux The tapestry is exhibited at Bayeux Museum (Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux). In high season there will be a line, but it is well worth the wait. You are given an audio tour set which describes each scene. Everyone listens to it and slowly walks the length of the tapestry. Bayeux has a nice medieval center to explore. It is close to the Normandy Beaches (WWII). Website: Bayeux Museum (Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux) There is a Victorian (1885) replica of the Bayeux Tapestry on display in the Reading Museum in Reading, England. The website has a good scene by scene description of the tapestry. www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk Part of the Bayeux Tapestry. From WikiMedia. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/i67jnoKmXCADHxhJ7
World War II (also called the Second World War, World War Two, WW2, WWII) was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. Much of the fighting took place in northern France and you can visit some of the battle sites and graveyards. Normandy Landings and American Cemetery The Normandy Landings were the WWII landing operations that took place on 6 June 1944 (D-Day). This Allied invasion of Normandy started the invasion of German-occupied western Europe and contributed to an Allied victory in the war. The landings took place along five beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Old army bunkers, tanks and Atlantic Wall defences remain in the area. The beach at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer was called Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion. The Normandy American Cemetery (Cimetière Américain de Normandie), overlooking Omaha Beach, is a 172-acre cemetery with graves for 9,387 soldiers and a memorial for missing soldiers with 1,557 names. The beach at Arromanches-les-Bains was called Gold Beach during the Normandy Invasion. After D-Day, the Allies established an artificial temporary harbor at Gold Beach for unloading heavy equipment. They installed breakwaters and piers. Much of this remains today on the beach and in the sea. This is a popular beach area, which I found disconcerting when coming to see the World War II memorials. But, of course, the area should not be frozen in time because of what happened here. Location: France - Normandy - Calvados - Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer Drive to Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer to visit Omaha Beach. The Normandy American Cemetery is nearby - drive in the direction of Colleville-sur-Mer or walk east on the beach from Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. The other D-Day beaches are along this coast. Website: Normandy American Cemetery Omaha Beach at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/9P1fWzHHAHmFLyKs8 Dieppe Raid During World War II the first large scale invasion of France by the Allied forces occurred in Dieppe. On August 19, 1942, almost two years before the Normandy Landings and D-Day, the Allied forces sailed from England to Dieppe, Puys and Pourville on the Normandy coast to fight the Germans. The forces were mostly Canadians - 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British, 50 American. It was not a successful invasion and 60% were killed or taken prisoner by the Germans. The rest retreated. The Dieppe raid was planned on six beaches: four in Dieppe and two others, one to the east and one to the west. From east to west, the beaches were codenamed Yellow, Blue, Red, White, Green and Orange. The Town of Dieppe created a small park at the western end of the beach called Canada Square (Square du Canada). Of the 4,963 Canadian soldiers involved in the Dieppe raid, 807 were killed, 1,946 were made prisoners of war and less than half returned to England. The town of Dieppe is lively and interesting. Location: France - Normandy - Seine-Maritime - Dieppe Website: Wikipedia - Dieppe Raid Dieppe Beach. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/e9VSvfhf8mxMhFUT8 More Photos Photos of the Normandy Landings, American Cemetery and Dieppe.
Ambrussum (Oppidum d'Ambrussum) was a Roman staging post and settlement along the Via Domitia. No new town was built in this location, so you can see it as it was. Part of Pont Ambroix, a Roman bridge, remains. You can see where the lower town or staging post was. Then you walk along Roman roads, with the imprints of cart wheels in the stone, to the upper town where you see remains of buildings and the ramparts. Location: France - Occitanie - Herault - Lunel Ambrussum is a bit hard to find. It is located on the west side of the River Vidourle, south of the Nîmes to Montpellier Autoroute. Find the D34 that runs north from Lunel in the direction of Sommieres. Before you get to the autoroute, turn right on a road that runs parallel to the autoroute. It is signed for Ambrussum. From there you can follow the signs. If coming from the Autoroute, take the Lunel exit and head towards Lunel, but you will quickly be turning left on the small road to Ambrussum. Website: Ambrussum From the parking lot you walk to a small museum. The staff is very friendly and the museum is nicely designed to show Ambrussum through the ages. Then you take the walk through the site. It takes just over an hour. The lower town, built in 30 BC along the river, was a road house (or staging post) for people traveling on the Via Domitia. You can see the remains of the buildings. The Pont Ambroix, the Roman bridge that crossed the River Vidourle, was part of the Via Domitia and probably had from 9 to 11 arches (one remains). The upper town is on the hill beside the river. A marked walking trail takes you up the remains of the roads, where you can see wheel tracks left in the rock, to the ramparts which surrounded the town. There are some remains of buildings. We enjoyed our visit to Ambrussum and recommend it if you are in this area. This bridge was on the Via Domitia, a Roman road that went from Italy to Spain. Google Map View: https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d2883.5920242175534!2d4.145810715317362!3d43.719026856189835!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x12b69e0028b440d5%3A0xa1a4bbbcf2033d1e!2sAmbrussum!5e0!3m2!1sen!2suk!4v1615493450698!5m2!1sen!2suk More Photos Photos from our visit in March 2013.
Saint-Roman Abbey (Abbaye de Saint-Roman) is an ancient troglodyte monastery dug out of rock by hermits and monks. Excavations to create the abbey started in the 5th century but many parts were built in the 12th century. Parts of the abbey were created using a natural grotto which has been used by hermits before the monks arrived. Location: France - Occitanie - Gard - Beaucaire Access by car either from D999 or D2 west of Beaucaire. Well signed. From the parking lot it is a 15 minute walk uphill (gentle on a good pathway). Paid entry. Closed Monday, except in July and August. Only open on Sundays in winter. Check the website for details. Note that they usually close for an hour at lunch. Website: Saint-Roman Abbey The structure is similar to Cappadocia (Cappadoce) in what is now the Central Anatolia region of Turkey. Since the 19th century this abbey has been exposed to the weather, so is not as beautiful and "finished" looking as it was originally. Some traces of wall paintings remain. Saint-Roman was a monastery until 1538 when a castle was built on top. The abbey was turned into a storage area. The castle was destroyed in 1850. Saint-Roman is one of the oldest monasteries in France. One of the cells has a Latin text carved above the door, which translates as "Vitalis lived in this modest cell". From the top of the abbey, the hill top, there is a view of the River Rhone and nearby towns. Here there are many tombs carved into the rock. The monks of Saint-Roman buried their dead in spaces carved out of the rock, either outside on the terrace (the top of the abbey), or inside in the floor or walls. Tombs and the view south towards Tarascon and Beaucaire. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/miDPSvoQ52nzpLGRA More Photos Photos from our visit in May 2013.
The Barbegal Aqueduct and Mill (Aqueduc de Barbegal) are the remains of a Roman mill and part of the aqueduct that ran from the Alpilles to Arles. In Roman times 16 water wheels powered the mill. This is not a well marked and popular tourist attraction, but is well worth a visit if you are in the area. Many parts of the aqueduct are well preserved and you can clearly see where the mill sat on a steep hillside, powered by the water from the aqueduct. Location: France - Provence - Bouches-du-Rhone - Fontvieille These remains are on a small road between Fontvieille and Arles. Take the D33 south from Fontvieille. Turn left at the intersection of D82. The road sign says "Aqueduc Romain". Website: Wikipedia - Barbegal Aqueduct and Mill Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/WAxdNJTGdMeG9qdY6 More Photos
The Arles Amphitheater (Les Arènes d'Arles) was built in 90 AD. It is 136 meters (446 ft) long and 109 meters (358 ft) wide and seats up to 30,000 people. Originally three tiers of arches, only two remain, each with 60 arches. It is still in use today for bullfights and other events. The city of Arles sits on the Provence side of the River Rhone. It was a large center during the Roman Empire and there are several Roman sites to visit. Location: France - Provence - Bouches-du-Rhone - Arles Website: Arles Tourism The Arles Amphitheater is open for visits. It is located in the historic center of Arles, surrounded by medieval lanes. In the middle ages a small town was built inside the Amphitheater. This was removed in the 19th century to restore the Amphitheater to its former glory. Arles Amphitheater. Other Roman Sites in Arles Roman Theater (Théâtre Antique) - Across from the Amphitheater. The remains of a semi-circle theater facing a stage. Two full columns remain. You can tour the site, but you can also see enough of it from the street. Place du Forum - This was the Roman Forum, but only two columns remain (in the outside wall of a hotel). The cafe made famous in a painting by Vincent Van Gogh is in this square. Cryptoporticus (Cryptoportiques) - An underground area built in Roman times perhaps for storage. Enter in the Mairie (City Hall) in the Place de la Republique. Interesting but not essential to see. Baths of Constantin (Thermes de Constantin) - Remains of Roman baths. These were once part of a large villa on the edge of the river. Not much to see now. Alyscamps - Burial ground created by the Greeks and Romans. It was used by Christians from the 4th century onwards. At one time it was very large, but much was destroyed. A lovely long road, lined by (empty) stone tombs remains. People used to float their dead down the River Rhone for collection at Arles and burial here. Vincent Van Gogh painted this scene. Arles Archeological Museum (Musée Départemental Arles Antique) - Modern building with a beautiful display of Roman statues, stone carvings, glasswork and mosaics. This is a very good museum. It is just outside the historic center. Other Sites in Arles Saint Trophime Church and Cloister - Detailed carvings of a "Last Judgement" scene on the front of this Romanesque cathedral from the 12th to 14th centuries. Separate entrance to the Cloister. There are also a few good small museums. The artist Vincent Van Gogh lived here and painted several local places. Arles has a good Saturday market. Place du Forum. Cafe painted by Vincent Van Gogh in his painting "Cafe Terrace at Night". Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/KpXv4ic47cFY3UtXA More Photos Photos from our visit in March 2013. We spent a few nights in Arles followed by a week in Nimes.
Ganagobie Abbey (Abbaye Notre-Dame de Ganagobie) is Benedictine monastery sitting on a hill above the Durance valley. This hilltop has been occupied since prehistoric times (Bronze Age, 2000BC). You can visit the small Romanesque church, built in the 12th century but the rest of the Abbey is private. The entrance to the church has detailed religious carvings. Inside the church is a two-color mosaic floor from 1124. There are good views from here and walking trails. The setting of Ganagobie Abbey is spectacular with views over Haute-Provence and the Durance valley. The woods and fields surrounding the abbey are lovely. The church is small but very beautiful. The mosaics are outstanding. If you are in the area I recommend a visit to this special place, but make sure you visit in the afternoon. I read somewhere that it was open in the morning, so we went then and we could not get into the church to see the mosaics. We did get to listen to the chanting. We were staying nearby so we returned another day to see the mosaics. Location: France - Provence - Alpes-de-Haute-Provence - Ganagobie Get to the abbey from the D4096 (signed). It is a 10 minute drive up a steep and narrow, but paved, road to the top of the hill. There is a large parking lot. It is a 15 minute walk (easy) to the abbey. Website: Ganagobie Abbey Hours: Visiting hours for the church: 3pm - 5pm, closed Monday. Chanting: This is an active religious order. The Benedictine monks do regular chants throughout the day and visitors are welcome to stay and listen even if it is not during the church visiting hours. However, you can only look at the mosaics during visiting hours. Chants: 5am (Vigites), 7am (Laudes), 9am (10am Sunday) (Messe), 12pm (Sexte), 1:30pm (None), 5:30pm (Vepres), 8pm (Complies). Close to the parking lot, there is a very good shop where they sell books and herbal potions made at the abbey. There are nice walking trails up here, but avoid the trail to the town of Ganagobie because it turns into a hot and dusty forest road (we gave up half way there). The nicer walks were in the woods at the top of the hill. We walked to Ville Vieille, the remains of an old village. We visited Ganagobie when we spent a week in Haute Provence. You can easily get here from the Luberon for a day trip. Ganagobie Abbey. Beautiful two-color mosaic floor from 1124. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/oVFDwck72yvnGmED8 More Photos
The La Lèque Standing Stone (Menhir de La Lèque) is the tallest prehistoric standing stone in the Gard, standing over 18 feet tall (5.6 meters). The stone has been shaped and polished. It is near the village of La Lèque and is difficult to find but is well worth the effort. This is the best standing stone in the area around Uzes. Location: France - Occitanie - Gard - Lussan Signs may say Pierre Plantée. This translates to "standing stone". There are three ways to get to La Lèque Standing Stone: Drive. From Lussan, take D979 north to La Leque. Keep on D979 and turn right on D787, signed Malataverne and Verfeuil. You come to a hamlet called Beth. Turn left (north) on a lane with a small sign saying "Menhir". The road is called Chemin de Menhir. The road goes up past houses, then turns to a dirt track. It is a 12 minute drive (2km) on this rough dirt track. It is drivable, but just barely. Go slow. Keep on the main track and just when you are about to give up, there it is on your left (very visible). Walk (difficult). Drive to Les Concluses de Lussan and park (follow signs from Lussan). This is a popular walking trail. Walk down to Les Concluses, a river bed with interesting rocks, cross the river and follow the trail up the other side of the valley. This trail is steep and narrow, with sharp drop offs in some spots. It was too scary for us so we turned back, but if you keep going you get to the top of the valley and then follow the trail to the standing stone. Walk (easy). There are several marked hiking trails. You can walk from Beth or from a trail off D979. If you are in the area and like standing stones (and who doesn't?), spend the time to find this one. We found it on our second trip to Uzes. Before our first trip I found something about it on the internet, but I was not sure where it was. When we asked in Lussan, we were given vague directions and could not find it. On the next trip I was armed with hiking maps and we planned to hike to it from Les Concluses de Lussan, but the trail from the Concluses up the valley was too steep and we turned back (I am afraid of heights). Instead we took the car and the hiking map and attempted to drive to it - and succeeded - but only after going down a very rough road and through a large hunting party. We almost turned around before we got to it because the road was so rough. In hindsight, we should have parked where the road turned rough and walked. It was only a 2km walk and we were driving at a walking pace. Pauline at the La Lèque Standing Stone. Other Standing Stones Nearby (that are not worth visiting) There are two other standing stones around Uzes which are not worth the effort of finding: - La Pierre Bamboche near Collias on D112 from Collias to Sanilhac. It is 6.5 feet tall (2 meters) and cemented back together after it broke in the past. - Sanilhac Standing Stone. I saw this stone noted on the Uzes hiking map. We parked in Sanilhac and walked south to meet the GR6 - GR63 hiking trail that goes along the northern edge of the Gardon River. It was a long and boring walk through woods, with no view of the river, to the standing stone. And it was just a short square stone by the side of the trail. Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/rZP9Tf2BkLhKTS6f8 More Photos
The Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman bridge, is part of the Nîmes Roman Aqueduct that carried water from Uzès to Nîmes. The bridge, which crosses the River Gardon, is essentially three bridges built one on top of the other to reach the required height. The lower bridge has six arches, the next has 11 and the top has 36 small arches (originally there were more on the top). The channel of water ran on the top of the bridge. Edwin Mullins in "Roman Provence" says "The Pont du Gard has been widely recognized as the largest and the greatest of all Roman bridges". It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Location: France - Occitanie - Gard - Vers-Pont-du-Gard This is a popular tourist attraction and can get busy in the summer. The main visitor center and parking lot is on the east side of the river, but there is parking on the west side also. You can walk across the Pont du Gard. Website: Pont du Gard My favorite approach to the Pont du Gard is to park in Vers-Pont-du-Gard and take the hiking trail from there, along the remains of the aqueduct (Pont de la Lone), to the Pont du Gard. We first saw the Pont du Gard from the air as our flight was coming into Marseilles airport. It was easy to spot even from that distance. We visited the Pont du Gard on two trips and I would happily visit again. This site is magnificent. There are hiking trails that start at the Pont du Gard and go south along the river and up into the woods. There are also hiking trails to the north. Distances from Pont du Gard walking north: Uzes 18.3km, Collias 6.7km, Castillon du Gard 4.2km. For a short, interesting hike, walk north towards Vers-Pont-du-Gard to see the Pont de la Lone. Pont du Gard. Finding the Remains of the Nimes Roman Aqueduct The Nîmes Roman Aqueduct was 35 miles long (50km) with 17 bridges and three tunnels. 90% of the aqueduct ran underground. The elevation at the start in Uzes was 56 feet (17 meters) higher than at the end in Nimes, but that was enough to cause the water to flow. There are several spots between Uzès and Nîmes where you can find remains of the aqueduct. This is a list of some of them from north, where the aqueduct starts in Uzes, to south, where it ends in Nimes. See the Photo Gallery for photos of these parts of the aqueduct. Fontaine d'Eure - The aqueduct started in Uzès in a park along the river on the eastern edge of town (short walk from town center), near the source of the River Eure. There are several remains of the aqueduct in this area, including the source (signed), the regulation basin near the source (signed) and remains of the stonework further on down the river (follow a marked trail). Pont de Bornegre - Remains of a triple arched bridge and the tunnel that carried the water. Park at the hamlet of Bordnegre (different spelling from bridge - north off the D981 road to Uzes) and walk on a path towards Uzes. In a few minutes you come to a river and see the remains of the bridge and tunnels. Pont de la Lone - Long stretch of arches that carried the aqueduct on top. Park on a rough lane off the D227 road to Vers-Pont-du-Gard (signed Chemin Font Menestiere), just past the main road to Uzes. Follow the trail markers to Fontaine de Misserand. The aqueduct remains are a bit further on. Pont Roupt - A long bridge with 37 surviving arches that carried the aqueduct. It is 1km from the Pont du Gard. Follow the walking trail on the northern end of the bridge signed to Pont Roupt. Pont du Gard - Long bridge. The best preserved and most interesting remaining part of the aqueduct. It is 160 feet high (48.8 meters) and 902 feet long (275 meters) on the upper level. South of the Pont du Gard are the remains of another small bridge for the aqueduct. St Bonnet - The church in this town has stones taken from the aqueduct. The vaults in the church imitate the design of the Pont du Gard. Sernhac - Remains of two tunnels that carried the water (each 60m long). Find them on a lane north of Sernhac, just before the A9 autoroute. Castellum Aquae in Nimes - The end of the aqueduct, where the water was distributed to the city. Pont de la Lone. A long stretch of arches carried the aqueduct above ground. Google Map View: https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d2872.570108647225!2d4.532771315324381!3d43.94756984136387!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x12b5c8c248e704d5%3A0x26b17319f386eae2!2sPont%20du%20Gard!5e0!3m2!1sen!2suk!4v1615464684895!5m2!1sen!2suk More Photos
The Nîmes Amphitheater also called the Arena of Nîmes (Arènes de Nîmes) was built in the first century AD. The Nîmes Amphitheater, along with the Arles Amphitheater and the Rome Coliseum, are the best preserved buildings of Ancient Rome. The Nimes Amphitheater is 133m long, 101m wide and 21m high with two walls of 60 arches. There were 24 rows of seats with a capacity of 23,000. In medieval times a village was built inside the remains of the amphitheater. In the 19th century the buildings were destroyed and the amphitheater rebuilt to become a bullring. Nîmes was the Roman city Nemausus on the Via Domitia. Location: France - Occitanie - Gard - Nîmes Note that this area was previously in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The regions were renamed in 2014. Website: Nîmes Roman Amphitheater You can visit the Nîmes Amphitheater. It is used for bullfights and other events. If you arrive by train, the Amphitheater is a few blocks walk. It sits on the edge of the medieval center. An Archeological Museum is across from the Amphitheater. Other Roman Sites in Nimes The main Roman sites in Nîmes: Maison Carrée - 5 AD Roman temple, one of the best preserved in the world. Unfortunately the only thing you can visit inside is their tourist room where they show a movie about the history of Nîmes. Best seen from the outside. Castellum - The distribution basin for the Roman aqueduct that ran from Uzes to Nimes, crossing the Pont du Gard. This was the end of the aqueduct, where water was distributed to the city. Jardins de la Fontaine - 18th century gardens built on the remains of the Roman city. La Tour Magne - Remains of a 112 meter tower in the Roman city walls, in the Jardins de la Fontaine. You can climb to the top for views of the city. In the town center, two Roman gates remain from the city walls (Gate of Augustus and Gate of France). Temple of Diane - Remains of a Roman temple in the Jardins de la Fontaine. Museum of Beaux Arts Other Sites in Nîmes Carré d'art - Modern art museum across from the Maison Carrée. The Pentecost Feria is one of the largest festivals in Europe and features bull fighting in the Amphitheater. Google Map View: https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d2878.0093547675115!2d4.357425915503665!3d43.83490397911547!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x12b42d099c473107%3A0x27a2fad19108940f!2sAmphitheatre%20of%20N%C3%AEmes!5e0!3m2!1sen!2suk!4v1615462698188!5m2!1sen!2suk More Photos Photos from our trip in March 2013. We spent a week in an apartment in Nimes.

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