My 7-day France journey is taking me months to tell about! With the emotional emptiness I am facing now this trip seems even more lointain, far away, than it normally would 2 months later. Take your bike out, we’re going to Tarascon and Beaucaire!
Tarascon and Beaucaire are situated right opposite each other, both along the Rhône river. Tarascon is situated in the Bouches-du-Rhône department while its counterpart Beaucaire belongs to the Gard department. The two towns belong to different regions too which adds a symbolic significance to crossing the river when travelling from one to the other.
Both towns are close to the place where I stayed for the second part of my journey in the Provence, Comps. I actually arrived in Tarascon from the cozy Arles where I was picked up by Muriel and Michel, my hospitable hosts at the l’Oustaou de Fanny et Marius. They lent me their bike so that I could enjoy the perfect tracks and the beautiful vineyards along the way. As the weekend was dedicated to the France’s traditional heritage days (annual thing which no one should ever miss!), I decided to get the most out of my day – without making too much effort.
First stop on my perfect-bike-track 30-minute journey was Beaucaire, a very quiet town with an almost deserted fortress. There was a nice park on the slopes of the hill with the fortress on top. You could see the town spreading downstairs with its medieval roofs and… wind power plant to the left (out of the picture below). All very quiet… And who would tell that it used to be a very lively and important crossroads, a merchants’ hub so to speak!
As I was aiming at visiting sites for free and joining some – free – walking tours (the perks of the Heritage Days which happen each September in France), I thought I should better hurry up to the opposite town of Tarascon instead, as Beaucaire seemed too quiet. So I crossed the bridge to finally get to see that Tarascon which we read about at the University while studying French and translating excerpts from Alphonse Daudet’s Tartarin de Tarascon.
And this is what welcomes you to the town if you are coming from Beaucaire: a mythological monster called Tarasque which is supposed to have lived there a long long time ago. They also say that it was tamed by St Martha, who inevitably became the city’s patron saint. For sure both the jolly gourmand Tartarin and the monstrous Tarasque are celebrated during various festivities in the city.
The 15th century fortress of Tarascon is much more impressive – although it seems so compact from the outside. It’s actually so toy-like that you can’t get rid if the feeling until you get to the very top of the castle, overlooking the fortress of Beaucaire.
The fortress is worth visiting not only for that impressive view from the top plus some obvious thrill when you approach the border and look through its machicoulis down – don’t forget to add the ever-present mistral wind which menaces to blow you off the top of the tower!
A bit later I would also mount the bell tower of the St Marthe Cathedral, but for the while I was enjoying the view on the city’s roofs:
A few words and pictures on what you will see inside the fortress apart from the sinister carvings on the walls left by the unfortunate prisoners God knows when:
There is a hall with early 20th century silent movies – in sinister colours too – shown in a loop, another hall houses every possible book about knights and fortresses + a hall with models and toy fortresses, from paper to lego.
I liked this hall too:
All in all, a heaven for – mostly – little boys and big boys. The route you make in the castle is pretty well planned, so that you make several climbing and descending of the stairs, starting and finishing with the small garden at the foot. As I thought I saw pas mal of the fortress already, I (after checking if the bike was still peacefully attached to a rail) opted for a walking tour round the town with this wonderful person, an author of books about Tarascon and a volunteer guide.
It was fun when he asked where the people who joined his tour were from and everyone was like – this and this nearby town – I said ‘Russie‘ 🙂 I later met one of the women in this photo in Avignon where I headed the following day to get a free entrance to its sites and enjoy walking tours (all French cities are involved in the Heritage Days weekend).
But prior to joining the crowd I made a short walk in Tarascon on my own. First I climbed the bell tower of the St Marthe Cathedral which is normally close to the public. Thanks to the Heritage Days I could see both towns’ castles from the top:
The wind there was no less strong. The fortress looked even more toy-like.
I also walked in the town to get some details:
Temple Street was renamed Street of Proletariat at some point =)
‘Here on the 17th of April 1897 absolutely nothing happened…’
(a plaque placed by the town’s heritage society)
The town is famous (or at least used to be) for its calico.
This white one in particular looked just like,well, men’s underwear for me 🙂
But I liked the idea! The French are known for their ability to actually value their local crafts and traditions. Or ‘at least’ make them bring money.
This super-old-authentic-medieval passage in between two streets (which was rather like a street itself) had a very weird mixture of seducing smells coming through a vent from a nearby restaurant and the all-time smells of people using this passage as a WC. Obviously this is a veeery old habit 🙂
With the walking tour we didn’t only visit the most important sights of the town but also entered the cathedral and the tiny local theatre with Italian-style stage and underground rooms for actors.
There was also this monastery with delicate ornaments and grapevines:
There I had to leave the group to get back home before the sunset.
See the tiny Tarasque on top of the roof?
Tarascon and Beaucaire checklist
- bookstore & postcards – none.
- museum – two castles, both worth visiting especially the Tarascon one
- local food – nope but there was some great cheese and bread waiting for me in Comps
- market – no
- old town – both towns have their own, Tarascon one is bigger that that in Beaucaire