My first visit to the Pont du Gard was an Easter trip in cold weather: the airline had mislaid our bags and neither the heating nor the hot water were working in the hotel which faces the Roman aqueduct. But we didn’t realise at the time how privileged we were to stay in that hotel and to eat our meals in the dining room with large picture windows showing and framing the ancient stones. Now there is a car park (of course you must pay) and the main route to the site is through an explanatory information centre with displays and educational videos. No longer the thrill of happening upon the monument almost as if by chance as in an eighteenth century painting recording a noble’s Grand Tour: the Site du Pont du Gard is now a World Heritage Site. Quite right too and of course that protects and preserves this impressive monument. But the naivety of the encounter is lost.
Happily the administration has not closed off all access to hikers; access by the GR4 is still unregulated: we parked nearby and picked up the GR4 path through olive tree orchards and followed the semi-derelict arches of the original supply conduit as well as the red and white waymarks of a French Grande Randonné; the path led through juniper, oak and olive trees. Less than an hour of hiking and we “happened” upon the aqueduct. It's still an engineering wonder, the imagination to conceive such a solution, let alone the actual surveying and project management are all the more amazing the more one considers how difficult it would be to construct today.
That the three tiers of arches survive to this day is in itself a major engineering wonder, despite the weakening, apparently on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte, which have added a road bridge to the down-stream side of the Roman arches. And the aqueduct itself has such satisfying aesthetics even before consideration of the materials and time available for construction. More recent water bridges do not necessarily have such architectural poise and balance though when they do, it is usually also as a result of an innovative solution to an engineering problem.
Suffice to conclude by recording that we enjoyed a pleasant salad of French baguette and pâte with an clear view from the GR4 of the Pont du Gard upstream face, the unmodified face. A coach trip and access through the visitor centre may be more convenient but access by the GR4 still offers the authentic and more pleasant experience.