Pont du Gard walking trail is around an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge. It has become a 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.
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 the mountains and along more manageable 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 challenging. 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 crossing the river measures 273m long today. But it was 360m and had twelve more arches before.
- 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.
Detailed information is also available in the museum. Besides, you can find some information on its official website.
The Pont du Gard walking trail
The Pont du Gard walking trail is 3.5 Km long 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 places. 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 in the low-season, you can always buy at the entrance.
The entrance is either at the right bank of the river Gardon or the left river bank. All historic sites are bound to the aqueduct. We arrived at the left side of the river and followed the traces of the historical places in the following order:
- 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
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 pretty 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 and coffees.
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 the stairs, you can go straight to the first level instead. 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 Roman remains of the aqueduct. The function of the Romain structures was to avoid natural obstacles. They kept the canal at a constant gradient to transport water.
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. Visitors can only walk on the bridge next to the ancient aqueduct bridge. The French used similar stones with a similar colour to the original one to build the bridge in 1747. 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 special 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 from 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.
The modern museum presents the history of the aqueduct’s construction and its contribution to 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 presents all Roman aqueducts across Europe. Several miniatures visualize some existing aqueducts.
The museum also features collections of various Roman artifacts, such as how the Romain built a heating system or delivered water to each household and public facilities.
Finally, it took us two hours to absorb the massive information in the museum. The museum demonstrates all topics in a highly intriguing way. Besides, the information is available in several languages, including English. For families with kids, I would suggest spending half a day there.
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 start 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. The learning centre is the start point of a 1.4-kilometre marked walking 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 overnight in Nîmes, La Place Zen is an excellent choice since it is in the city centre and is close to many sites.
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. The property is 450 m from Papal Palace, 901 m from Pont d’Avignon, and 1500 metres from Avignon Central Station. Besides, you can explore other places, such as Saint Remy de Provence in 30 minutes of driving.
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. Pont du Gard is 27 km away from Nîmes and 21 km away from Avignon. In general, if you don’t only stay in 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. Vehicle parks in the parking between 01:00 and 07:00 am must pay a fee of 43 Euros.
By bus: Take Line 115 from Avignon or Alès and take Line B21 from Nîmes (Line B21). Please check the bus schedule for the updated plan. 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.