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The sweet air of the Cévennes: a British writer on life in the rural heart of France - MW


The Cévennes were sometimes considered as the giant phalanxes of a sleeping green giant. Insular, robust and Protestant, our house for 30 years has sharpened hills of granite and limestone and extends from deep valleys to suitable mountains. Felt mainly in dwarf oak, the evergreen and often impenetrable tree of southern Europe, turning to metallic gray in bad weather, but sparkling magnificently under the clear and coppery dark and dazzling sky, difficult to paint like an olive tree.

There are touches of the Alps, although very close to the Mediterranean: pines and spruce trees in deep green bands on higher slopes, fast-flowing streams between large rocks and large Large, lonely eagles watch you from the level of the summits. Beech and chestnut flourish on certain slopes, which have provided significant income and an important source of food for Cevennes farmers for centuries. We pick the chestnuts during the season, we carefully hang onto the messy paths in the aisles, the heels opening their pointed shells with seeds tucked inside like cubes.

The Cévennes National Park - created 50 years ago - offers excessive protection to the EXCELLENT region and the variety of plants, and is the only reserve in France, with no main roads. . Unique, it is a house where everyone can live and work. This is the main reason for its UNESCO World Heritage status: the existence of the agro-sylvo-pastoral tradition, defined by its mobility and timelessness: the sheep of the herd have no herd, Les bergers walk next to them or sit down and examine their charges, knowing each name, even if there are hundreds.

Now another type of natural threat endangers the shepherd himself: the wolf. Like a predatory vulture, the wolf is protected. Hunters are prohibited from shooting at them. Sheep and the growing number of deer make dinner easier, and the more modest shepherds give up stress. A wolf footprint was found by our friends Jeremy and Alexandra, who managed the Gîte d'Etape of a yurt, a wooden cabin and cooked three miles on a forest track (a jeep can accommodate guests) "with a horizon of 360 km of composting toilets, just when Jeremy put it down.

We rarely go for a local walk without meeting a shepherd, and this speaks of a combination of ancient bells. Last spring, after weeks of rain, there was a natural support in the stream. I close my eyes and imagine myself going back to the south of England, probably around the time of Edward Thomas, before there were chemicals and cars: in the past, when he spoke, he was the only dead thing that smelled. soft.


However, Cévenol's past was opposed to tragedy and violence, mainly because of religion and the refusal to conduct distant tenders in Paris. The country of terror and revenge, named Robert Louis Stevenson, called it in its classic memories Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, thinking of the harmful consequences of the Jacobin rebellion. The mountains certainly look like the central highlands in places, with the most distant peaks turning into pale blue cuts, like a veil of Chinese silk, layer after layer. Poor as the rich capital, apart from the local silk merchants and mine owners (Alès, the capital of the Cévennes, always proudly sporting its coal hill), the region found comfort in the harshness of Calvinism, alas, has serious problems with art and all that is pleasant.

The upside is that blue cockies have become particularly tolerant of rebels, rustic fists that have been opened up throughout history for persecutors. During the recent war, the complexity of the valleys and the means of concealment provided perfect cover for the resistance as well as for the Jewish families sheltered by the inhabitants of remote villages. . In the early 1700s, after an increasing number of violent and oppressive incidents, around 10,000 Protestant rebels, mainly Cévenol and a mysterious millennium, kept around 200,000 soldiers loyal to the Catholic king. Absolutely, Louis XIV uses a deep understanding of the local terrain or what Robert Louis Stevenson calls their complex hills to harass and fight enemies.

War of the Camisards (insurgents called from their white shirts or coveralls) lasted for many years and still resonates until now: our first rented house was the place of execution of the inhabitants, the ruins in ruins, burned down modest chapels on the alley. The Musée du Désert, in the farm of the cradle of the leader Camisard Roland, in the village of Mialet, is as fascinating as the museum of an old silk factory near Saint-Jean-du-Gard, paying homage to an L The industry was killed not by disease but by artificial textiles in the 1950s.

In fact, it is in Saint-Jean-du-Gard that Stevenson ends his 12-day walk. This beautiful little town is not only proud to be a big third market, where the local goat cheese, pélardon, has the natural flavor of Mediterranean herbs, which can be bought in everything. balls of moldy cream, but it's also a steam train that blows through the atmosphere with the enticing views of the limpid and limestone river below, leaving real stains on the face and clothes. from you. To get to our nearby secret bath, we had to go through a long dark tunnel, jumping from a tall oak sleeper to a sleeper, making a timer to avoid choking (or worse) on the ship. Of course, rigor, but it's a useful shortcut.
A professional UK hiking guide says that the Cévennes hiking trails are as good as anywhere in the world - if you face a modest challenge: they drain well but are often steep and rocky. and loose, suddenly opening the wonderful landscape there, on a clear day south of the Cévennes, you can slide through the glow of the Mediterranean, the glow of the Alps and to the north, the great mountains of Mont Aigoual and Mont Lozère. A good starting point is the Stevenson route, which almost follows the original 1878 route of the author and his loyal donkey, Modestine. Later versions can be rented for a few days and trips include simple homemade dishes and overnight stays. Book early, except out of season.

A ramshackle village on the Stevenson route, is an old family hobby: Le Bleymard sits at the foot of towering Mont Lozère, and we went on vacation there out of season to wander the trails. Perfect bookmarks for kids; there was also a very modest ski station, and a no-frills gîte to rest tired by the fire. Somewhere in the woods around the village, Stevenson had fallen asleep beneath the pine tree, in a self-made sleeping bag, pondering the bright stars until the cigarette. The man in the garage in Bleymard knows all about the long haired author. When I mentioned the donkey's gift, he said, Ah Modestine! and laugh as if in some personal recollections. I almost asked if he had met them. Do you know where he sleeps? Glancing around the volcano slopes, he shook his head. Nobody does. I slept alone like a boy, naturally. It's magic, he added, through gasoline fumes.


Smoke fumes are one of the reasons we quit London and guaranteed income (if modest) for a year off. This lasted for decades, long after the novel I was here to write (Ulverton) was completed and published. Young enough to be stupid, we didn't like going back to the train, stressed out and screaming. We first encountered this area when staying with friends in the 1980s, their slate-mas masist (farm) accessible only after 20 minutes of filling what felt like a small cliffs. We stood on their terrace and watched the mountains devastated by an approaching shelter, complete with echoes of thunder.

We were drawn a year later in the Citroën Visa packed in bringing with furniture and descendants at our little home, once an olive factory, whose stone walls were almost cold - we realized that southern France could fall below zero. Of course, we miss our friends and family, but loneliness, as Laurence Sterne said, allows the mind to rely on itself and be strengthened. Instead of going back to London, we bought a rudimentary stoned place even deeper on the hills. Although the writer's impatience meant that we would eventually have to return to teaching on the (Roman) path in Nîmes, at least on weekdays, the tension soon dissipated. Cévennes's sweet atmosphere, where we can look out after the forest calm fades into absolute distance.

Five places to stay and eat on the Robert Louis Stevenson trail
Gîtes du Chastel, Le Pont-de-Montvert


There is a row of stone holiday cottages just minutes from the historic centre of Le Pont-de-Montvert. Each cottage has a terrace that overlooks the valley with the River Tarn. Inside, the beamed ceiling and a woodburner create a rustic atmosphere, but there is also a modern kitchen. From the living area, wooden stairs lead up to the two bedrooms and a bathroom. It’s perfect for self-catering – but there is an option for an evening meal to be delivered by the host.

La Ferme de Lancizolle, Saint-Germain-de-Calberte
This family-run farm, in the valley about 3km from Saint-Germain-de-Calberte, offers accommodation in gypsy caravans and wooden huts on the steep hillside. Each hut/caravan has a bathroom and a small terrace. Breakfast – a selection of homemade jams, toast and coffee – is delivered to the hut in a wicker basket or served in the farmhouse. Home-cooked dinner, using ingredients mainly from the farm, is offered (for an extra fee).

Espace Stevenson, near Cassagnas village

This former railway station turned guesthouse is a popular stopover for hikers. Its four bedrooms are simply furnished with dark oak furniture. The headboards are engraved with Robert Louis Stevenson’s initials – in reference to the long-distance trail that passes by the building. Buffet dinners can be eaten outside.

Chez Les Paysans, Florac-Trois-Rivières

This rustic restaurant in Florac offers simple, local dishes and its vine-covered terrace is a great spot for lunch or dinner. Popular with locals, the three-course meal is a must – salad followed by sausage with aligot (mashed potato with lots of cheese) and finished with a chestnut cake (from €17pp). The adjoining farm shop sells jam, cheese and other local goodies.

Auberge du Peras, Saint-Jean-du-Gard


Simple local lunches and dinners are the order of the day at this restaurant – part of an inn – where the interior is dominated by stone walls and huge beams. Furnished with dark wooden tables and chairs, it is an ideal choice for a candlelit dinner. There are outdoor tables, too, for lunch or afternoon drinks in the sunshine. A three-course evening set menu highlighting traditional dishes starts from €16.

MW

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