•Gard (30100) • Population: 40,851 • Altitude: 136 m
Alès is an old industrial town on the edge of the Cévennes, 40 km northwest of Nimes. It had a large silk production industry through the 19th century and was a major coal mining town in the 20th century. In the 21st century, Alès is transforming into a more tourism oriented town, as a gateway to the Cévennes national park.
Alès is the second largest town in the Gard department (after Nîmes) and is the most densely packed. We visit Alès fairly often, for practical reasons, but don't find it a very inviting place. The center of town has some shopping streets and a few squares, but nothing really outstanding.
We've begun a couple of our visits at the riverside, with covered parking at the Ave Carnot. There's a nice little park there, Place G. Peri, at the south edge of the compact town center; but, on every visit it's been occupied by street people and not very welcoming. Going north up Rue Dr Serres to the long, place Henri Barbusse it's a bit nicer, and the terrace café-restaurants seem a bit nicer.
The town center is ringed by heavy commercial and light industrial areas around the south and east sides, with the remnants of the old coal mining industry a bit further out.
The prettiest building in Alès is the Saint Jean-Baptiste Cathedral. This is a large, grey stone building built in the 17th century, on the site of a previously destroyed 12th-century church. And that one was built over the rubble of a Gallo-Roman temple.
At the front of the cathedral is a massive square bell tower rising over the main entry, and topped by a slender and smaller-than-scale campanile built in 1776. The prettiest part of the cathedral, though, is the nave end, with its neo-classical style, bright white walls and domed slate roof.
One of the few green areas of Alès is the Jardin du Bosquet, a park in the northwest part of town where the partially restored Vauban Fort sits at the top of the hill.
The prettiest part of Alès is probably along the river at the south side of town. In the summertime, there's a sandy beach, with swimming and some water sports, including an overhead tow-rope contraption that allows water skiing.
Louis Pasteur researched the silkworm disease here in Alès. The silk industry was an important part of the economics of the Cévennes and Alès, and Pasteur's work was heroic to the town. A bronze statue of Pasteur is located at the entrance to the Jardin de Bosquet.
Alphonse Daudet spent some months at Alès, working as as teacher's aid of some sort (maître d'études) at a local high school. That experience inspired his autobiographical book Le Petit Chose.
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History of Alès
Gallo-Roman: Alès was a Gallo-Roman town on the ancient Regordane Way between Moulins and Nîmes, a route that linked Paris through the Languedoc to the Camargue.
Medieval: Alès was first mentioned in a charter of 1200, and was a prosperous commercial and industrial town in the Middle Ages. It was during this period that the Vauban Fort was built at the high point of the town.
More Recently: In the 17th century Alès was the center of intense fighting during the Wars of Religion.
Sad Footnote to History. The southwest part of Alès town center, bordered by a bend of the river, was a large Medieval historical section. The town was suffering from the loss of the coal mining business and a serious economic depression. In the late 1950s and the 1960s, the town called in the bulldozers and converted ancient Medieval beauty to low-cost, high-rise urban housing. The Medieval historical center of Alès was almost completely destroyed. Renaissance houses, Louis XV palace hotels, Dominicain convent with cloistres, rich interiors, Medieval doorways, narrow covered streets; were all destroyed.
Market day: Mon-Sat.
Bus A15: Avignon, Uzes, Alès
- Gard department bus line A15 connects Avignon, Uzès and Alès.
Buses to Avignon arrive at the Gare Routière; most (but not all) continue on to the Gare TGV (another 15 minutes).
Most (but not all) buses from Avignon depart from the Gare TGV, then the Gare Routière.
Approximate trip times are: Avignon - Uzès 1hr; Uzès - Alès 0h45.
The complete route is: Avignon, Saze, Estezargues, fournes, Remoulins, Castillon-du-Gard, Vers, Argiliers, St Maximin, Uzès, Montaren, Serviers, Aigaliers, Gattigues, Foissac, Baron, Euzet, St Hippoyte, Monteils, Mejannes-les-Alès, Alès.
Bus schedules are on www.edgard-transport.fr/horaires/?rub_code=23 — Select A15, Alès, Avignon
Department 30, Gard Buses
- See Beyond's Gard Department Bus Schedules for Gard bus-lines maps and bus-line schedules (Horaires).
Maps (Plans) for the Gard bus lines are on the www.edgard.fr website, with a flash webpage for each of five zones around Nîmes (www.edgard-transport.fr/plan/?rub_code=5).
Schedules for the Gard bus lines are available via the www.edgard.fr website horaires page (www.edgard-transport.fr/horaires/?rub_code=23).