Print Posted By Lost in France on 23 Nov 2007 in Travel to France - Walking and Hiking in France

Walking in diversity: The Gard

Walking in the Gard: CornillonThe Gard (30) is one of five departments that comprise the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the others being Aude, Hérault, Lozère and Pyrénées-Orientales. Its capital city is Nimes, with Alès playing the role of economic 'motor' for the Department.

In respect of rambling and walking, there is much to discovered and the Gard offers rich hiking opportunities for those who enjoy walking all year round. Mild winters and low rainfall mean that travellers are able to enjoy the multifarious hiking fruits available. There is, quite literally, something for all tastes here. 

The Cevennes hills offer moderately challenging to challenging walking opportunities. Moreover, whilst quite wild, they are relatively easy to get to from Nimes or Montpellier. The terrain underfoot can be testing, especially for those who are not accustomed to walking up and down steepish hills, or traversing often awkward conditions underfoot. Add the intense dry heat of the summer to the equation, and you are wise to get in some training before your departure. The benefits of walking in the Cevennes outside of the 'tourist season' lie in more amenable walking conditions and less general discomfort as you fight for services in small towns and villages that often cannot cope with the July and August influx. You can of course benefit from out of season travel offers as well.

For those ramblers and walkers that enjoy themed hiking, the Cevennes offers plenty of opportunity to indulge your passions: architecture, such as Roman churches, dolmens and Menhirs; human geography, such as the cycles of capitalism already referred to above; green issues, with practical insights into alternative visions for the future, and environmental preservation, that commenced with the hippy movement in the late sixties and has continued with organic food growing and the protection of non-farmed plant species; physical geography and geology, as The Cevennes are a true paradise for travellers with such penchants.

VinesWhilst The Cevennes offer real opportunities to see some rare birdlife, the ornithologist's paradise in The Gard is, of course, The Camargue. For the local cognoscenti, the opportunity to watch rare bird species from quite close range, and enjoy walking some of the coastal paths in the process, is a real delight.

One would be hard pushed to find two such very contrasting walking experiences so closely juxtaposed as is the case with The Gard. Yet these are just the two most well-known walking zones. For those of us who are fortunate enough to live and enjoy the Gard all year round, and thus know the local area very well, alternative opportunities abound. For example, the Cévennes foothills and plains called the Piedmont Cévénol. This is a vast area through which flow some of the Gard's most enigmatic rivers: The Cèze in the north, the Gardon in the centre and the Vidroule to the south. 

Opportunities for hiking and rambling some fine circular walks are plentiful, and the best way to get around is undoubtedly via hire car or your own car. We would strongly recommend you call on local expertise when planning your hiking.

Then take the capital of Roman Gaul, Nemausus or Nimes and its surrounding hinterlands or 'garrigues,' where vines are omnipresent and water at a premium. Nîmes was of strategic importance for the Romans, lying on the Via Domitia, connecting Italy to Spain. It also lay on the Royal Route, St Gilles Way or Regordane, the trail that led through the Central Massif to Le Puy, Clermont Ferrand and onto Paris. Both of these routes can be followed and explored by hikers to the Gard, and the Garrigues itself offers the bucolic rambler the promise of untold riches.

The northern border with the department of The Ardeche is a territory known as Valcèzard or the Gard Provençal. Walk the limestone gorges, hilltop villages or fertile plains between The Cèze Valley and the Gorge de l'Ardèche. 

Further south, you discover the enigma that is Uzès and its hinterland known as Uzège. Uzès was the source that fed Nîmes with water and the starting point for the Roman Aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. The very powerful dukes of Uzès were First Dukes of France and it is still referred to as the Duchy of Uzès. 

Further south still, one encounters the area around the Pont du Gard itself, and a fine territory for village rambling and limestone gorge hiking. 

Last but certainly not least, the eastern flank of the Gard comprises the stretch of the Rhone valley known locally as the Gard Rhodenian, home to the Côte du Rhône wines. Wandering across these sun-drenched landscapes, you will discover Caesar's camp, Romanesque chapels, medieval sites and numerous picturesque villages, not to mention two of Gard Provençal's most important towns: Bagnols sur Cèze and Pont Saint Esprit.

Walking in the GardHistorically, The Gard has been strongly Protestant, and at the time of The Religious Wars in France, around eighty per cent of the denizens of Nimes were of Protestant faith. These figures rose to about ninety-five per cent in villages around St Jean du Gard and Mialet.

The 'work ethic' has thus always been strong in this part of Southern France. However, capitalism's economic cycles have been hard for the Gardois people since the Industrial Revolution, with successive rises and falls of major local industries such as chestnut harvesting, the manufacture of silk, wine growing and coal mining. Nevertheless, the character of the people demonstrates their ability to endure such hardships and try again with the next locally available and saleable commodity. Tourism is considered the next 'breadwinner,' although enlightened natives will realise that to over-cultivate this rich resource risks shooting the goose that laid the golden egg.

About the Author

Scott Anderson lives in The Gard and is the director of Walking in Languedoc, a family-run business specialising in original self-guided walking tours for the experienced and novice hiker.

© Walking in Languedoc 2007

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