In words and pictures, join me on some amazing trips around the world!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Southern France

Paris was everything I had imagined it would be. The museums, the historic sites, the food and drink and people and shopping were like stepping into a movie.

But after a week that flew by, we boarded a high-speed train in the historic Paris Lyon Train Station and headed south. If you haven't traveled by train before, I highly recommend giving it a try. We've taken a few trips by rail in Europe and Canada, and it is a great way to travel!

It was the perfect transportation alternative for this trip. Our destination was a very small, old city in southern France named Aigues-Mortes. Its medieval walls are incredibly well preserved, and the narrow streets and winding alleys are the perfect location to call home while exploring the nearby towns of Nimes and Montpellier, along with some other amazing stops in the southern French countryside.

When you arrive at Aigues-Mortes, certainly the thing that literally stands out are the gated walls and towers. Although supposedly founded around 102 B.C. by the Romans, the city was fortified by Louis IX in the 13th century when he rebuilt the port for use as part of the Crusades.

There are 1,650 metres of city walls and they are very impressive. It was designed to be impregnable, and the number of different gates and chambers and towers of varying heights with walls 6-meters thick in many places make it clear that this was a very serious place. There are numerous opportunities for tours with animated guides so excited to relay the history of their town that you can almost hear the sound of battle just on the other side of the wall.

And, of course, as in all great little towns in southern France there are wonderful places to shop and eat! While the town is small, everywhere you turn there are restaurants and cafes filled with happy customers and friendly servers willing to help you navigate through the menu and suggest their favorite food and wine.

Knowing that there was so much incredible nearby history and beauty to soak in, we rented a car one day and did a lot of driving. Not too far from Aigues-Mortes is the city of Nimes. Also with its roots in Roman history, Nimes is filled with incredible history and architecture.

There are several very well preserved Roman sites right in the city center, so it's easy to park and stroll around the place to take it all in.

One cool bit of trivia I learned when visiting Nimes - and you never know when cool trivia might come in handy - is that denim, as in the jeans we all wear, originally got their name from the sturdy cloth from the region that was used to make the pants. Over time, de Nimes has become denim!

Back on the road, just outside of town near the River Gard is the stunning Pont du Gard. This is still one of the most amazing architectural ruins I have ever seen. It is part of what was a 31-mile-long aqueduct built by the Romans during the 1st century A.D.

The three-tiered bridge stands over 160 feet high and carried approximately 44 million gallons of water a day to the people of Nimes. It's an amazing site!

We spent an amazing week wandering around southern France. It's no wonder that this has been a favorite place of so many talented people throughout history. After several trips to Amsterdam (but that's a whole other story), we have become big fans of Vincent van Gogh. We made a point of rushing to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to see the sunset over the water, perhaps from the same spot where Vincent did.

Unfortunately, the place we stayed in Aigues-Mortes is no longer in business. However, there are still several options for actually staying in the town. If you don't mind staying in a place where they almost literally roll up the streets at night, I'd definitely suggest giving this place a try.

Enjoy more photos from our amazing adventure into a corner of Southern France here.

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