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To the Provence experts: advice needed on Roman ruins trip

To the Provence experts: advice needed on Roman ruins trip

Aug 9th, 2005, 08:31 AM
  #1  
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To the Provence experts: advice needed on Roman ruins trip

Our first visit to Provence several years ago included a trip to Arles where we were awed by the Roman ruins. We're now thinking of a 10-14 day trip next June focused on the sites of many Roman ruins we missed the first time around: Nimes, the Pont du Gard, Vaison-la-Romaine.... Can you recommend a good itinerary and other can't-miss spots? We are thinking about flying in and out of Marseilles. We would like 1 or 2 good jumping-off points to avoid changing hotels too often.

Your expert advice is appreciated!!
RSSmith is offline  
Aug 9th, 2005, 09:18 AM
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For 10 to 14 days, I would rent a gite. They rent on a weekly basis - Sat to Sat. You can get a very nice one for about 700E per week. Our latest one had 3 bedrooms, 2 American bathrooms, well equipted kitchen, living room, dining room, nicely decorated, bright & sunny, & a very private large swimming pool. It was surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, and about a 10 min walk to a very cute town with lots of cafes and a weekly outdoor morning market. We've stayed in five other gites in various regions of Provence. This one I just described was one of the "higher end" Gites. Ones without a pool are about 100E less. Prices skyrocket in July & August. We've stayed in over 20 Gites, and none of them had air-conditioning, and we have never needed it. We travel in June & September, and we were there for the '02 and '03 June heat wave (hung out by the pool a lot). I don't divulge specifics about the gites we stay in - they are getting harder & harder to rent each year. We plan on returning to this one in '07. Here is the Gites de France web site:
http://www.gites-de-france.fr/eng/index.htm

Arles, Orange, and St Remy also have Roman ruins. Late June is Lavender season.

Stu Dudley
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Aug 9th, 2005, 10:14 AM
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I am saving this post to look at when we plan our trip to southern France!
Thanks for the info, Stu!
TexasAggie is offline  
Aug 9th, 2005, 10:42 AM
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You've mentioned three superb Roman sites - the theatre at Orange near Avignon is also a fine Roman relic. Though a non-Roman ruin i'd include Les Baux on your list - near Avignon, a ruined medieval hilltop citadel - sweeping views for miles around; the lower active town i think has a Michelin three star (or was) restaurant in it. And track Van Gogh at nearby Saint-Remy - the asylum he stayed in has posted reproductions on pictures he painted whilst there in the spot he painted them in. Saint-remy is a sweet old town that, with streets shaded by plane trees, is the quintessential sleepy Provencal town. Aigues-Mortes, not far from Nice, is a perfectly preserved port town, purposefully built by Louis IX (Saint Louis) because he didn't have a suitable port to compete with Pisa and Genoa merchants in the Mediterranean and, more importantly, his own seaside citadel from which to launch his Crusade. What remains now is one of the finest walled towns in Europe and one of the best-preseved medieval towns.
PalQ is offline  
Aug 9th, 2005, 12:22 PM
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Read the book The Road From the Past by Ina Caro. I believe the chapter on Provence focuses on Roman history. Very interesting.
keb0503 is offline  
Aug 9th, 2005, 09:24 PM
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For more Roman ruins, head east to the Mediterranean town of Fréjus, which has an entire Roman city to view. Among other things to see are an arena, a theater, and the remains of an aqueduct.

In Nice you will find a Roman arena in the district of Cimiez, along with baths and a hypocaust amid the ruins of a town. Nearby is a fine archaeological museum.
Underhill is offline  
Aug 9th, 2005, 10:14 PM
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I have spent several trips to the south of France visiting all the Roman sites I could find. High point is undoubtedly the Pont du Gard, built as part of the aqueduct to bring water to Nimes. When I first visited it, you could walk across the top of it: those days are long gone, and the public is now kept at some little distance from the structure. It is the highest bridge aqueduct the Romans ever built, and even then they chickened out a bit, building it about 7 metres lower than was ideal. The aqueduct at Segovia in Spain is delicate compared to this one, which is massive.
Nimes has many Roman remains but the best are the Arena (really an amphitheatre), and the Maison Carree, originally a temple.
Vaison-la-Romaine has two separate areas of Roman ruins, quite adjacent to each other, very imformatively sign-posted, and very easy to walk around.
Orange has an excellent theatre, the best preserved in existence. It also has a large triumphal arch in very good condition.
St Remy-de-Provence has a fine Mausoleum, and Triumphal Arch, and the ongoing excavations of Glanum.
If you are prepared to go somewhat north up the Rhone Valley, at Vienne there has been uncovered an entire Gallo-Roman town, streets, drains, etc. Associated with this area, there is now a first-rate museum displaying the artifacts found on the site. (The town was discovered quite recently when excavators moved in to start the construction of a new high school for Vienne: needless to say, the school is now located elsewhere.)
A couple of other points: Aigues Mortes is nowhere near Nice. It is in fact quite some distance away near Montpellier. It is a bit like Carcassone: It is attractive to observe from a distance, but when you enter it, it is over-commercialized. And, as mentioned above, it is not Roman.
Neither is Les Baux, which is an interesting enough set of medieval ruins, but France abounds with these. The restaurant in the valley is the Oustau de Baumaniere, which once was a three-star restaurant, but has been two-star for the past decade or so. I had a splendid lunch there once!
There are many other vestiges of the Romans in the Rhone Valley because it was for centuries a main thoroughfare to other colonies in northern Europe. I'd take the advice about renting a gite: anywhere in a village somewhere near Avignon would see you ideally situated. Have fun!
adeben is offline  
Aug 10th, 2005, 08:01 AM
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Thanks to all for the informative replies.

Abeden, is it your opinion that if we stayed in or around Avignon we would be able to do easy (less than 1 hr each way) day trips to Pont du Gard, Nimes and Vaison-la-Romaine? If so we might consider staying in one spot for the entire trip.
RSSmith is offline  
Aug 10th, 2005, 09:51 AM
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If you stay in Avignon, you can get to all those places in 1 hr. However, the ugly urban sprawl around Avignon is not scenic at all (except to the west - on the other side of the Rhone). If you stay in Avignon, getting to your car may take some effort.

If your interests are mainly to see the Roman Ruins, Avignon would be a good base. If you want to enjoy the beautiful Provence countryside, I would choose some other location - or perhaps split your time between Avignon & somewhere else. Maybe stay in Avignon & see Nimes, Arles, Les Antiques, Les Baux, Pont. Then stay in the Luberon near Gordes to visit Vaison, and Orange and the wonderful countryside in the Luberon, near Sault, and below Mt Ventoux and the Dentelles.

Stu Dudley

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Aug 10th, 2005, 10:07 AM
  #10  
 
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Yes Aigues-Mortes about 20 miles not from Nice but Nimes - typo or mental blunder - i remember a short drive there from Nimes, not far from Arles.
PalQ is offline  
Aug 10th, 2005, 07:00 PM
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Back again: I have never actually stayed in Avignon, so cannot comment on ease of use of car etc. The places I have stayed at are near there: L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and Pernes-Les-Fontaines. Both are pleasant places, easily navigable, and give good access to most of the places you want to see. I suspect you could base yourself at one of these places and not need to seek other accommodation while you were there. By the way, from either of those places to Vienne (just south of Lyon) is two hours on the autoroute with a peage cost of about 14 euros. I'd certainly consider that a good investment of time and money
adeben is offline  

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