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Avignon, Pont du Gard, Orange St. Remy, Arles - Ancient Ruins Tour 2/2

Theater at Orange: Still recovering from illness I was debating whether I had the energy to cart my bags all over Orange to see this site on my way to Avignon. But I decided to screw my courage to the sticking point and it was so worth it. I was in no way prepared for the scale of the theater. This is the only site - outside of a stadium - that has really given me the impact of how large Roman buildings could be. You can see all the reconstructions but to actually experience it was amazing.
The audio guide adds a lot of context especially while recounting all the challenges and events in the theater - closed, sacked, used a prison during the revolution, apartments build into it - that make it even more amazing it survived.

The bus stop Pourtoules in Orange is very close to the Theater site - you can literally see the top of it sticking up when you get off the bus. They gladly took my Rick Steves bag/back-pack behind the counter at the theater entrance allowing me to wander freely.

Avignon is good as hub for connections and the city walls and papal palace areas are worth a wander but it is not that interesting from a Gallo-Roman perspective.

Pont du Gard: Took the bus from Avignon to Port du Gard and it really is an impressive site. The imposing aqueduct is set in a very parklike setting with trails and the river itself. That being said after you walk the bridge, hike to the viewpoints and take a bunch of pictures there’s not that much more to do at the site. If you wander the various trials you’ll probably come across smaller aqueduct sections. I found several wandering around if you want your one on one moment with a ancient piece of history in a natural setting this is your chance.
The museum has some interesting overviews of the whole aqueduct line and the less visible parts of the aqueduct itself and is worth exploring.
Bus from Avignon is 15A from Bus station left of (facing) the train station under the Ibis hotel. Bus schedule is erratic so plan your out and return.

Saint Remy: The two bigs sites are the asylum where van Gogh was committed to and the adjacent Glanum Gallo-Roman ruins site.
Glanum is a unique site in both that it was forgotten and very well preserved and it is really a Gallo-Hellenistic-Roman town and spans a lot of the history of the region. The site has some really remarkable sections still standing and is in very good shape. It really feels unique in that this is never a site Romans would have ever built on squeezed into one end of the valley. Also the decorations and engravings cover several hundred years before the Romans and it has the real feel of a fusing of different cultures and shows its Gallo-Hellenistic roots even if it ended up “fully Roman”.
The audio guide adds good context and history to the site. The entry area/museum is worth a few minutes but no more. Since the site was originally explored to find all the museum worthy statues and artifacts they have all been carried off to other places.

Arles: You’ll probably enter Arles through the massive gate and old city walls and the main street runs right into the stadium - you can’t miss it. The two big Arles sites are the Stadium and the theater.
The stadium was razed to the second tier of seats and the locals have replaced the original upper tier with seats so the bones of the original structure still exists but all the various parts are original, partially or wholly restored depending on the timeframe.
The unique thing about Arles theater is that it is built on flat ground. If you tour around the back of the seats you’ll see big, repeated barrel vaults the Romans built to elevate the stands in this artificially raised ground. The rest of the theater complex is filled with so many extraneous marble pieces, column fragments it feels a little like a marble junkyard where everything was just piled up.
The museum at Arles is good if smallish but has excellent examples of what they have.

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227 posts

Thanks Tod, this is very helpful. We are going to most of these places in Provence in September. We are taking the train from Nice to Avignon, renting a car and staying three nights in St. Remy. We plan to go to Pont du Gard and Arles one of the days, the towns of the Luberon one day and spend our first day in La Baux and St. Remy since that won't be a full day. Our fourth day we will drive to Avignon, drop the car, and go to city centre on train then walk to various sites there. We are staying in a hotel at edge of city center so we can get back to the TVG station the next morning to train to Paris. May I ask, how long did you spend at Pont du Gard and how long in Arles? And do you feel that an afternoon/evening in Avignon would be enough? We plan to go to the market in St. Remy on Wednesday morning before heading to Avignon on our last day. Thanks!

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838 posts

Hello dpalmier53,
I think a Pont du Gard visit is probably anywhere from 2 to 4 hours depending on what else you want to do. Walking to the site, photos from various angles and quick museum walk is probably 2 hours. If you want to wander the nature trails, have a picnic by the river, enjoy the setting, soak it all in and give the museum and the film a watch that probably more like 3-4 hours.

I stayed two nights in Avignon but mostly for the train and bus connections because I only rented the car for one day. I think a leisurely afternoon and evening is a good amount of time to spend in Avignon. Unless you're going to do the museum shuffle - they are mostly small and free - most of the sites are the outsides of buildings, streets and charming alleyways so walking around the city is generally the sightseeing there is to do. The local tourist office has created maps with walking tours of different interests - old streets, mansions and museums etc. - if you want to wander with some aim and purpose. Careful walking outside the city walls because you can only get back in at certain gates and will be walking outside them for a while. (Ahem - not that I accidently did this or anything.)
Unless you have firm dinner plans check out Place des Corps Saints - probably near your hotel - for an easy, low-key selection of restaurants and avoid the touristy line up of along main street that approaches the old papal palace.
The central train station to the edge of town is an easy and obvious 3 minute walk across the street and trolley tracks to the city gates.

I spent a full day in Arles and spent the night there. Arles main attractions are the a couple of big Roman sites, an archeological museum, a Romanesque architectural cathedral/church, a bunch of van Gogh 'easels' and the city itself. Depending on your interest levels in these things your time/mileage may vary. I spent a whole day and definitely felt like I 'saw' everything there was to see - even if I didn't see all the easels - but definitely wanted to see more of the city and plan on going back and spending more time.
I really preferred Arles to Avignon - Ricks says you like one or the other - and I am definitely in the Arles camp. An afternoon and couple of evenings was enough in Avignon for me but and day and night only made me want to see more of Arles, but that's me.
Don't drive into Arles. Park on the city edge and walk in - seriously.

St Remy is charming and looks like you want a Provencal town to look. The ringed city core is made for wandering and 'ooh-ing' at the charm and refinement of everything. There's a Spar market on Rue Carnot for picnic supplies - the fruit I got there was amazing - and there are picnic tables on the path between the van Gogh asylum and Glanum and in front of the Glanum site if you're looking to do that during your travels.
Careful where you're parked on market day - make sure you're legal and that you'll be able to get out of town when you want to leave.

Hope that helps, let me know if I missed any questions.

Have a great trip!

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227 posts

Hiredman, you didn't miss a thing this is just what I needed to know, and the extra tips are wonderful! And you are funny! We will be walking to the market from our bed and breakfast on market day in St. Remy so no parking worries there. And knowing to not drive into Arles but to park away from center is a huge tip, I was already wondering about that. We are staying at a Novetel Hotel right between the Avignon city center train station and gate to city center so we should be good. I will definitely check out the restaurant info for Avignon. You will eventually see my trip report around the end of September! Thanks again!

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838 posts

Thanks, I look forward to your trip report. I'm sure you'll have a great time.

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Arles: There are many interesting things to see in Arles but we think the best is the Musee Departemental Arles Antique on the south side of the main city right along the Rhone. One story, modern looking building, so look for the signs. Wonderful exhibits with all signs in English and French of course. One of the most interesting is the ancient barge/boat discovered in the mud of the Rhone at Arles and how it was raised and preserved. Many items recovered which are on display. One can park for free and easily walk along the river to the main part of town. We parked there all day with no problem. There are even a couple picnic tables near the river. Check your maps for easy exit eastbound off the N113 at exit 5. Going west, it's harder because one has to get off sooner and go through the south part of town.

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If you want a really cool Pont du Gard experience, canoe or kayak under it with a picnic in tow. Lots of landing areas to pull up and quite a few outfitters available who rent boats. It's a fantastic day!
Another rec would the Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux about 10-15 minutes from St Remy. The coolest art show I have ever seen. Check out their website!