Liguria and the Provence 2012



Liguria & the Provence May 2012

Cinque Terre

Pisa & Luca

Genua & Portofino

Ste Remy de Provence & Glanum Orange & Vaison La Romaine Arles
Saintes Maries de la Mer Nimes Avignon



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Day Activity
Saturday Drive and arrive around  8 in the evening
Sunday Visit Lucca
Monday Cinque Terre - slow walking
Tuesday Visit Pisa
Wednesday Visit Portofino
Thursday Visit Genova
Friday Visit Portovenere
Saturday Drive to San Remo
Sunday Drive to Arles
Monday Tarascon  visit + Glanum visit
Tuesday Orange + Vaison La Romaine
Wednesday Arles visit
Thursday Sainte Marie Gipsy festival
Friday Sainte Marie Gipsy festival
Saturday Nimes - ferias Pentecote
Sunday Pont du Gard + Avignon + Villeneuve lez Avignon
Monday drive home


The Provence

The Provence (Provincia Romana, nowadays better known as the Provence) synonym for sun, mountains and the smell of Lavender and falso for its long and rich history going back to the Celts and Romans, traces which can be seen in the towns of Arles, Orange, Nimes and many others.

These days the Provence is a popular holiday spot, but artist have been coming here for a longer time attracted by the perfect light.  Stuff to consider over a glass of Pastis with a saucisson d’Arles while waiting for the Bouillabaise and a lovely Luberon wine.

Sunday, 20 May.  Today we have to drive 305 kilometer to Arles

01The 3 Corniche roads from Menton to Nice

A bit after ventimiglia we enter France, drive to Menton, which is the start of the scenic coastal road to Monaco and Nice.
Instead of  1 scenic road, here there is a choice between 3 scenic roads!







Monaco, For the rich and very rich, famous or not

The Grande Corniche, built in Napoleonic times, it is pretty much the Roman Aurelian way stretch known as the Via Julia Augusta. It is the highest of the three roads. 


The Grande Corniche has been a feature in many a movies like the 1955 film of Alfred Hitchcock “to catch a thieve” starring Grace Kelly, who also died on this road on September 13, 1982 in a car accident on N53, a dangerous descend full of hairpin bends.
The Grande Corniche is hard to find,  it's the D2564, a tiny departmental road.

  • The Moyenne Corniche, built around the 1920’s also offers many rewarding views. It runs to the hilltop village of Eze
  • The Basse Corniche is the old coastal road and it can be very busy on this road during the summer season.


From Menton we drive to Monaco and onwards to La Turbie via Cap d’ail. We have now successfully visited three countries in 1 day. La Turbie (Tropea) is the symbolic border between the Roman Empire and Gallia. After defeating the Ligurians, the Romans build an imposing gallery which is now beautifully restored.


Here we take the Moyenne Corniche to the hilltop village of Eze (D6007) from where we continue back up to the grande Corniche to Nice.

Monday, 21 May

It is raining today and so we decide to change our planning and opt for a visit to Tarcason and Ste Remy ( Glanum)

It is raining so hard that we leave Tarascon after walking around for less than 1 hour; we did not even make it to the castle. (Photo above)


About 1 kilometer from the city Saint Rémy de Provence lays the archeological site of Glanum. Glanum was founded by the Romans along the trading route between Marseille and Avignon and is thought to have had 5000 inhabitants. The 19.3 meter high cenotaph is from the first century AD is a mausoleum erected by two of August’s cousin’s. The foot is garnished with mythological stories.


Hardly mentioned by classical authors, the healing waters of a spring gave rise to a Celto- Ligurian civilization, which was able to profit from the cultural influence of the Hellenistic world, long before it had to comply by Roman dictates.

The proximity of the Greek city Marseilles (founded by the Phoenicians in 600 BC) and the easy access to the sea encouraged contacts between the Rhône delta and the Mediterranean civilization. The powerful indigenous aristocratic and warrior families were open to Hellenistic contributions and this gave rise to a new cultural identity, the so called Gallo-Greek culture of which Glanum is a fine example.


The excavation, which started in 1921 unearthed buildings from three distinct periods; the first one was with Greeks houses, a nymph sanctuary, temples and bathhouses. The second period is Roman and the third period is from 49 BC to 279 AD. The town had a sewage system and most of the finds are on display at the museum.


It already had a Salluvian settlement in the Iron Age (6th-2nd century BC). Proof of this is found in the offerings thrown in the well, among them a bronze figurine of a three horned bull (6cm) of the Celtic deity Tarvos Trigaranos.
The earliest classical historians called the people between Genoa and the Rhône Ligurians, the term Salluvi was used by Strabo (63 BC-24 AD) to describe the celto-Ligurians who lived north of Marseille.











Photo: Votive: dedication to the god Glanis and the Glanic mother goddesses by a veteran of the 21st Legion (1st century AD). The God and his companions the Glanic mothers were believed to inhabit these healing waters.
In 125 BC Rome came to the aid of the Greeks and the Salluvii were defeated by Marcus Fulvius Flaccus and a year later again by Gaius Sextius Calvinus. Glanums monuments were destroyed but the locals started rebuilding with even more impressive monuments. At its peak the city even minted silver coins with the name Glanikon.
All came to an end in 90BC when the city was again demolished by the Romans and the city never was able to really recover.




Tuesday, 22 May

Orange and Vaison-la-Romaine

It is still raining and although we did not plan to visit these places we decide that even on a rainy day it is still nice to walk around a Roman archeological site.








Orange is a not to big city, and from the parking space near the tourist information on A. Daudet it is a 5 minutes’ walk to the city center.
Arc de triomphe
The arch stands at the north side of the city as a real gate at the old via Agrippa, connecting the city with Arles. With a height of 19.21 m, a 19.57 m wide and 8.40 m deep  it is the third largest  remaining arch.


On it are war scenes of the wars in Gallia and the sea battles seem to refer to the battle of Actium in which August defeated the fleet of Anthony and Cleopatra.

The arch was built around 20BC and was later dedicated to Tiberius. On it are mentioned the heroic actions of the second legion.

The Theater

The theater of Orange was built under Augustus (then still Octavianus) and is the pride of Orange. Almost the entire Stage wall is still intact and Louis the XIV is supposed to have called it the most beautiful wall of France. It had 7.000 seats in 3 rows, divided in 34 rows.


Municipal museum

The museum is housed in a 17th century house opposite the theater, build by a Dutch nobleman. Indeed Orange was part of the Prince of Orange (hence the orange color used by the Duct in football team) But the Protestants were kicked out of France which is another interesting story.

The most important exhibit is the land registry. This is a marble panel on which the city is divided into centuries, square parcels of 709meters long on a north-south and east west axis. The panel also mentions the legal status of the land parcels.


Vaison la Romaine

Vaison la Romaine is a really interesting little city, not in the least because some of our favorite wines come from here. But beside the gastronomical side it also has some very interesting historical sites.


Vaison was the southern capital city of the Celtic tribe Vocontii. In the 2nd century BC it became part of the Provinica Romana and got the status of civitas (not colony = city founded by Rome in conquered territory, often to accommodate demobilized soldiers who were given a land allotment).
Vasion was a prosperous town in Gallia Narboniensis. The city was 70 hectares large and had 10.000 inhabitants. A domus in Vasio was a lot larger then in Pompeii, which gives a good indication of the wealth there was.
In the 3th century AD the city got destroyed, but even with all the Barbary around the city was the seat of a bishop and two conclaves were held here (442 & 529). After that the city further decayed and for security reasons the town moved up the hill on the left bank of the river. This medieval city was deserted in the 18th century when a new town was built on the planes.


The city has a large Gallo Roman archeological site, a medieval city of the top of the hill, and an old cathedral with a cloister.

  • The Gallo-Roman ruins cover 15 hectares
  • The archeological museum has some white marble statues of Hadrianus, Domitianus and his wife Sabina. It also has a beautiful mosaic of the Peacock villa.
  • The 1st century AD theatre had a capacity of 6.000 visitors
  • The 11th century Roman cathedral Nptre Dame de Nazareth
  • Roman bridge
  • Medieval town has some very picturesque cobbled paths and very nice views of the area. (Mont Ventoux)

Wednesday, 23 May


The sun has finally decided to show herself and we are overcome by the heath that generates.
I was planning to be excited by the Roman sites, but in the end the real highlight of the city for me was the front façade of the Saint Trophime church, with its beautiful medieval stone carving.

Christ in a mandorla surrounded by the 4 evanglists.


Parking is best done at the edge of town; you will not find a parking space in the small and narrow roads of the old town. You could also try to park near the tourist office at the Boulevard St Lices. Only the alyscamps and the archeological museum are not in the city center, so everything is pretty close together.

  • Arena: the arena could seat 24.000 people. As with many of the other arena’s it got used as a quarry to build houses and other monuments. The Saracens converted it into a fort and later on the poor used it as a dwelling. In 1825 the restoration started. Today Spanish style bull fighting’s take place.




  • Theatre antique: this beautiful monument was built during August reign, in the first century BC. The building was badly damaged, especially by fanatic Christian bible bashers. The stones were used to build churches, houses and city walls. All that is left today are three vaulted floors. Today they are repairing the theater so it can be used again for art performances.




  • Church and cloister St. Trophime. This is definitely one of the finest examples of medieval churches in the Provence. The church is named after St. Trophime who came here from Palestine (early 3th century )and he was the nephew of St. Stefanus, the first Christian martyr. He resided in Arles and became the first bishop of the Provence. The church was destroyed in the 8th century by the Saracens. The real beauty lies in the beautifully carved front wall which dates from 1180 and is a fine example of late Roman stone carving and is on the UNESCO heritage list.



Of equal beauty is the cloister next door, which is at present undergoing restoration. At the north end is a beautiful statue of Saint Paulus on which the robe has nice deep and long folds (especially at the elbows).

  • The bathhouses of Constantine. This bathhouse was built in the 4th century, but not much is left to look at.


  • Les Alyscamps, or the Elysian fields was already a burial site for the Gauls and Celts. In the 4th century it became a Christian burial site. It was situated near the Via Aurelia just like the Via Appia in Rome. In medieval times the place had no less than 17 churches and chapels.




  • The archeological museum. The musée départemental l’Arles Antique is a bit outside of town and is a huge modern building. (Avenue 1ere division France libre). It houses a beautiful collection of Roman finds.





Thrusday and Friday, 24-25 May

Saintes Maries de la Mer




Roms, Manouches, Tsiganes,  Gitans and Sinti arrive here from the 4 corners of Europe and even from other continents to worship their saint, the black Sara. They camp here on the squares and near the beaches and for 8 to 10 days they are at home in this small city. They meet up with their relatives and most of the children get baptized in the saint’s church.





Les Baux is located in Alpilles massif. At the end of the 10th century an influential family settled here. During the Middle Ages les Baux was famous as a center for troubadours. Louis XIII had the castle destroyed in the 17th century but it still draws people to visit because of the stunning views of the surroundings.
The tourist information Centre is at the entrance and provides free maps of the town.


Saturday, 26 May

Nimes (Ferias – Pastis)

Emperor Augustus turned Nimes into a city of splendor and many of the monuments can still be seen today. Nimes has been able to integrate these monuments into the large city it has become. Truth be told, even the francofobe in me could live here.

clik here for the Map of the city


We arrive in Nimes at the height of the Pentecost’s ferias and the city is abuzz with people, musicians fill the streets with music and the Pastis flows freely. What more do you need to make everybody happy?

  • The Arena:  this was built between the first and the second century AD and was able to accommodate 24.000 people. In the fifth century it was converted into a fort with a moat and in medieval times it was a dwelling for the poor, with houses, shops and churches. We did not visit it as there were Spanish style bull fights going on and no way were we going to sponsor this.




  • The maison carrée is a well preserved temple built by the son in law of Augustus and was part of the forum, the political, social, economic and religious center of the city.





  • The tour Magne. Nobody knows for sure what this 30 meter tall building was intended for. Fact is that it offers great view of Nimes from the top.




  • The temple of Diana is located in the same park as the tour magne.



    • The archeological museum has besides the roman artifacts some nice menhirs on display.




    On our way to Avignon we stop at the Pont du Gard. Worth a stop as it is an impressive building that has withstood time.



    Looking over the Rhône, the skyline of Avignon is dominated by the magnificent Gothic palace of the popes. This is indeed Pope City and their palace is the major tourist attraction, built well over 600 years ago (1335-1403). Also the city wall and several other buildings go back to that period in time.

    Parking: to avoid car theft it is best to avoid parking along the boulevard and use the underground parking of “Palais des Papes”. The entrance is via Boulevard u Rhône.  If full, head for Parking des Halles, in The city center, entrance rue de l’olivier.

    Tourism:  The Avignon Passion Pass is for free and gives reduction at the places to visit.

    1. Pont St-Bénézet

    This is the name of the Pont d’Avignon “sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse…” From the 22 arches only 4 are left over. The rest was destroyed after the siege of Avignon in 1226.


    St-Bénézet was a young shepherd from Viviers who was ordered by God to build a bridge over the Rhône. It was completed by 1189.


    1. Palais de Papes

    This huge palace was built in 30 years and covers 15.000 M2. And looks more like a fortress rather than a papal palace, but than in those times the difference was a thin line.

    Built during the reign of three popes, the building can be divided into the old part and the newer part. The old part (Benedictus XII) reflects a more sober, monastery style. The newer part (mainly Clemens VI) reflects the persons love for luxury and ornaments. Unfortunately a fire and a French revolution destroyed most of the interior. Furniture and statues were destroyed, fresco’s were carved out and sold to antiquity dealers and by 180 the palace was used as soldier’s barracks.

    More info:

    • Place de l’Horloge

    This is a nice, traffic free square with several pubs, restaurants and a theater.The city walls

    The city walls are 5 km long and date from the 14th-15th century.

    • Musée Lapidaire

     Antiquity museum

    • Musée Angadon

    Small museum that houses Manet, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso

    • Rocher de Doms


    On the right bank of the Rhône opposite Avignon lies the hidden gem: villeneuve lez Avignon, a medieval town perched on a hill with the magnificent Chartreuse Notre Dame de Val de Bénédiction, one of the largest monasteries in Europe.

    Monday, 28 May

    Thanks to the 3 lane highway we are back home in a 10 hours’ drive. It was a nice trip around an interesting part of the mediteranean Franco Italo region.


    The End