01 June, 2011

Led by the nose.

You can't tell from this image, but I had to swallow several times on the way here, as my ears were popping.  I live in the foothills of the Cevennes.  The Lozère is the mountains for me, and several times I found myself well above 1,000 m in altitude.
Smack-dab in the middle of this Languedoc Roussillon map you see the Parc National des Cevennes, 1,500 square kilometers straddling the départements of the Ardèche, the Aveyron, the Gard (where I live) and the Lozère.  In the middle of the Parc--and the Lozère--is the town of Florac, population about 2,000, where I stopped for lunch and a good wander.
This is the kind of place to which nature-lovers can't help but be drawn, tucked into a valley between high, wide plateaus.  It's also a good stopping point for those who love hairpin turns and panoramic views. A lucky someone had an old Triumph I couldn't help but admire; it fit right in to the laid-back, slightly lost in time feel of Florac.
Many come for the fishing as four different rivers and streams come together in Florac, offering a lush quantity of trout, if local menus are anything to go by.
The house on the motionless water on the left is actually a restaurant with a divinely situated terrace, overlooking the canal.  It's where I had wanted to eat--La Source du Pêcher. I had heard quite good things.  Unfortunately, I cavalierly failed to make a reservation, and seeing as it was Mother's Day in France...well, the lovely-sounding menu went untasted.  Another time--and outside seating a must.
Beyond the hikers and fishing aficionados, lots of motorcyclists head this way for the aerial, twisting turns of the ancient route of the Corniche des Cévennes, used by the King's soldiers way back when they were hunting down the Protestants, or Huguenots. 
Just a bit farther north-ish and you are in Gorges du Tarn territory, a dramatic, fine place to be, as long as you aren't in a hurry.  Get yourself stuck behind a truck on these narrow lanes and you're waiting a while indeed.  I'll admit to having had a touch of vertigo. Some people welcome the slowness, if not the trucks.  In a couple of weeks the transhumance will be underway, slowing things down even more, as goats and sheep in the thousands head to summer pastures well above the hotter lowlands.
As you reach the Gorges du Tarn, you also pass Ispagnac, a little village girded by picturesque low-scale orchards and known for its cherries and strawberries.  This is where they still have communal meals on long tables in front of the medieval church, under the sibilant, swooping circles made by dozens of swallows.  Just earlier this month, they enjoyed the annual tête de veau.
The local roofs are eye-catching with their roughly-shaped slate tiles, unknown in the lowlands, where rounded terre cuite rules the day.
I think I could fall in love with a mountain place on the strength of that sort of roof alone, warm and smooth in the spring light.
The roses are in evidence everywhere--and they have a rich scent.
But the perfume that really drew me to the mountains in the first place came from two sorts of local broom.
There is the more common type (cytisus scoparius), which grows rather sparsely around my house, and is considered a nuisance plant in some countries (despite its herbal and practical uses).  But there is also what is called by some Provence broom (cytisus oromediterraneus), which hugs the ground more closely and can cover entire flanks of mountains in the Parc. The scent is intoxicating, almost a sort of golden jasmine of the mountains. At this time of year, the air is swollen with that perfume.  People drive with their windows and nostrils wide open to take it all in.
I know I did.


  1. Tu traduis les Cèvennes magnifiques mieux qu'une vraie cévenole.
    L'office du tourisme va t'embaucher.
    Superbe reportage.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. I was on the Florac/Corniche des Cevennes path at Easter on a motorbike and it was absolutely stunning. The smells were divine and as it was early in the season there was no one. A fantastic area.

  3. Oh this was lovely. I felt like I was traveling on a lazy weekend when I could amble as I pleased. Dining while overlooking that waterfall would have been wonderful.

  4. Merci Micheline, tu es bien généreuse avec tes compliments!

    Yes, Sarah, I'm really not exaggerating about the perfumed air, am I? And all the birdsong...pretty fine stuff!

    Hello WC, I'll admit to feeling momentarily bummed when the waiter told me it was full. The place surprised me with its beauty and tranquility, plus that menu looked above average...

  5. Tammy, I think I might be able to comment again. I was able to leave a message on Diane's blog.


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