Uzès: A Captivating Village in Southern France That Just Oozes Charm
Updated: Sep 23, 2019
“Oh little town of Uzes! If you were in Umbria, Parisians would be visiting you in herds!” -- Andre Gide
Just west of Provence lies a storybook sunshine-y village, wrapped in golden hued limestone and perfect for flaneurs. We stopped in Uzès on our journey from Arles to Toulouse. We were delighted by the laid back little honeypot. We felt like we landed in the "real" France, “France Profonde," not just a tourist town denuded of its authenticity.
Officially, Uzès is not in Provence, but in Occitanie region, in the department of Gard. But it looks and feels like Provence -- with its pastel shutters, limestone facades, and cobbled lanes. It's just a less crowded off radar gem, at least when it's not market day.
Casually chic Uzès makes a perfect stop on your southern France road trip. Or it's an easy day trip from from Arles, Montpellier, Nimes, or Avignon. Uzès was easily one of my favorite French villages.
History of Uzes
Uzès was originally an "oppidum," a fortified town. It was the site of an ancient settlement dating back to the 2nd century BC. Just to the north of Uzès , the Romans founded Ucetia, a "lost city" that was recently discovered in 2017. From the 13th century, Uzes was an important trading center -- silk, linen, and licorice.
In 1565, the first Duke of Uzès was installed as a Duke and French peer. There is still a duke of Uzès, Jacques de Crussol d’Uzes. When he's in residence, the flag is raised, just as when Queen Elizabeth is at Windsor Castle.
In the 16th century, King Charles IX elevated his rank to that of 1st Duke of France. This meant that the Count of Crussol, the first Duke of Uzès, became the 2nd most important person in France.
In 1965, André Malraux, Minister of Culture under General de Gaulle classified Uzès as a City of Art and History.
Highlights of Uzès, a Must See Village in Southern France:
The main activity in Uzès is just to stroll the charming tangled lanes in the old town pedestrian zone, at a leisurely pace. Uzès is an architectural jewel made for walking. And so I walked aimlessly, admiring the old village steeped in history and so different than the United States.
Place aux Herbes: Uzès Vibrant Center
The Place aux Herbes is the main square of Uzès, a lovely central meeting place. It's a broad square filled with plane trees, café tables, and flanked by a squat limestone colonnade. It's vaulted arcades are filled with tony boutiques, artisan gelato shops, and trendy cafes.
We had a delicious lunch under the ribbed vaults of Ten, a fabulous restaurant that I highly recommend. Pop into Les Terroirs. Inside it’s part restaurant (mostly sandwiches) and part posh market. The shelves are crammed with artisanal olive oils, terrines, and wines.
The Duke's Castle
Uzès most dominant landmark is the medieval Duke’s Castle, called the Duchy. It's a walled structure smack in the middle of the town, complete with turrets, that serves as the Duke's residence.
The dukes of Uzès have lived in the castle for over a thousand years. The present duke is #17. The castle serves as his summer home.
The castle's a bit of an architectural mishmash with a 12th century tower, Gothic chapel, and Renaissance facade. After the French Revolution, the castle was partly in ruins. Beginning in 1951, the Marchioness of Crussol set about restoring the Duchy. The present Duke and Duchess of Uzes continue to renovate.
Tucked behind the Duchy is a modern recreation of Uzès' medieval gardens. From there, you can climb the King’s Tower (100 steps) for a panoramic view. Your castle entry fee includes access to the viewpoint atop the donjon.
Legend hold that there was there a tunnel from the Duchy to Place Aux Herbes.
Uzès Cathedral & the Fenestrelle
Uzès Cathedral, known as the La Cathédrale Saint-Théodorit, was formerly the seat of the Bishops of Uzès, until the diocese was abolished. The cathedral was rebuilt in the 17th century, after centuries of damage. The neo-Romanesque façade was added in 1873, after the French Revolution.
The cathedral has an ornate Romanesque bell tower, the Tour Fenestrelle, which is more interesting than the church. The Fenestrelle is essentially Uzès’ leaning tower of Pisa. It has a series of cylinders pierced with narrow windows, and is thus sometimes called the Window Tower.
It's the only remaining original part of the church. And it's the only round bell tower in France.
Pont de Gard: A UNESCO Site Right Next Door to Uzès
Just 20 minutes away from Uzès stands the Pont du Gard, a surviving scrap of a Roman aqueduct that's a UNESCO site. The aqueduct originally took water from Uzès to Nimes. The aqueduct soars over the Gardon River and its dramatic gorge.
The aqueduct is massive. The bridge is 48.8 meters high, 275 meters long, and boasts 52 arches. Pont du Gard was the highest aqueduct in the Roman Empire.
In late June, the temperature had soared to the mid-90s. So after our visit, we dipped our feet in gate Gardon River to cool off. From here, you have a great perspective view of the aqueduct.
Practical Information for visiting Uzès:
Getting there: The closest train service to/from Uzès is from Nimes and Avignon.
Tourist Office: Chapelle des Capucins, place Albert 1er BP 13129
Pro tip: Market days are Wednesday and Saturday.
Hotels: The best place to stay is the luxury boutique hotel, Maison d'Uzès
The Duke's Castle:
Address: Place du Duche, 30700, Uzes
Hours: Daily 10:00 am - 12:00 pm & 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Entry fee: 20 € -- pretty steep, but the views from the tower are great.
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