Pont du Gard Walking Trail, See the Masterpiece of Ancient Architecture


Pont du Gard walking trail is around an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge.  It has become the UNESCO site in 1985. Built in the first century AD, it carried water over 50 km to Nîmes (Nemausus, the Roman city). The aqueduct crosses the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. Being the remarkable masterpiece, Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts.

Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard walking trail is easily reachable from Nîmes, Uzés, and Avignon. It is part of the tours starting from these places, for example:

Facts about the aqueduct bridge

It is helpful to know several important facts because they impress you as you walk through this engineering miracle.

  • The aqueduct bridge was 50 km long, from Uzès to Nîmes, even though the direct distance between Uzès and Nîmes is only 20 kilometres. It goes around mountains and along easier sections to reduce the construction difficulty.
  • 90 percent of its course crossed the subterranean. Along the way, bridges, culverts, tunnels, and a series of arches support the entire aqueduct.
  • The highlight of the trail is the part that crosses the Gardon river. The construction was very challengeable. To conquer the situation, the Romans built three levels of arches on top of the river.
  • The 50-metre height of this Roman aqueduct built in the first century AD was a record at the time.
  • The upper level of the aqueduct that crosses the river measures 273m long today, while originally it was 360m and had 12 further arches.
  • To complete the construction, the Roman used over 21,000 cubic metres of rock, weighing around 50,400 tonnes.
  • The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 40,000 m3 water a day to the fountains, baths, and homes of the inhabitants of Nîmes.

Detail information is also available in the museum. Besides, you can find some information on its official website.

The Pont du Gard walking trail

The aqueduct trail is a 3.5 Km walk on the site, around the entire remains of the aqueduct, with views from many panoramic lookouts. The main sites are all well sign-posted. Before we started our walk, we downloaded an online APP. The App presents information about all sites. The WiFi covers the entire area of this walking route. It is quite practical to get informed on the way without carrying additional brochures. The staff at the entrance is happy to tell you how to find the APP.

To secure an admission ticket online can save the waiting time. Of course, if you travel at low-season, you can always buy at the entrance.

The entrance is either at the right bank of the river Gardon or the left bank of the river Gardon. All historic sites are bound to the aqueduct. We arrived at the left side of the river and followed the traces of the historic sites:

  • The ‘Esplanade’
  • The prehistoric Grotte de la Salpetriere (Saltpeter Cave)
  • An uphill climb
  • Remains of the aqueduct
  • The third level of the aqueduct bridge
  • The first level of the aqueduct bridge
  • The old mill
  • A short movie in the left bank learning centre
  • Museum and Exhibition
View over the river Gardon from the unpaved narrow walkway up the hill
View over the river Gardon from the unpaved narrow walkway up the hill
View of Pont du Gard at distance
View of Pont du Gard at distance
Restaurant near the entrance of Pont du Gard
Restaurant near the entrance of Pont du Gard

The ‘Esplanade’

After the ticket checking point and the toilet area, there are some hundred-year-old plane trees and a simple restaurant. It was in the hot summer, and the day temperature was quite high. But in the shade of those plane trees, we enjoyed the magnificent view of Pont Du Gard and had our first photo of the site.

The restaurant has many outdoor seats. It offers some simple dishes. It is a good place to have a cup of coffee before walking.

The prehistoric Grotte de la Salpetriere (Saltpeter Cave)

Dated back to the Upper Paleolithic period, the Saltpeter Cave is one of France’s major prehistoric sites. It became an official French historical monument in 1931. The highlight here is the six metres of levels of habitats stacked up on top of one another. The caved is fenced, and we weren’t able to see further detail from outside.

An uphill climb

After the cave, there are stairs up to the third level of the aqueduct bridge. If you don’t want to climb up, then go straight to the first level of the aqueduct bridge. We opted for the third level of the aqueduct  bridge. The stairs are easy to walk and also offer stunning views of the riverside.

Remains of the aqueduct

Before reaching the third level of the aqueduct, we explored the remains of the aqueduct. Those Romain structures were built to avoid natural obstacles. They kept the canal at a constant gradient to transport water.

Stairs up to the third level of the Pont du Gard
Stairs up to the third level of the Pont du Gard
The third level of the aqueduct bridge is the canal structure along which water used to flow for 50km.
The third level of the aqueduct bridge is the canal structure along which water used to flow for 50km.
Part of the Pont du Gard walking trail, the new Bridge next to the original Aqueduct Pont Du Gard
Part of the Pont du Gard walking trail, the new Bridge next to the original Aqueduct Pont Du Gard

The third level of the aqueduct bridge

The third level of the aqueduct bridge is the canal structure along which water used to flow for 50km. The entire aqueduct descends a mere 25 centimetres per 1km. Each day around 35,000 cubic litres of clean water would flow along the canal, supplying the city of Nimes.

Usually, tourists can walk through the third level and walk through the first level on the way back. But due to the repair work, we were unable to get in the canal, which was a pity!

The first level of the aqueduct bridge

Therefore, we turned back and walked towards the first level of the aqueduct bridge instead. The bridge we walked on was built by the French in 1747. It is right next to the ancient bridge. The French find similar stones with a similar colour to the original one. The arches of the new bridge are nearly identical to the original ones.

Standing on the bridge, we could take a close look at the original bridge and examine the traces left from the construction. Each sign or mark left on the bridge has a certain meaning, which we learned later in the museum’s presentation.

The old mill

Before we reached the learning centre, we also passed the flour mill built in 1865. After the second world war, it has become a 3-star hotel in the 1980s. We discovered several unpaved narrow walkways near the old mill. The walkways are up the hill. From there, we could capture some nice pictures of the aqueduct bridge from the top.

Lunch at the restaurant

After a long walk, we finally reached the learning centre.  There is one restaurant with air condition. We hurried in to cool down ourselves. The air condition was not so powerful, partially because of mass tourists. The restaurant offers only fast food, and most were half-ready.

We bought the food over the counter first, and then heat our food using the microwave next to the counter. The food was tasty but expansive. However, the drinks were at reasonable prices.

A short movie in the left bank learning centre

After the lunch break, we were just able to be on time to see the short movie. On a 45 m² widescreen with Dolby Stereo sound, the movie shows a brief description of this engineering wonder. Being one of the most important symbols of the Roman Empire, the movie demonstrates the ancient construction of the aqueducts and provides a glimpse of Romain’s ability to develop new technologies.

Museum

The modern museum presents the history of the aqueduct’s construction and its contribution to the Roman civilization. The architects’ gallery shows a sample construction site. It explains how the original building technique works. The engineer gallery discusses how to restore the aqueduct. Another section displays the findings of scientists and historians. One picture on the wall is very interesting. It displays all Roman aqueducts across Europe. I was happy to see several miniatures visualize some existing aqueducts.

The museum also features collections of various artifacts from the Roman time, such as how the Romain built heating system or delivered water to each household and public facilities.

We didn’t have the time for the museum. However, it finally took us two hours to enjoy the museum. It  demonstrates all topics in a very attractive way. Besides, the information is available in several languages, including English. For families with kids, I would suggest spending half a day there.

The architects' gallery shows a sample construction site
The architects’ gallery shows a sample construction site.
Audio section of the Museum in Pont du Gard
Audio section of the Museum in Pont du Gard

Beach on the riverbank

After the long walk, we spent some time on the riverbank.  Walking several hundred metres away from the aqueduct bridge along the riverbank, we again appreciated the ancient marvel.  The beach on the riverbank is a glorious place for a swim. Hordes of families with kids were playing in the water, kayaking, swimming, and boating.

Trail of the natural landscape

To get back to the starting point of the Pont du Gard walking trail, we had to cross the river via the new bridge again. If you have time, you can extend the Pont Du Gard walking trail to the nature part. Next to the learning centre, there is a 1.4-kilometre marked trail enclosed by dry stone walls and filled with vineyards, olive groves, and oak trees. The Mediterranean landscape tells another story about life for more than 2,000 years.

Where to stay

If you choose to stay in Nîmes, La Place Zen is a good choice since it is in the city centre and is close to many major sites. The apartment comes with one separate bedroom, one bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen with a dining area, and a flat-screen TV.  Free WiFi is also available.

La Place Zen, Nimes France (source)

If you stay in Avignon, Le Studio de l’Atelier d’artiste is also a good choice. It is right in the city centre and is a self-catering accommodation. Free WiFi access is available. The property is 450 m from Papal Palace, 901 m from Pont d’Avignon, and 1500 metres from Avignon Central Station.

Le Studio de l’Atelier d’artiste, Avignon France (source)

How to get there

By car

From the A9 motorway, take exit 23 at Remoulins towards Uzès, then follow the signs to the right or left banks. Pontdu Gard is 27 km away from Nîmes and 21 km away from Avignon. In general, if you don’t only stay in the big cities, renting a car  is a better way to travel around France.

The parking areas at both riversides open from 7 am to 1 am. But the parking area is closed to the public between 1 am and 7 am, a fee of 43 euros will be charged to any vehicle parked in the parking between 01:00 and 07:00 am.

By bus

Take Line A15 from Avignon or Alès. Take Line B21 from Nîmes (Line B21), please check the bus schedule for the updated plan as well. There are fewer buses on the weekends.

By train

You can take trains to Nîmes or Avignon train stations by the TGV. From there take the buses above to reach Pont du Gard.

 

 

 

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