Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A day in Uzès

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

Rick Steve's writing partner Steve Smith contacted me the other day to help them with the Provence updates for the guide book. And, having worked with them before, and liking them both, I said an enthusiastic YES! He wanted me to take a look at the pages on Avignon, Arles, the Camargue, St. Rémy de Provence, Nîmes and Uzès, as well as Shopping, Children, and Wine tasting. As I live here and I've kids and I've received Rick Steve's clients for years in the b&b, they know that I've a good idea as to what would please these folks, and yes, I've gotten to know this region called Provence (or Southern France) pretty darn well after 15 years of touring around and simply being curious and interested.

So, I set up a few days' of visits and wandering into my schedule. Uzès is a city I've recommended many times, heard good things about, but truly had never been to until spring last year when JP took me there. His cousins live right beside it, so, when the request came my way, I got on the horn and said, Astrid, would you be free to do a day of touring about the region and Uzès with me? help me find some good restaurants, see what's fun for kids, etc.,? She was willing and planned a wonderful day, excepting only b&bs and hotels. Something that locals rarely know much about. So, that will be for another day.

A creative designed planter in Astrid's airy and light kitchen.

Astrid proposed Tuesday last week. A day when Leo was at handball practice all day long, and Jonas with me. Jonas, with crayons, snacks and promises of cookies and cakes, is easy to travel with, so, off we went. She had prepared a super day. Truly, a great friend to have. We headed to the Toy Museum first where we were sadly disappointed, as the super display of kid-sized trains that went through a three dimensional map of Languedoc was no longer. The museum had been burglerized and all these glorious trains were gone. And so was the chance for children to view their region from above. Apparently it had been marvelous, taking the kids from the Pont du Gard, through the cities, the Gorges, the Cévennes hills, to the sea, the salt marshes, Aigues Mortes, the fountain garden in Nîmes... Ah well.

We skipped the Musée de Bonbon -- an effort by Haribo (think gummy bears) to tempt kids into their world (it works). Jonas had already been there with his brother for an earlier birthday with their dad, but it's good to know it is there, right on the road from Remoulins as you enter Uzès.

We visited the Hara center -- a research and traditional stables that has as its aim to maintain the bloodlines of as many of the horses of the world as possible. There is even the room where stallions are tricked into giving up their sperm. Many events happen throughout the year here, and for horse lovers, it is a must-see.

And back to the little city itself of Uzès. There are little to no major monuments to see here. That's not why you come to Uzès, but it is truly a lovely town, beautifully renovated, with boutiques, restaurants, good wine bars, marvelous markets on Wednesday and Saturday (the same days as Arles, hence a reason I'd never been here). Had I felt a bit more flush, my credit cards could have gotten a nice workout in the boutiques.... yes, nice flowing, pretty, feminine clothes, just my style. Of course an elegant lingerie boutique, a super toy store, and even a bistro burger -- good charolais beef burgers (for 10E) or vegetarian options. Not bad at all, though for the record, they weren't making the smoothies advertised on their menu, and the fryer was broken, so no French fries, nor fried cheddar sticks for Jonas. Ah well, the waiters were super nice.

The square has a lovely fountain in the center, where kids of all ages congregate, and stray dogs and cats come by to affectionately beg a bit of their lunches. As you walk about the town -- it is quite small -- there are walls to look over, and a wonderful ancient terrace that is in the happy hands of a stylish Italian pizzeria. There are arcades, lovely vaulted ceilings, attractive stone work, and pleasant, often bi-lingual shop-keepers. It's a city for sitting in cafes, shopping, feeling medievally French, finding lovely plays of light to photograph, admiring stonework. Just come with an open mind and feeling relaxed. A good book in hand would be perfect, or the desire to taste local wines at a funky wine bar. Perhaps the Bar à Vins Du Chai d'Uzès owned by Thierry Ploy.

After lunch, we headed back out to the countryside along some lovely tree covered roads, under aqueducts, and to a spot where we could join a GR (Grande Randonée -- the nationally identified hiking routes) out to the cliffs overlooking the Gardon River. Jonas had a bit of difficulty on the walk -- 1km5 or thereabouts, but not steep. He managed to get out there, but was very happy that I was willing (thank you yoga) to carry him on my back on part of the route back to the car.

Once there, we looked down to the lovely river, and I looked longingly at the hiking paths leading either in the direction of Collias -- a tiny village where many kayaking companies have set up their businesses -- or to Uzès. Astrid had done the path to Collias with her husband on bicycle. They took their time, stopping to explore wind mills, Roman ruins, and more along the way. For me, the Gardon river is the best place to swim in the South. I love the sea, but if you can't shower off when you get out, you go home covered in the dried white salt on your skin. Whereas the Gardon is fresh and clear. Chilly yes, it is a flowing river, but so refreshing. Erick took me to Collias early in our marriage, and when Leo was little we would sit along its banks with a picnic. I was the only one of the three of us who would get in. But I loved it.

For many of my teen groups, we've done the kayak trip from Collias to the Pont du Gard. I adore the look in their eyes as they paddle under one of the most glorious wonders of the world! It is pretty amazing to have that aqueduct up there over your head, huge, solid, still standing after 2000 years.

So, yes, I've some good addresses in the region now. I can't wait to try out the restaurant le Tracteur in Sanilhac, between Collias and Uzès, and to go back for that hike. I also want to spend a market day there in the future... but when I've a bit more cash in my pocket to spend. I'm sure that classy as that town is, the various options, be they pottery or clothing, flea market finds, or other, will be a bit pricey and very tempting.

The classic route from the b&b in Arles is to leave in the morning and visit Aigues-Mortes (the crusaders' city of St. Louis, the 12th century king who briefly was wed to Eleanor of Aquitaine). Then to the Pont du Gard (perhaps taking a dip in the river), then to Uzès for lunch and a wander. Returning by Nîmes for a bit of Roman history (the maison carrée, the Roman fountains in the gardens, and more) perhaps dining here in one of its many restaurants alongside the locals. Then, back to Arles in the late evening. It's a full day, but quite doable. The other option is to spend a night in one of the many b&bs in the Duchy d'Uzès (yes, it was the city of a duke) and thus move more slowly through these wonderful cities. This route is as easily done from Avignon, but in this case, you'd probably skip Aigues Mortes.


Nathalie said...

I have wonderful memories of paddling down the Gardon on a hot day in June - we used to do it once a year. I wouldn't mind reviving the tradition.

Rosie said...

i'm so happy to have found your blog. it makes my heart happy. i studied for a month in avignon last may and i've been trying to figure out how to end up back there, or at least provence, or at least france in general as soon as i'm done with school. i miss avignon so much. i lived right on the rue de republique and studied not a minute's walk at the IAU. i can't wait to follow your blog and hopefully be able to pick out some of my favorite places!

Madeleine Vedel said...

I'll need to write more about Avignon itself! Shall do in a future blog. And yes, a yearly paddle on the Gardon is good for everyone concernced -- but to be timed when the rest of Europe isn't there! Late June is best I think.