Provence - Arles, Nîmes,
Pont du Gard, Avignon, Aix en Provence
Aug. 7 / Aug. 31, 2010

Michael J. Ferguson

Journal Index


1  Montréal to Marseille, Sat. Aug. 7/ Sun. Aug. 8
2  Vitrolles, Mon. Aug. 9
3  Vitrolles to Salon-de-Provence, Tues. Aug. 10
4  Salon-de-Provence to Arles, Wed. Aug. 11
5  Arles, Thurs. Aug. 12
6  Arles, Parc Naturel de Camargue, and Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Fri. Aug. 13
7  Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to Nîmes, Sat. Aug. 14
8  Nîmes, Sun. Aug. 15
9  Nîmes to the Pont du Gard, Mon. Aug. 16
10  Pont du Gard to Villeneuve Lez Avignon, Tues. Aug. 17
11  Avignon, Wed. Aug. 18
12  Villeneuve Lez Avignon to St. Rémy-de-Provence, Thurs. Aug. 19
13  St. Rémy-de-Provence, Fri. Aug. 20
14  St. Rémy-de-Provence to Camping Fontenelle, Sat. Aug. 21
15  Camping Fontenelle to Aix-en-Provence, Sun. Aug. 22
16  Aix-en-Provence, Mon. Aug. 23
17  Aix-en-Provence, Tues., Wed. Aug. 24/25
18  Aix-en-Provence to Marseille, Thurs. Aug. 26
19  Marseille, Fri./Mon. Aug. 27/30
20  Marina Plage, Vitrolles, Sun. Aug. 29
21  Marina Plage to Marseille Airport, Mon. Aug. 30
22  Marseille to Montreal, Tues. Aug. 31
23  Maps

1  Montréal to Marseille, Sat. Aug. 7/ Sun. Aug. 8

This 3 week trip to Provence, or more correctly, Les Bouches du Rhône, started out eventfully. Just after we had boarded the Air Transat airplane, we were subjected to four 15 minute delays while the mechanics tested some equipment. After the fourth one, we were told that the airplane was not safe to fly so we were sent back into the terminal. We finally left three more hours later, and arrived without mishap, some four hours late at about 5:30pm. This made the short trip to my campground, Marina Plage in Vitrolles. a little problematic, but I did arrive before sunset, and was treated? to a free spot right by the water.

2  Vitrolles, Mon. Aug. 9

Today was spent shopping, successfully, for food and camping gas. I was a little surprised that my favourite camping store, Decathlon didn't have any but the neighbourhood Carrefour did. This trip has been made easier because I was able to find a list of GPS coordinates for all the Carrefour and McDonald's in France. The latter are important because they have free WiFi.

Last night I left off my rainfly, but put it on this morning to reduce the internal visibility of the tent. I was too lazy to take it off before bedtime, and was quite happy about it. There has been no rain here since I have been watching the forecasts, but it poured for about a half-hour tonight.

3  Vitrolles to Salon-de-Provence, Tues. Aug. 10

Today the trip started in earnest. I packed my wet tent, and rode through very heavy traffic, surrounded by uninspiring industry to get to Salon-de-Provence. This only rates a single Michelin star, but it was pleasant. It's main claim to fame is that it was the longtime home of Nostradamus. However, he was only an astrologer, so it was up to others to build the monuments in the centre of town.

The Église St. Michel had some impressively visible bells, but I don't have any idea if they had impressive sound.

The Chateau de l'Emperi dominated the centre of town, but has now been reduced to stage productions rather than a centre of fortifications.

Evidently, there were some battles fought inside.

One of the most striking monuments was the Tour de Horlage.

I slowly rode north of town to my campground, that was appropriately named Nostradamus.

4  Salon-de-Provence to Arles, Wed. Aug. 11

This short ride was through much more pleasant countryside than yesterday.

There were several sections of the sycamore tree lined road , the last one was several kilometres long. The sycamore tree is known as the plane tree in Europe. It was quite pleasant riding. However, it was marred by some more unsightly industrial establishments just outside of Arles.

I arrived about mid-afternoon, at my campground, set up camp, and sent email from a neighbourhood McDonald's.

5  Arles, Thurs. Aug. 12

Arles is known for its Roman monuments, dating from when it was an important Roman garrison town.

The Roman Coliseum (Theatre) is the largest monument in town, and now sees spectacles, the most obvious are bullfights. However, unlike Spain, the bulls are not killed. Instead the matador has to pick off a ribbon from the tip of each horn to vanquish the bull.

Next door is the Arenas, which was, and currently is, used for stage productions.

Arles was the final home for Vincent Van-Gogh. Given his state, it is perhaps appropriate that the Espace Van-Gogh is an old hospital (Hotel Dieu).

Arles has, of course, its small streets. Some are quite drab and residential, but not without charm.

Arles was achieved power in the Roman times because it was allowed to be fortified. Some of the walls still exist.

It was a good day.

6  Arles, Parc Naturel de Camargue, and Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Fri. Aug. 13

The Parc Naturel de Camargue is a world heritage site and I was looking forward to visiting it. I took back roads and paths but was rather disappointed. For the most of the day, the interior of the park was like this rather uninteresting road.

The flamingos are a primary attraction in the park, and although they were mostly small dots on the horizon, I did see a few up close.

They were mostly white rather than pink so I presume the shell fish are quite limited. Another attraction are the small Camargue horses.

They have led to a rather large riding industry. I saw several lines of riders slowly walking them by the shore of the etangs (ponds).

It was an uninspiring day, but I did manage to miss most of the distressingly heavy traffic on the D570. The small roads finally led to Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

7  Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to Nîmes, Sat. Aug. 14

This was a relatively easy, and long ride, to Nîmes. I took a slight detour, waiting 20 minutes for a ferry,

to get to the Bac Sauvage. It was pleasant, flat and the only indication of savagery were the cattle and their companion cattle egrets.

The short, new, bicycle path just outside of Vouvert,

was a delight. Fifteen km north of Vouvert, I found my campground Domaine de la Bastide, just where the GPS coordinates said it would be.

The most unusual thing here were the six groups of cyclists. An even more unusual event was that three of the groups broke camp and left just before sunset.

8  Nîmes, Sun. Aug. 15

Nîmes is famous for its Roman Ruins, generously? provided by Augustus. The centre-piece is the Roman Coliseum which is now used for the civilized? version of Provençal bullfighting. It is apparently the best preserved in France, and virtually identical with the one in Arles.

The famous Tour Magna, the centre of the town defence, was just visible on the top of its hill from upper level.

Other city monuments were the tile roofs and the totally uninspiring cathedral.

The Maison Carrée used to be a stunning building, with an open square, and roof supported by columns. Unfortunately it has been ?restored? by filling in the space between the columns, making it a rather disappointing *** attraction.

The Jardins des Fontaines are at the base of the hill that has the Tour Magna. There is an active fountain just outside the gates

and several rather quiet ones inside. There are apparently some water shows with the warning that it is rather difficult to get inside at those times. There were some flowers, grass that was strictly off limits.

The Temple of Diana is a pleasant ruin inside the gardens.

The Tour Magna is up several walkways, and stairs at the top of the hill. I don't know if it was ever captured, but it doesn't appear to have had a water supply, so it would have had trouble withstanding a siege.

There is, of course, an aqueduct, but it was on the eastern end of town so I might see it when I leave tomorrow for the Pont du Gard.

9  Nîmes to the Pont du Gard, Mon. Aug. 16

I arrived in the early afternoon at my campsite Sousta, which is just south of the Pont du Gard. Although the map shows the road going north past the Pont, it is actually gated at the car park. I think it would have been possible to get through by bicycle, but I am not certain. After some difficulty, I found the entrance. One problem was that I was looking for a ticket booth, and there was none. Car parking cost money but the entrance did not.

The Pont du Gard is indeed an impressive structure. It is a little overkill for a mere Pont or Bridge, but it is, of course an aqueduct, and needed to have a precise grade, matching up with both ends.

Some idea of the scale is shown by the tiny people on the first level. You were not allowed to walk across any other level.

Not everyone there was admiring the Pont.

10  Pont du Gard to Villeneuve Lez Avignon, Tues. Aug. 17

Today was another day of mostly heavy traffic and dreary industry until I was able to move off the main road and go by the occasional vineyard. This is part of the Côtes du Rhône region, and the grapes are starting to ripen. They are still a little small, but there are a couple of months to harvest.

After some distressing hills, I found the Municipal Laune camping exactly where the GPS said, and it is indeed quite pleasant. It is apparently only about 4km north of Avignon, and hopefully not over too many hills to get there.

Villeneuve Lez Avignon has its own castle, and sure enough, when my Garmin routed me into he centre of town to get some groceries, I went straight up the hill and down again to the main square where I found a Petit Casino grocery store. There was indeed a flat road back to camp around the base of the castle, so it was quite easy.

11  Avignon, Wed. Aug. 18

I took the easy way back into Villeneuve to get to Avignon, hoping that I could continue around the ridge on the flatland to Avignon. No such luck! Straight up and down again. I finally made it across the river and locked my bike in Place de la République, right beside the old Banque de France and in front of the Avignon Opera, which was closed until September.

I then walked to the Place des Popes right by the Papal Palace.

I walked right into the Papal Palace and began my tour. When I came back again at about 11:00am, after touring the old town, the line to enter stretched at least 200 metres.

The tour included a speakerphone describing the rooms, history, and exhibits. I gave up on it after listening to the over long description of the Welcome Courtyard.

The construction technique model in the entrance hall just off the Welcome Courtyard was quite interesting, but not really surprising.

Then we went, on a rather regimented walk, from room to room.

Some rooms were not decorated in a medieval fashion.

Then you went up to the top of the Tour de Gache for a view of the surroundings,

with Villeneuve Lez Avignon across the river.

I descended, found my bicycle, and started to wander around the old town. Some extremely narrow streets led to Place des Popes

The streets had both tiles and cobblestones. Tiles are much nicer to ride in dry weather, but may be deadly during rain.

The potentially interesting buildings usually had signs.

I wandered the small streets, not following any of the officially designated walking tours until I got to the ramparts.

The popes were a little paranoid about invasion so they tended to fortify everything, from the palace to the city.

The outside of the wall looked a little more like fortifications with possibly fake gates.

A strange, partial bridge, the Pont Saint-Bénezet, complete with a chapel in the middle was considered a major attraction.

One of the maps I received today suggested that there was a parcours by the river that was long enough to get to Villeneuve Lez Avignon. I didn't find the parcours, but the road near it went on the river side of the St. André castle mountain, and was mercifully flat.

12  Villeneuve Lez Avignon to St. Rémy-de-Provence, Thurs. Aug. 19

I passed by St. André as I had the previous night, but this morning the road was very full of parked cars ... it was the weekly Thursday market ... and crowded, indeed it was. Just after that temptation, I passed two houses built into the rampart walls,

and finally a tower I had seen several times before from the other side of the river. The Tour Philippe le Bel was apparently one of the key elements in the defence of Avignon.

From there it was a pleasantly flat ride to St. Rémy-de-Provence where I arrived at the **** Mas de Nicolas campground in the early afternoon, I don't know what makes it ****, except that there was toilet paper in the washrooms. Perhaps it was also the misting of water to make lying around the pool pleasanter.

It was crystal clear when I went to bed so I decided not to put the rainfly on the tent. Sure enough, I was awakened in the middle of the night by drops, which changed into heavy rain just after I had added the fly. It rained all night.

13  St. Rémy-de-Provence, Fri. Aug. 20

It was still dribbling in the morning as I was trying to have breakfast. I hate taking the tent down in the rain, since I didn't have to, and since St. Rémy rated a Michelin *, I decided to stay another night.

The major attraction of the town were the Saracen/Roman ruins at Glanum, just to the south. On the way up to it, I discovered another feature, the celebration of Van Gogh when he lived there. Almost adjacent to the ruins was a walk through the olive trees that inspired Van Gogh's series of olive tree paintings.

After that short detour, I locked my bicycle to a tree (not olive) in the Glanum parking lot and visited the ruins. This is one of the largest archaeological sites in Provence. Outside the main part of the site, and just beside the parking lot, is the Mausoleum and Arch. To orient you, and lead you towards the main area, there is also a helpful map.

A short walk from there gets you to a IV to V century AD Roman stone quarry. Evidently they did not have to go to far to get materials.

You enter on a low plateau slightly above the main living areas.

Priests, or possibly bureaucrats, lived in two rather splendid houses by the market.

Some houses were less ostentatious.

The Curia, was a large meeting room for the bureaucrats, who did their real work in a huge office area, called the Basilica, now mostly open space, right beside it.

Right next door were the Thermal Baths in case the stress got too high.

Splitting the complex down the middle, and leading to the centre of town with temples, the forum, and a spring, was the Main Street. This represented quite impressive engineering with a covered centre for waste water, and two side channels that carried fresh water.

The columns that stand above everything else are remnants of one half of the Gemini Temple.

The Sacred Pool was supposed to have curative powers, and was dedicated to the god Glan.

Apparently some of the common folk also lived around here.

The town was originally built by the Saracens, and the Romans, as was their custom greatly expanded it. The visitor centre has a model of each of them.

After the visit it was a nice coast back into town. Michelin claims that St. Rémy is the classic Provençal town with narrow and sycamore tree lined streets, remnants of the fortifications, many small squares.

One street struck me. It had a small drainage ditch in the middle of the street.

A few years ago, a new neighbour moved in. His name is Antoine De Le Rue. I was very curious about the Le Rue rather than currently correct La Rue. He said that Le Rue is old French for a small stream and the early medieval towns all had small streams in the middle of their streets for waste water. This gave the name Rue to the new structure, but also resulted in the gender going from masculin to feminin. I can think of many pejorative reasons for the change. The Romans, in Glanum,also used the main street to get rid of waste water, but they covered it with huge stone blocks.

It was a very pleasant day, and a dry night.

14  St. Rémy-de-Provence to Camping Fontenelle, Sat. Aug. 21

I took my time and left very late spending most of the day riding through delightfully cool sycamore tree lined roads beside the huge ridges that I didn't really want to climb.

The ridges occasionally got very close, as with the remnants of a fortifications at Orgon.

As I was leaving town, I was reminded again that this whole area is only reluctantly French.

My trauma of the day very quickly came. The GPS coordinates were incorrect for the Camping Fontenelle. There were several road signs pointing to it but I couldn't find it at all. I stopped at a large house, and knocked on the door. After some time, I heard the voice of an old woman, who tried to give me instructions how to get there by sticking her hand out between the shutters of a second floor room. When it was clear I didn't understand, she finally came down and told me to continue down the lane that had led to her house, behind the house, and out to the road. Then it was left and over the bridge. There was a sign. I had finally arrived.

15  Camping Fontenelle to Aix-en-Provence, Sun. Aug. 22

This appears to be a teenager/young adult camp with the party going until about 3:30am. Other than that it was pleasant night, and I started off to Aix-en-Provence, possibly stopping halfway there at a campground that I knew of. It was not even noon when I arrived, so I opted to continue. It was to be uphill, not too steeply, on the busy D7n until I reached the Aix-en-Provence city limits.

On the way, I detoured (off the Toutes Directions route) into the centre of Lambesc. I was hoping to get something to eat, but it being Sunday, and slightly early for lunch, I failed. The centre of town had a public 12th century Lavoir, or washing shed, something I have never seen before.

and a delightful sycamore tree lined street leading from a town gate.

This is the Aix-en-Provence AOC and here, they actually planted white grapes ... the first I have seen in Europe.

Just after being routed off the heavy D7n to the smaller D14, I arrived at the Aix-en-Provence city limits. It was a shear delight for it to be downhill al the way through town to my campground, Arc-en-Ciel. I was given a delightful, tiny spot, not much bigger than my tent, surrounded by trees and virtually invisible to everyone else. Not quite camping sauvage, but close.

16  Aix-en-Provence, Mon. Aug. 23

Today I rode up the hill into the centre of Aix-en-Provence. The official centre of the old town is the Charles de Gaulle fountain and the sycamore tree lined Cours Mirabeau.

At the far end, there was a statue of a fierce looking King Renati.

From there, I wandered around the old town, passing by the Hotel Croze-Peyronetti that seemed to have lasted only 5 years as a hotel,

passing a market by the city hall,

the cathedral, and an organ man in front of the cathedral. Even I could make music the way he was doing.

I returned to the Cours Mirabeau, passing the Eglise de la Madeline which was closed for renovations, and

had a Pizza de Capri for lunch, and then slowly rode back down the hill to Arc-en-Ciel.

17  Aix-en-Provence, Tues., Wed. Aug. 24/25

I spent these two days shopping, and using my new 3-leg camp stool to sit and stare at the girls whenever I wanted.

18  Aix-en-Provence to Marseille, Thurs. Aug. 26

The major objective for today was the Aqueduc de Roquefavour. It was built in the 1870's to bring water to Marseille. Its inspiration for design was the Pont du Gard but its raison d'etre was similar to the water grab by Los Angeles from the Owens Valley. It is the highest aqueduct in the world.

The road gracefully went around the village 250m above the base of the aqueduct, and I made it back to the campground where I stayed on my first night.

19  Marseille, Fri./Mon. Aug. 27/30

On Saturday I decided to ride the 30km into Marseille. The first half was almost entirely uphill over several ridges, followed by at least 10km, entirely, and steeply downhill. In addition, there was a tailwind that was so strong that it blew me up the final part of the hill. It was clear that I did not have the energy to ride all the way back. I had to do something about it. This problem weighed heavily on me while I was wandering, along with hundreds (thousands?) of other tourists around the tourist centre of Marseille, the Vieux Port. I tried to find out about the train to Vitrolles but they said I had to go to the SNCF station.

The Vieux Port is essentially a small boat harbour with the big cruise ships, some with at least 15 decks, anchored in the Gare Maritime.

Right in the small park at the end of the port was a small commemoration to Victor Gelu, a poet, showing the conflict between Provençale and French.

There is obviously a strong liking for Roman/Greek architecture as seen in the Bourse, and the monument in front of the Faculty of Economic Sciences and Management

Most of the small streets had an appropriate medieval look.

Some others were a little more imposing.

After this, I made my to the SNCF station, that was, in fact, quite close. I took my bicycle upstairs, and got a ticket to the airport, with the assurance that the train would take my bicycle. The major complication was that this ticket was for an intermediate stop on a train going to Avignon, and there was nothing on the ticket to indicate this. I only figured out which track it was because there was only one train leaving at exactly 3:46pm.

It was a short ride, against an incredibly strong (gale force?) wind, back to the Marina Plage campground. My tent had been blown over, but was otherwise unhurt. It was behind some bamboo, right on the beach. Needless to say, the beach was empty.

20  Marina Plage, Vitrolles, Sun. Aug. 29

Although the tent was buffeted all night, it was nice and calm a little after the sun rose. Today was a lazy day, with just a short ride to get some groceries, in the small town of Rognac, just north of Marina Plage.

21  Marina Plage to Marseille Airport, Mon. Aug. 30

Today was an equally lazy day, with the breaking camp, ending my nicely uneventful stay, and a short ride to the airport to stay the night at the Etap hotel that I had booked a few days earlier. As I expected, I arrived too early to check in, so I left my trailer in their parking lot, and rode up the cliff to the Carrefour in Vitrolles, to fill in the time, and look for presents.

The wind was vicious, and partially turned me around once or twice. I even had to pedal to get downhill. I have heard of the Mistral, an especially fierce wind common to Provence, but have missed it in all of my previous trips. Perhaps I didn't this time.

The Etap has a Navette to the airport, so I took the opportunity to pack my bicycle and trailer during the afternoon, blessfully protected from the Mistral, in a totally protected corridor.

22  Marseille to Montreal, Tues. Aug. 31

The Navette took me, and my stuff, to the terminal with ease, especially as I was the only passenger. I checked in quickly, with no crowd or hassle, and had an uneventful flight back to Montréal. Kiyoko picked me up at the airport and I was home.

23  Maps

This is the link to the Google Earth Map of the trip.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 6 Sep 2010, 09:09.