Exploring the Gard Region of Southern France

My family comes from the Gard region of Languedoc Roussillon, a stunningly beautiful, but comparatively little known area of Southern France. While many visitors to France head over to the more famous Provence and Cote D’Azur regions (just bordering Languedoc Roussillon), they miss out on a stunning area of France filled with medieval villages, vineyards, dramatic mountains, rivers, ravines, castles, and gorgeous coastline.

I could write for hours on all of the things to do or see in the region, but for now I will focus specifically on the Gard, the eastern-most province of Languedoc Roussillon. The Gard is characterized by a landscape of rolling hills and rivers that build into the grand Massif-Central Cevennes mountain range. The area is predominantly agricultural, meaning that between the quaint villages, your drives around the Gard will be filled with gorgeous panoramas of vineyards, sunflower fields, and iconic tree lined avenues. 

The agricultural nature of the Gard also means that the area still preserves many strong food and food-making traditions. You can turn down nearly any gravel road and find yourself at an independent winery or a farm selling house-made goat cheese, pâté, honey, and more.

 To the south, the Gard does offer a small spit of coastline, but frankly, it is not as nice as many of the beaches that can be found to the east and the west. If you want to go for a swim in the Gard area, do as the locals do and head to a river. Mountain rivers score the landscape, often cutting through deep ravines and spanned by gorgeous Medieval bridges and aqueducts. Grab your swim gear and water shoes and you are sure to find a well-beaten foot path leading down to the water’s edge.

To the north, the Gard is hedged with dramatic mountain ranges, sweeping panoramas, and enough lovely mountain villages to get lost in for months at a time. There is so much to see and explore in the Cevennes mountains that you may just find yourself packing a picnic and driving up the first mountain road you find. Regardless of which one you take, you are bound to find yourself somewhere beautiful.  

The pace of life is slow in the Gard, and can best be enjoyed by allowing yourself the time to relax, enjoy long, leisurely meals, and take sunset walks. There is certainly enough to do in the Gard that you could pack your visit full of activities, but to get the most out of the local culture, I would recommend purposefully slowing down – even if that means doing less.

That being said however, let’s get to the list of things you won’t want to miss in the Gard. 

VÉZÉNOBRES

Vézénobres is a gorgeous Medieval town built on a steep hill, overlooking the surrounding countryside. The city is most famous for their figs, and for playing the iconic French lawn game “boule” with square balls or “boules carrees”. Depending on when you visit, there may not be much to do here besides look around and have a coffee or ice cream in a café – even then it is definitely worth the visit. The cobblestone, narrow streets, and lovingly restored facades make Vézénobres one of those rustic villages that typifies everything you imagine from “Southern France”. Check up on Vézénobres’ website here to see if any festivals are taking place during your visit.  

ANDUZE

Anduze is famous for its pottery, which can be purchased all over the world. The Medieval town of Anduze sits alongside a river in the “gateway to the Cevennes”, and is a good starting place for a trip into the mountains. There are a lot of shops and cafes in Anduze, frequent festivals during the summer, and a market on Thursday mornings. This market is not as large or well known (and therefore less crowded) as some of the others, but it's a nice one to visit. In the center of the town you can find a large, café-lined square with a fountain and cobblestone streets.

There is plenty of free public parking available – just make a left turn as soon as you cross the river into the town, and you will find yourself in a public lot. From there it is a short walk into the old part of the town and the market. Take a look at their website here for events.

Just past the main city is the Musee de Desert, or “Huguenot Museum”, which is dedicated to the history of the French Protestants and resistance fighters. In that area you can also go to a large botanical garden called the “Bambouseraie”, collecting types of bamboo from around the world, and visit an impressive grotto, or go swimming in the river. 

UZES

Uzes has the king of all French markets in the Gard! Get there early on Saturday morning for the best market experience and to beat some of the crowds. The market lines all of the streets of the main old town center. You can easily spend an entire day wandering the streets, poking around cute little shops, buying souvenirs, and sampling local specialties from market stands. The market at Uzes is incredibly picturesque, so make sure you bring your camera! We, in particular, really enjoy buying goat cheese, saucisson (a French salami), fougasse (a special bacon flavored pastry local to the region), truffles, and olive tapenade. You can find gorgeous produce, meat, and fish at the market as well, so if you are keen to cook, it’s not a bad idea to go with a shopping list for a special meal.

Aside from the market, Uzes has a lot to offer. There is a medieval castle that you can tour, as well as lots of cool shops and cafes. 

As for parking at Uzes, when you get to the large round-about near the center of the town, take the first exit off the round-about and drive down the street. From there you can turn into the pay-parking lot on the left side of the road. Parking is pretty cheap - we paid 2 Euros for 3 hours. On Saturday mornings the roads around Uzes can get quite congested and parking hard to come by – yet another reason to get there earlier (around 9:00 am is typically fine; things are hopping by 9:30/10:00 am).

Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is located just past Uzes, at a UNESCO world heritage site boasting an impressive three-tiered Roman aqueduct that was constructed entirely without mortar. It's a pretty steep charge to visit (you have to pay 18 euro per car) but it's a pretty incredible sight. You can make the most of your visit by bringing a picnic and going swimming in the beautiful mountain river that runs under the bridge.

THE MONT BOUQUET

The Mont Bouquet is a great place to get an amazing 360 view of the Gard. You can drive all the way to the top of the mountain, so it is a nice, easy destination for families with young children, or people who otherwise would like to avoid hiking. There are picnic tables at the top of the mountain, and if you are lucky enough to be there at a time when people are hang gliding, you can watch them jump off the top of the mountain.

Close to the base of the mountain there is a trout farm that makes for another fun outing with young children. The farm provides everything you need to catch the trout yourself (warning: this takes about 5 seconds – these are some eager trout), then will clean the fish for you. Growing up, the Mont Bouquet + trout farm was one of my favorite outings. Especially because it meant we would be eating fresh trout for dinner!

 There is also an incredibly pretty town near the Mont Bouquet called Rochegude, Languedoc-Roussillon. If you are driving by Mont Bouquet, it is worth a stop at this village – it is arguably one of the prettiest towns in the area.  

Nimes

Nimes is the largest city in the Gard, and offers a number of impressive Roman architecture and good restaurants. There is a coliseum in the center of the city that is one of the best preserved Roman arenas to date. Personally, I believe it rivals the coliseum in Rome – not least because the one in Nimes is still used for events ranging from concerts to bull fights. There is also a very pretty Roman bath, temple, and watch tower in a park called the Jardins de la Fontaine. It is free to visit, and if you are there on a weekend you may just spot some wedding parties taking place. There are many excellent restaurants in Nimes, including some Michelin starred ones. It is a great destination if you want to splurge for a fancy French meal.