Bridges, castles and gardens filled our final few days in France.
On our last morning in Lacoste we were up at sunrise getting packed and having breakfast. Finn and Aristide helped us carry our bags out to the car and we were soon on our way.
As our route north would take us through Avignon, I had planned on visiting Pont d’Avignon. Yes, the same one as in the song. We had about an hour’s drive then found a parking garage near the bridge. A short walk and we were “sur la pont” – although not dancing! The bridge only stretches part way across the river. After being damaged too many times by the river they just quit rebuilding the missing part.
After touring the bridge we walked back up into town along streets lined with, surprisingly, touristy shops! In the Place du Palais, in front of the palaces of the Popes we enjoyed a mid-morning latte before catching a little tram for a tour of Avignon. The tour was pretty good although the bumpy cobblestone streets made it difficult to get many good photos along the way.
After lunch back at the Place du Palais we set off for Pont du Gard. Built by the Romans in the 1st century, the bridge is actually part of a 50 km aqueduct that carried water from Uzès to Nîmes. It really was an amazing feat of engineering. From one end of the bridge to the other the aqueduct only drops an inch in elevation – enough to keep the water flowing. The water was carried to the homes, fountains and baths in Nîmes. The ancient Romans apparently loved their baths!
From the Pont du Gard we carried on to Montagny-les-Beaune where we stayed overnight in a beautiful country inn. Dinner next door was absolutely amazing.
The next day we drove to Vernon on a route that skirted around Paris. I expected traffic to be much worse than it was when we were close to Paris so overall the drive wasn’t too bad. Vernon is in the Normandy region, about 4 km from Giverny where Monet’s House and Garden are located. The hotel was fairly basic but was comfortable and clean and the location was good.
The underground parking at the hotel was another story entirely. The narrow one-lane ramp had a right angle bend near the bottom. The garage itself was quite cramped and stalls were fairly tight to get in and out of. Going down the ramp wasn’t too bad. Going up the ramp, on the other hand, was the ultimate test of driving skill in a standard-transmission car. You pushed a button at the bottom to open the overhead door at the top. The ramp itself had a fairly smooth surface which didn’t offer great traction. It took a very delicate balance and coordination between brake, clutch and accelerator to get up the ramp. First you had to navigate the narrow right-angle bend, then hope that your tires didn’t start spinning on the ramp as you made your way to the top, all the while praying that the overhead door wasn’t going to come down. Too much gas and you were spinning, too little gas and you stalled. We persisted for two nights before discovering that the open air parking lot across the street offered free parking from 6:00 pm to 9:00 am. I decided for our last two nights to save the 7.5 euros/day we were paying for the underground parking – and save immeasurable wear and tear on my nerves – and park across the street for free!
But I digress. The next day we toured Monet’s House and Gardens. Even though the flowers would probably be better in the summer, the gardens were every bit as beautiful as I had anticipated. It truly was amazing to see the inspiration for so many beautiful paintings!
After visiting the gardens we drove around the surrounding countryside somewhat aimlessly, just enjoying the views. In one village, while crossing a bridge, I saw a scene I had to stop and photograph. While shooting the pond from the bridge I realized that the house at the far end of the pond was actually an old mill. It also looked like there might be a vantage point around the side that I could get to. Grabbing my tripod and camera bag from the car I set off around to a little open area that gave me one of the most beautiful little scenes I had come across in France.
Our destination the following day was Rouen. In the square in front of the beautiful Rouen Cathedral we found another little tram that would take us on a tour of the city. We discovered that the car park where we had left our vehicle was right near the spot where Joan d’Arc was burned at the stake. Rouen itself is quite a beautiful city with lots of timber-frame buildings.
Our next day was a day for chateaus. Chateau Bizy is located on the edge of Vernon, a short drive from our hotel. The grounds surrounding the chateau are full of beautiful sculptures, fountains and little streams. Unfortunately, corrosion of pipes over the years has left many of the water features dry. Apparently they are working on replacing a lot of the pipes and if the project is ever finished the water features will be incredible. The chateau itself is well worth a guided tour. It was quite interesting to learn about the ownership of the chateau over the years as well as to see how different wings, built at different times, were constructed to match other parts of the building.
Less than a 30 minute drive brought us to la Roche-Guyond. The village itself is quite picturesque and it is home to a very impressive looking Chateau de la Roche-Guyond. We had an incredible lunch at a little creperie in the village then I was off to explore the castle. While an admission is charged, it is a self-guided tour so you can explore and spend as much time as you like. For those willing to climb the 1000 or so stairs through an underground tunnel to the tower atop the hill, the view is magnificent! The chateau dates back to the middle ages and during WWII was occupied by Rommel. During the war a number of caverns in the castle were converted to munitions bunkers. The chateau overlooks a large public garden and the Seine River beyond.
A stroll around town …
The next morning we checked out of the hotel for the drive back to the train station in Rouen where we dropped off our rental car. The train took us back into Paris where we caught a taxi to our airport hotel. The following day we flew home.
Our month in France flew by all too quickly. The country is truly beautiful and the people we met were wonderful. We felt very fortunate to have been able to visit for a month.