Anyone who doesn’t believe the French have perfected the art of living hasn’t been to Uzès. In the town’s quintessential tiny streets, sunlight plays across golden stone walls, with heirloom rose bushes spilling over here and there. Children’s voices mix with the sound of their feet slapping the cobblestones. Gradually smells from the bakeries and restaurants entice everyone towards the center of town. The atmosphere gets livelier as locals congregate at cafés clustering around the main square…. Think charm, charm, and more charm with no pretense whatsoever.
This market town on the border of Occitanie and Provence makes an ideal vacation base. Trails for hiking and biking abound, including one along the ancient Roman aqueduct to the iconic Pont du Gard. Nîmes and Avignon are a short, scenic drive or bus ride away, as are lavender fields and countless other villages. Uzès doesn’t have a train station, but the regional bus system is extensive and easy to use.
Many travelers gravitate towards cities when considering the best base for a vacation. But staying near a major transportation hub nearby can mean sacrificing atmosphere and relaxation. We spent a week in Uzès, exploring the historic center and its renowned market. We loved sinking into the easy rhythm of summer days, getting to know the locals, and having plenty of opportunities to explore the town’s more subtle pleasures. No matter how much we enjoyed our day trips, coming “home” to Uzès each evening always made us happy.
Uzès is pronounced OO-zess, more or less. The first syllable doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English. If you speak French, it sounds like the ‘u’ in bûche rather than the ‘ou’ in bouche.
The town is about 16 miles (25 km) north of Nîmes and 25 miles (40 km) west of Avignon. Uzès lies on the eastern edge of Occitanie, close to Provence culturally as well as geographically.
Orientation in Uzès is simple: a roughly circular road rings most of the medieval center. The road’s name varies, but it’s always easy to recognize since it functions as a high street. A shady strip called the Esplanade makes a spur off the ring, serving as an outdoor bus station and also the scene of summer food stalls. Crossing through the ring road where it intersects the spur, you’ll find the Place aux Herbes, the heart of town.
Life in the Medieval Town
Uzès began as a Roman settlement near the Fontaine d’Eure, the source of the Alzon river and the start of the aqueduct to Nîmes. In the fifth century, it became the regional bishopric, dispensing justice and minting money. From 725-753, it was also the northernmost outpost of Muslim Spain. With a relatively tolerant outlook, Uzès hosted communities of Jews and Cathars when it could. In 1229 it joined France along with the rest of Languedoc. When the Industrial Revolution and silkworm disease brought the local textile industry to an end, the region began producing ceramics and licorice instead. (Hence the Haribo candy factory just outside town.)
Uzès’ year-round population of 8,000 swells to roughly twice its size during July and August. Most of the visitors we saw in late June appeared to be regulars, nearly all of them French. You couldn’t ask for a more relaxed, friendly atmosphere. At the grocery near the bus stop, we made the acquaintance of the owner and his acrobatic terrier. The baker kindly helped me to brush up on my vocabulary by naming each of the pastries. My favorite: the chausson aux pêches, with peaches peeping out the end of a flaky pastry “slipper.”
Place aux Herbes
This is grand central station for life in Uzès. Enormous plane trees dot this square, surrounded by cafes and a few shops tucked into the medieval arcades. I got the impression everyone passes through here on a daily basis. The atmosphere picks up tempo from quiet coffees and dog-walking in the morning to drinks and music in the evening.
Saturday is market day in Uzès, and draws people from all over the region. (The smaller version on Wednesdays has mostly food.) Stalls spread from the Place aux Herbes through the surrounding streets. Our pickings included fresh goat cheese, produce, honey and sauces to take home in little jars, woven baskets, espadrilles, and Provençal soaps.
In 1632 Uzès became the first duchy in France; only the royal family ranked higher than the Duc d’Uzès. Today the Château Ducal d’Uzès, or Ducal Palace, anchors the town. Guided tours of the interior cost €20.
The regional bus system is called Edgard. If you prefer to plan ahead, pick up schedules and tickets at the Uzès tourist office or the Nîmes and Avignon train stations. Otherwise, schedules are posted at each stop and you can purchase tickets on board. Rides cost €1.50 each or €13 for a pack of 10 tickets. Bear in mind that Sundays mean reduced schedules. On Saturdays, when the market fills the Esplanade, the next closest stop is Le Refuge.
We prefer to avoid driving when travelling, but a car does broaden possibilities for day trips. (Arles, the Camargues, the Luberon villages, …) Because the historic center restricts traffic, parking can be tricky. The official city website has a map of parking lots, albeit without rate information.
For travel by foot and bicycle, check the Gard region’s excellent website. Within each category – walking, hiking, biking, mountain biking – trails are classified by difficulty, distance, estimated time to complete, and special features.
Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard lies about 9 miles (15 km) from Uzès, and can be accessed via car, bus, bike, kayak, or foot. See our post on the Pont du Gard and Nîmes for more information.
The E52 line (Nîmes-St Ambroix) is the fastest line to Uzès from Nîmes; buses take about 40 minutes and leave roughly every half hour. The Nîmes-Pont St Esprit line also works but can take up to 90 minutes.
For Avignon, take the A15; there are 5 to six buses per day and the ride takes about an hour.
Plenty of choices here – there’s even a campground on the edge of town. We stayed at a great AirBnB which the owner restored himself. (Unfortunately, it’s no longer available.) The top-floor loggia let us keep tabs on the cats soaking up the sun on the tile roofs.
A foodie paradise, Uzès has haute cuisine restaurants, fresh market fare, and everything in between. We went a little crazy at the market and didn’t need much besides bakery runs, but I can vouch for the Crêperie la Bolée.
Besides the market , you’ll find a remarkably interesting set of shops – no touristy trinkets here – as well as a few art galleries. Our favorites included:
Cannes de Collection
Amongst the many antique shops in town, the most intriguing was an entire store full of vintage canes. Separate cases contain ivory handles, silver handles, painted ceramic handles, and so on. Cannes de Collection, 30 Boulevard Charles Gide
Les Céramiques de Lussan
We were drawn in by the display of ceramic pintades (guinea hens) milling about on the floor as though they were alive. Heidi Caillard began making the birds in 1968 and continues to produce new pieces, although her son has taken over production. The website has information about how to visit the factory studio and store in Lussan where they are “born.” Les Céramiques de Lussan, 6 Rue Jacques d’Uzès