Return to le Gard, France

The Gard department, next door to its more famous cousin Vaucluse (typically referred to as Provence), makes a great base for those seeking a more authentically French and perhaps less expensive stay in the region. I find the Gard to be not quite as tidy as the Vaucluse but having fewer English speakers and fewer foreign tourists. That said, it still boasts numerous quaint villages to explore and good access to the Rhône Valley, the Cévennes Mountains and the Camargue. For me it’s an ideal location to soak up the Provençal culture and sun.

We lived there in a small town, St. Etienne de l’Olm, for 10 months in 2012 to 2013. This return was a nostalgic trip to re-visit some of our favorite places in the region. For a complete list of posts on hiking, markets and other attractions see the 10 Months in the South of France page.

Ardèche Hike

Aiguèze – Rochers de Castelviel is one of my favorite hikes in the region because of the dramatic views over the Ardèche River combined with the vineyards and plus-beaux-villages scenery. Aiguèze, where the 5-mile loop hike begins, is listed as one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages.

Although the track runs not far from the river, climbing to the cliff above Aiguèze shortly after leaving town, it does not have many views of the river below until the view point at Rochers de Castelviel. There is a short section as you are leaving town then the trail plunges back into the garrigue (local vegetation) and doesn’t emerge again until the Rochers de Castelviel viewpoint. Normally I’m not a fan of green tunnel hikes but the views at Rochers de Castelviel overlooking the cliffs and the Ardèche River are worth it. The walk through the shaded scrub is also a nice break from the sun on a hot day.

Near the end of the hike the views open up to old vine vineyards with a backdrop of the village and Ventoux peak in the far distance. The AllTrails app has you start in the village but you can also park at the parking/camp ground just outside of town which is also on the trail route.

2013 Post – Hiking the Gorge of the Ardèche

Drive through the Rhône Valley

Côtes du Rhône is one of my favorite wines. It is also one of my favorite appellations to visit. Miles and miles of vineyards, the upper reaches of which butt up against the foothills as you head towards Ventoux peak. I particularly like the route on D7 starting in Roaix and winding down through Séguret, Sablet, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Beaumes-de-Venise. For more dramatic views, from Beaumes-de-Venise take the D90 through Suzette over to Malaucène which will get you back to a faster road D938 which has some great views as well.

Camargue

While the Camargue may not be the most scenic region of France I find it to be one of the more interesting, mostly because it’s not like the rest of the country. Located in southern France between Montpellier and Marseille, the delta of the Rhône River, a flat wetland area, is home to pink flamingos, white horses and a particular breed of black cattle. Of the 3 I’m most drawn to the pink flamingos which can be observed up close at the Ornithological Park of Pont du Gau.

Ornithological Park of Pont du Gau

The Ornithological Park of Pont du Gau is home to many species and is a birder’s delight with paths winding through the park wetlands. If you are like me, however, and are mostly interested in the flamingos they are front and center. The birds are in the park all year and are easily viewed in the waters near the entrance of the park. Other paths in the park take you to farther reaches where there are numerous blinds to view other species of birds.

At noon on a Tuesday in early October the park was busier than I expected and we had to park in the second lot. While there were people on the pathways and picnicking on the benches it didn’t feel overly crowded.  It’s a pleasant place to stroll on a pretty afternoon and see a different side of France.

2012 Post – Flamingos, Camargue

Uzès Wednesday Market

While Uzès’s Wednesday market is quieter in terms of the number of vendors and patrons than the Saturday version it is still a bustling market with plenty of offerings – meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetable, spices, flowers, cheese etc. – to tempt your palate and provide for dinner. The market has a lovely setting on the shaded old town square, place aux Herbes, and provides a great excuse to meander Uzès’s quaint tree-lined streets.

2012 Post – Uzès Market – End of Summer in the South of France
2013 Post – Uzès Wednesday Market

Nîmes les Halles

If you missed market day in Uzès, the Nîmes les Halles market is open every day from 7-1 p.m., though it might not be as busy on Mondays. Here you’ll find all the specialties of the region – wonderful fish, meat, poultry, charcuterie and cheeses as well as beautiful fruits and vegetables.

2013 Post – Nîmes Les Halles

Bambouseraie en Cévennes

Near Anduze in the foothills of the Cèvennes Mountains is a wonderfully maintained botanical garden of mature specimens. While the Bambouseraie en Cévennes specializes in various varieties of bamboo it also has an interesting collection of large trees (some over 100 years old), a Japanese garden as well as smaller installations such as green houses and bonsai trees.

The garden was started in 1856 by Eugène Mazel who collected exotic species from around the world. The long history of the garden allowed for the creation of a unique and beautiful environment where you can appreciate mature specimens. It’s one of my favorite places in the region.

2013 Post – Bambouseraie de Prafrance, Anduze

Home Base near Uzès

Villa Provençale

Villa Provençale is a VRBO property located in the village of Saint-Siffret a 10-minute drive to Uzès. Situated on a large, quiet property with a shaded yard and pretty garden beds surrounding a heated pool the 2-bedroom unit has a good-sized kitchen and a comfortable living/dining area. There is also a pleasant covered terrace next to the pool.

The two bedrooms are upstairs with a full bath (shower/bathtub combo) and a bathroom with a shower downstairs. Both bedrooms have two twin beds that can be pushed together to make a king, with an average mattress and a hard uncomfortable gap between the beds if you are using it as a king. Both rooms have plenty of storage space.

The kitchen is well equipped with cooking and serving utensils and dishes and has a good set up for those wishing to explore the local markets and cook their own meals. There is also a gas grill on the terrace.

My one dislike of the apartment is there is only a narrow spiral staircase to reach the upstairs.

The apartment has a good Wi-Fi connection and plenty of outlets throughout the rooms.

Saint-Siffret, a 10-15 minute walk from the property, is a quaint hilltop village with a couple of restaurants. We did not try them, but did walk around town.

Bouillabaisse at Chez Madie, Marseille

One of my favorite dishes, I had to end our trip with a traditional bouillabaisse in Marseille. While many nations have an iconic fish soup I particularly like the deep rich fish stock laced with saffron and served with aioli toast version found only in the south of France. A true bouillabaisse is comprised of 5 Mediterranean fish and potatoes. The broth is served first as a separate course followed by the cooked fish and potatoes.

We’ve eaten this dish twice before in Marseille. The first time was at le Miramar which serves a traditional bouillabaisse presented with pomp and circumstance. The second time was at Peron where they put a modern twist on the classic. For our return visit I wanted classic but recent reviews of le Miramar left me branching out to try something different.

Chez Madie got good reviews for both the quality of its food and friendliness of its service. Both turned out to be true. The harbor front dining room opens to the street with the harbor just across the road. This is typical for the harbor front seafood restaurants of this area.

Chez Madie’s dining room, while graced with white tablecloths, has a casual air. Both the staff and the patrons were dressed casually. Most patrons seemed to be French locals rather than international tourists.

The bouillabaisse is priced like an exceptional dish but was served without much fuss, i.e., no presentation of the fresh fish. The fish broth, served first, was everything it should be with a rich depth of flavor and not too salty, served with toast, a fresh garlic clove to grate on the toast, aioli, and a small bowl of cheese. The fish course served after a proper delay was a simple plate of the various fish perfectly cooked along with potatoes that bordered on overcooked. Again the fish was everything it should be without fuss or finicky presentation.

Which do I think was better? For a first experience I like the grander presentation to go with such an expensive and special dish. If you just want good food without the fuss then Chez Madie is the better choice. It is also considerably less expensive at 51€/person instead of 79€/person at Le Miramar.

2013 Post – Bouillabaisse à Marseille
2011 Post – Bouillabaisse Marseillaise and Pink Flamingos

For links to all the posts in this series see the South of France page.

October 2-7, 2022