W alking in The Gard is to hike in one of the 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 Department number 30.
Walking in The Gard offers much to be discovered along its abundance of rich hiking trails, many of which can be walked all year round. Mild winters and low rainfall mean that travellers are able to enjoy the multifarious hiking fruits outside the main tourist season. There is, quite literally, something for all tastes here.
So let’s start with a Quiz Question. Why, when French Departments are named after natural features like rivers, is Department no 30 referred to as Le Gard and not Le Gardon? Simple: because historically the River Gardon has wreaked such havoc from its seasonal floods [viz., Les Gardonnades], that the authorities felt it wise to truncate the name so as not to deter people from living there or stigmatize them.
Walking in Cevennes
For those ramblers and walkers that enjoy themed hiking tours in France, 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 is a true paradise for travellers with such penchants.
- Click to read our article on The Cevennes
- Why not enjoy a 6-night, self-guided tour that starts in Ales, the Gateway to Cevennes and finishes in the Huguenot stronghold of St Jean du Gard? Walking in Cevennes is the ideal introduction to this ‘final frontier’.
Walking in Camargue.
Whilst 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 contrasting benefits of hiking in France so closely juxtaposed as is the case with The Gard.
Avi-fauna is a major attraction in Camargue and the delta is home to more than 400 species of bird, including the greater flamingo, many of whom breed here. The plains and marshland are also a prime habitat for the famous black bulls and their equally-famous Camargue horses – not to mention the recently introduced beaver that is doing very nicely indeed!
If you like gentle walking that is bereft of knee-crunching ascents and descents but is anything but flat, feature-wise, then Camargue is hard to beat. But do cover up adequately to protect from both the scorching summer sun and the frequent gusts of Le Mistral.
- Click to read our article on The Camargue
The Piedmont Cévénol
Yet these are just the two most well-known hiking areas. 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. As local experts, we would be delighted to help you plan your France hiking tour in The Gard.
Then take the capital of Roman Gaul, Nemausus or Nimes, and its surrounding hinterlands or ‘garrigue,’ 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 when hiking in France, and the Garrigue itself offers the bucolic rambler the promise of untold riches.
Historically, The Gard has been strongly Protestant (Huguenot), 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 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.
- Click to read our article on Walking in the Garrigues
- St-Giles Pilgrimage Part Two: Garrigues, Costiere and Camargue
and Why not traverse the territory via France’s own Medieval pilgrimage trail…
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.
- Click to read our article on Walking in Valcèzard
- Walking Provence-West
- Hiking in Provence.
- Walks in Provence.
and Why not explore Valcèzard via three walking tours…
The Gardon Gorge
Whilst the Verdon Gorges to the east is more spectacular, the walking there is quite challenging, the stages long and the accommodation ill-located. Not so with the Gorges du Gardon.
You can opt for a short 3-day/4 night tour of the Gorge itself, or a week-long tour that takes you along the Gardonnenque from Ales to Russan before entering the Grand Site and Gorge proper. Whichever you choose, the walking is light to moderate, the experience and sites memorable and the accommodation of a very high standard indeed.
The tours culminate in the discovery of the Pont du Gard itself via the ‘back-door’ so to speak, or a narrow passage along the banks of the Gardon River to be precise. Hiking to Le Pont enables you to appreciate it in ways that no tourist arriving by car can. And once you manage to prise yourself away, do so in the knowledge that your personalised tour end will take you wither to Roman Nimes or Uzès, The First Duchy of France.
Click to visit The French Hiker’s Guide to Holidaying in the Hexagon and the Best French Self-guided walks, trails, trips, places & themes.
© The Enlightened Traveller 2015