It’s hard to gather together photos for a new tour. We have thousands of photos from Dordogne, or Tuscany, or Provence – I mean literally thousands – but none, yet, from Languedoc. So I enlisted the help of the French tourist board, the Offices de Tourisme from Arels, Aigues Mortes, and Nimes, the Perrier factory, Haribo (seriously) and our own photos, and we have started a gallery of photos from the Languedoc. You can see the gallery here. Click on any of these images to enlarge them – they’re worth it.
1. The Camargue.
The combination of wild and managed landscape makes the Camargue a unique landscape. As we cycle along beside the lagoons you’ll hear wildlife all around us. We’ll see semi-wild horses and cattle, as well as flamingos. There are more than 275 bird varieties native to the Camargue. It really is a mecca for wildlife.
Alongside this natural environment are the canals and the salt lagoons – 14,000 hectares of ‘em. Sea water is allowed to flow from lagoon to lagoon over a period of many months, becoming more-and-more salty until it is harvested.
There are mountains of salt here – literally. We’ll visit a salt works, and hopefully walk up a salt dune. You can imagine, the crust becomes dirty and solidified – that’s used on roads. Underneath is the table salt, and they also produce the special stuff, the Fleur du Sel (flowers of salt), hand-harvested salt crystals turned pink by the same tiny shrimps that give their colour to the famingos.
The biggest salt works are right next to Aigues Mortes, so you have a walled medieval town, with hundreds of boats moored in the canals next to it, and these in turn surrounded by huge pink lagoons and mountains of salt. Amazing.
Aigues Mortes was originally built as a port, because France had no other mediterranean port ( click here if you want to read why) , but it was only connected to the sea by canal. These canals were constantly silting up and Aigues Mortes eventually failed as a port, until the growth of its salt industry led to the intricate canal system that we can still see, and cycle along, today. The canal that links Aigues Mortes to the mediterranean comes out at Le Grau du Rau.
As well as a very pretty town, Le Grau du Rau boasts magnificent fish and sea-food markets, and some of France’s best beaches. We’ll enjoy the seafood, and we’ll have a swim at the beach too.
2. Roman Stuff
Languedoc is teeming with Roman sites, from the huge and well-known, like the arenas at Arles and Nimes, and the Pond du Gard, to the many hidden (mostly ruined) aqueducts along the route of the old Aqueduc de Nimes and the Castellum hidden away in a suburb of Nimes.
Here are two of my favourites.
First, there’s the arena in Nimes. It’s still used today for bull fighting – surprisingly popular in the Languedoc. If you ever saw the Robert de Niro film Ronin, you’ll recognise this vast arena. You can see it as you descend to land in Nimes, and it always seems amazing to me that it just sits there in the middle of a modern city! Truly amazing.
Secondly I’ve chosen the Maison de Carré, also in Nimes. This is one of the best preserved Roman temple facades anywhere in the world.
It’s been heavily repaired, but beautifully. Any Virginians looking at this might recognise their state capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, based on the Maison de Carré.
3. The Aqueduc de Nimes
I’ve blogged previously about this engineering marvel of Roman times ( click here to have a look).
It is fascinating, and awe-inspiring, but that’s for another day, here I just want to show you a couple of photos.
Here is the Fountain of Nimes. In its early days as a Roman settlement this was the only source of drinking water for Nimes. What you can see in this photo is the natural spring water bubbling up into the pool constructed around it.
Two things I love about this. Firstly, the crescent shape of the water is a natural phenomenon, caused by the shape of the underground rock formations that cause the water to surface here.
Secondly, Nimes has created a 15 hectare public park based around the Roman fountains and sculptures. This park is one of the reasons we don’t leave Nimes very early. Beautiful.
And finally, of course, the magnificent Pont du Gard. This huge Roman Aqueduc was the centrepiece of the aqueduc de Nimes project. When I first visited this site, you were still allowed to drive across it!
So although we’re yet to run our first Languedoc tour, we have some beautiful photos to share. Don’t forget, click here to have a look at the gallery, and I’ll be adding to this very soon.