Photos by Chantal Lang - Text by Alice White Walker
Thousands of years of history, a burgeoning gastronomic scene, quaint villages and a rugged, untouched landscape, the Gard has all the charm of Provence with half the tourists. Get to know this underrated southern gem, in our latest Discovering France guide.
Historic yet modern, imposing yet welcoming, the Gard’s contradictions give it a distinct flavor that sets it apart from the rest of France. Some of the world’s best-preserved Roman monuments are found here, but there’s much more to explore besides…
For a deep understanding of the Gard’s origins, make the former Roman colony Nîmes your first port of call. Time travel 2,000 years in the past at the Arènes de Nîmes — a pillar of the town’s landscape with a vibrant cultural agenda. Meander through the thin streets sampling the regional baked delights or flavorsome charcuterie, then spend the afternoon exploring the Quartier de la Fontaine before alfresco dining at one of the bustling eateries at Place de la Maison Carrée and its view on a Roman temple in perfect condition. With its cobbled streets, tree-lined squares, bubbling fountains and animated markets, Uzès oozes charisma. The first Duchy of France, the town takes great pride in its heritage and goes out of its way to welcome visitors. Few leave untouched by its spell.
Then there’s the iconic Pont du Gard that crosses the Gardon River — a French landmark in its own right, the great aqueduct has become an emblem for the area.
Creamed chestnuts, Camargue rice, or brandade de morue (cod brandade), les Gardois are proud of their local ingredients and dishes and the full-bodied red wines that go with them. Roughly a third of the country’s wine is produced in the larger Languedoc-Roussillon region, and wine bars put homegrown grapes front and center.
Very much like your favorite “secret” restaurant, visiting the Gard leaves you entertained, well-fed and a bit ambivalent: should you keep it to yourself or share its magic?
Things To Do
Boulevard des Arènes, 30000
The town’s star attraction is undoubtedly its Roman amphitheater. Built a short time after Rome’s Coliseum, it is one of the best-conserved examples in the world. Since 1999, the amphitheater has hosted the annual Festival de Nîmes, which has welcomed musical stars as diverse as Elton John, Norah Jones, Indochine and Marilyn Manson. A recent addition to the Arènes’ calendar is The Great Roman Games: the largest historical re-enactment of ancient European history.
16 boulevard des Arènes, 30900
In stark contrast to the Arènes, with its pixel-style, contemporary façade, this museum is dedicated to 25 centuries of Nîmes’ history. From the Middle Ages through Roman times to modern-day, Musée de la Romanite is an interactive way to understand everything that the town has undergone and retained from its illustrious past.
26 quai de la Fontaine, 30000
This public park is both a “Jardin remarquable” and a protected monument due to its wealth of beautiful stone structures like the Temple of Diana and Magna Tower. Stroll around the fountains, statues and palm trees before climbing the double staircase to tour the garden and its pretty seating areas above.
Place de la Maison Carrée, 30000
Inspired by the temples of Apollo and Mars Ultor in Rome, the Maison Carrée is the world’s only ancient temple to be completely preserved — largely due to its constant use since the 11th century. Maison Carrée has been used as stables, housing, and headquarters for the Gard prefecture. Today, you can step inside and uncover its role within the town.
Where To Stay
15 rue Gaston Boissier, 30900
Fifty-three rooms and eight private suites offer a 5-star escape a stone’s throw from the Maison Carrée. L’Imperator has everything you could need to unwind, from outdoor terraces to a spa to an excellent eatery headed by chef Pierre Gagnaire. “Casually luxurious” is their motto, and they fulfill it in every way.
21 rue Nationale, 30000
A 4-star Best Western that encapsulates French Roman style. This hotel has a unique architecture, complete with dramatic arches and stone staircases. Its convenient location near the old town and the main train station ensures you’ll be well-placed to move about during your visit.
8 allée du Mas d’Escattes, 30000
Situated just 15 minutes outside of the city center, Le Mas d’Escattes is a true haven of tranquility. The building, a former wine domain, has been converted into two thoughtfully decorated guest houses. Its shaded outdoor space and pool are welcome during the hot summer months.
Where To Eat
2 bis rue de la République, 30000
Located on the second floor of the Musée de la Romanité, La Table du 2 has a full view on the Arènes de Nîmes. Franck Putelat, a two Michelin star chef, has designed an adventurous weekly set menu, as well as signature dishes — both at accessible prices. Each year he invites another starred chef to season the restaurant’s rich menu. Contemporary fine dining with a view on 2,000 years of history.
2 rue Gaston Boissier, 30000
In 1989, Thierry Tartamella purchased a 19th-century townhouse situated opposite the Carré Art museum, and Le Carré d’Art was born. A chic interior, leafy outdoor space and southern French flavors, created with market goods, are the key to its ongoing success.
7 rue des Marchands, 30000
Tucked away in one of the town’s smaller streets, La Maisonée is the ideal place to enjoy a plate of tapas, made with fresh produce and cheerful service. Booking is essential to bag a space in the cute courtyard.
13 rue de la Madeleine, 30000
In 1775, Claude Villaret bought this little boulangerie on the corner of Rue de la Madeleine. At a time when the country was shifting the currency from piastres to centimes — of which the population was wary — his son Jules would give change in the form of the bakery’s trademark croquant biscuits. A box of these lemon and orange flower treats can be bought from Villaret to this day.
Things To Do
400 route du Pont du Gard, 30210
Built to carry water from the Gardon River over 31 miles to the Roman colony in Nîmes, the Pont du Gard is one of the globe’s tallest aqueducts. Tour the UNESCO site — bring sturdy shoes! — before learning more in the nearby museum. Pack your swimwear for a refreshing post-visit dip.
Place du Duché, 30700
Uzès was built around this impressive ducal palace, which has been in the Crussol d’Uzès family for over one thousand years. The Duché’s varying architectural periods highlight its old age: Roman columns, still standing from a former temple, a Gothic chapel, a Renaissance façade, and much more. Brave the walk up the 11th-century Bermonde tower and enjoy breathtaking views across the city.
Hôtel de Ville, rue Port Royal, 30700
This medieval-inspired garden, created in 1995, showcases 450 varieties of plants and illustrates their multiple uses in the Middle Ages. Gardeners maintain the space in respect of nature and to increase biodiversity. For the green-thumbed, plant labels are translated and guided tours are available for a deeper understanding of the garden.
With its beautiful stone arches and bubbling fountain, Place aux Herbes hosts weekly markets, open-air concerts, brocantes and more. It is also a large terrace for the restaurants that live under its arches. Nowhere better to see the beating heart of Uzès!
Where To Stay
Rue du Château, 30700 Arpaillargues
Four kilometers west of Uzès, the Château d’Arpaillargues is a stunning 18th-century residence that has been transformed into the Hôtel d’Agoult. The muse of Franz List and second with of Richard Wagner, Marie de Flavigny, Countess of Agoult once called this home. As elegant as it is exclusive, you’ll need to contact the hotel directly by email to organize a stay.
Where To Eat
9 place aux Herbes, 30700
There’s a more-the-merrier spirit at this convivial eatery, set under the arches alongside Place aux Herbes. A southern menu that suits its setting, enjoy tapas-style sharing plates, along with a glass of carefully selected wines. And as you’d expect, here, you feel like one of la famille!
7 boulevard Charles Gide, 30700
Young and talented chef Benjamin Delille has created a vegetable-centric menu made from local and seasonal products. Le Comptoir du 7 is a great spot for families — the dishes are as creative and eye-catching for adults as they are for children.
10 place Dampmartin, 30700
A guidebook favorite, Ten serves up French staples like faux filet, cuisse de canard and crème brûlée in a relaxed atmosphere. Pescatarians won’t be wanting for options either: scallops, oysters and grilled gambas are amongst the fresh catch. If you need further convincing, Ten was featured as one of critic Rick Stein’s choice eateries in his Secret France series.
10 rue Jacques d’Uzès, 30700
Daily baguette or a cream-filled éclair, La Fougasse makes baked goods using honest ingredients and traditional recipes. Tip: many cafés in France allow you to bring in treats brought from a boulangerie!
BEST OF THE REST
Around 50 minutes by car from Nîmes, Aigues Mortes was the first Mediterranean port in France. Today, people visit for its bright pink salt plains. The algae found here synthesizes with beta-carotene (the orange/red pigment in fruits and vegetables) to protect itself from the sun, which gives the salins their rosy hue. This is also why algae-eating flamingos are this color! Don’t miss a visit to the old town and its equally colorful doors and shutters.
This charming medieval town is a jewel in the Gard’s crown. First in the region to be titled “Petites Cités de Caractère” (“Small Cities of Character”), the town has gone to great lengths to restore the city in complete respect of its history. Make sure the Pont Tibère (thought to have been built by Tiberius in the 1st century AD) and the Château de Villeveille, with its wonderful views over the countryside, are on your hit list.
Route de Meyrueis, 30750 Saint-Sauveur-Camprieu
In the heart of the Cévennes National Park, discover this subterranean river called Bonheur (Happiness). Its open-air source plunges underground when it reaches a limestone plateau and reappears 800 meters downstream. A guided tour takes you on a circuit just over half a mile through the birthplace of French potholing. A must-visit site for adventure seekers.
552 rue de Montsauve, 30140 Générargues
Considered one of France’s most beautiful botanical gardens, La Bambouseraie is renowned for nurturing over 1,000 varieties of bamboos, rare flowers, trees and plants. The Alley of Sequoias, Dragon Valley and, of course, the Bamboo Forest are highlights.
Definitely one of France’s more unexpected garden experiences!