France: Touring Roman Ruins with Man’s Best Friend
Traveling With Pets Through Southern France
Roman ruins in Southern France.
By Paul Wojnicki
When it comes to Roman ruins and sites there are few places more suitable for dog owners than the south of France. Sure, Rome has the Coliseum but it’s rather tricky to get to overland, whereas Nîmes and the surrounding area is just a three hour train journey from Disneyland Paris, and one that costs as little as €100 round trip– that’s about £80 at today’s exchange rate- for two adults and a dog.Traveling with man’s best friend.
Though smaller than the Coliseum, the 1st century the Arena of Nîmes is still a magnificent sight. Situated just a five minute stroll from Nîmes train station the arena is extraordinarily well preserved and still used for concerts and events today, though the original capacity of 24,000 has been reduced to 10,000. Dogs are not allowed inside unless they are carried in a bag but the exterior is a remarkable spectacle and- unlike the coliseum- often without a tourist in sight.
Less than half a mile north of the arena is Maison Carré, a well preserved fifth century Roman temple. Again dogs are not allowed inside but it’s a nice place to stop for a photograph and a glass of local wine in one of the cafes across the square before heading to les Jardins de la Fontaine. This park is home to some of Nîmes’ other important Roman ruins, including the remains of a Roman baths, beautiful statues and a ruined 2nd century temple.
The gardens extend over several levels, with waterways at the bottom, subtropical plants in the middle and the Tour Magne on the summit. This 98ft high Roman monument, dates back to 15 B.C and is the largest of a chain of towers that once punctuated the city’s 7km-long Roman ramparts. Entrance to the park is free and dogs are welcome.
Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard is a massive Roman aqueduct just a short bus ride from Nîmes — dogs are welcome onboard the buses. With three tiers, thirty five arches and almost three hundred feet in length, the aqueduct is an awesome spectacle; especially when you consider its age.
You can walk its entire span, then stroll along the riverside or climb into the nearby hills. If it’s a hot day you can stop for a swim in the river- taking note of any currents- picnic on the grounds or have a proper meal at one of the restaurants. One handy tip is to get there in the evening as admission to the site is charged for the museum and therefore free once the museum is closed. It’s possible to stay overnight at Motel Le Clos De La Cerisaie with your dog if you’d prefer to explore the gorges in the area a little longer.
The winding streets of Arles may feel strangely familiar, this is after all where Van Gough spent the last years of his life and Arles is the city in which he was at his most productive. The yellow house that he lived in was unfortunately destroyed in the Second World War, but fortunately the Roman ruins, including an amazingly preserved amphitheater, were not.
Arles is a delightful town with a compact centre that manages to feel French, Spanish and Roman at the same time. Indeed in Roman times this town was capital of Roman Gaul, Spain and- rather bizarrely- Britain. The touristic area is perfect for exploring on foot and ancient ruins are scattered throughout the centre.
It’s an open air museum in many ways and thus it’s perfect for dog owners. The highlight of Arles is an amphitheater even more impressive than the one in Nîmes. It’s so large that you cannot possibly miss it and, though the original 20,000 capacity has been vastly reduced, it still holds live events today, including re-enactments of gladiator battles in the months of July and August.
Alas, dogs are not allowed inside the arena or the classical theatre next door but they are well worth visiting for the exterior alone, and it’s also possible to peer in from the gates outside the classical theatre while the artists rehearse.
Plan a trip to France, and take your dog with you! Getting there and around
Ouigo operate a daily service from Marne la Vallee (Disneyland Paris) to Nîmes that takes just 3 hours and costs from €10 per adult each way. Dogs larger than 6kg cost €30 each way but that still only comes to €100 return for two adults and a dog.
Regular TGV trains can also be caught from Gare du Lyon in central Paris but driving into central Paris and parking your car can be a nightmare. See www.ouigo.com and www.voyages-sncf.com for more details.
Pont du Gard can be reached by local buses, which allow dogs on board. Arles is 30 minutes to an hour away depending on which local train you take.
Where to stay
Staying in Nîmes is the most convenient way to explore the area. I recommend the Adagio Access Nimes for its convenient location just five minutes from Nimes Arena, and one minute from the train station and bus stop to Pont du Gard. There’s also a Carrefour Express supermarket three doors away. Spacious rooms cost as little as €55.
Froidefond-Gass Isabelle et Froidefond Luc SCP de Vétérinaires, 108 Rue André Simon, 30900 Nîmes. Tel: +33 4 66 02 00 63. A 15 minute stroll southwest from the train station and Adagio Access hotel.
Paul Wojnicki is a freelance journalist based in the UK who has been published in most of the leading UK dog magazines.
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