Peaceful slumbers in the heat of southern France

it’s early July. The sky is a perfect blue from dawn to dusk – every day. The mercury hits a daily 33°+. The beauty of a warm breeze through waving trees cooling exposed skin cannot be overemphasised. Grating cicadas are embedded in the background soundscape, the only surprise being the sudden silence when their noisy vibrations cease as they gird their legs & wing cases for another round of heated sound effects.

The land bakes. Rows of vines shadow their clumps of darkening grapes, drawing nutrients and water from the dry soil to nourish their charges into fruity wines over the summer. The harvest has been called in and the landscape awaits a further season of beating temperatures. Humanity shelters behind closed shutters, keeping coolness in and the heat of the day out.

It’s too hot to go far. Finding shade under umbrellas seems a good strategy. And if the umbrellas are in quiet, shady squares of small, quiet shady villages then even better. That means morning coffee, long, simple lunches, a cooling beer at teatime and dining out in the evening until the stars come out. So here are a few places that fit the bill.

Lunch in the small medieval village of Lussan in a small shaded garden run by the village association.

Castillon du Gard, within walking distance has two delightful bistro-type restaurants. One serves tapas at lunchtime and coffe in the morning shade. The other provides dinner with a simple local menu of beef, duck or fish.

Of course, the square in Uzes and the road ring outside the medieval walls has countless eating opportunities. It is amazing how from 6.45pm the whole world and his/her dog, buggy, grandma, lover, mistress, partner, spouse, hen mates & families promenade comparing menu boards fronting empty tables. By 7.05 the square is empty, all tables are filled and everyone seems happy.

Favourite place – Vers Pont du Gard. A small medieval village with a glorious, plane tree-shaded, gravelled square and washing house. At the edge La Grange, under the shade of the branches or its own umbrellas, offers a friendly welcome and organically produced local food and wine/beer – delicious, peaceful, friendly, tasty. Such a delight 🙂

La belle Gard in la belle France

After years of enforced homestays, as varied and enjoyable as they were, it is with glee and fond memories that I return to the Gard region of southern France and the Cevennes. Flying into Marseille, I am immediately back in my second home – the sky is a perfect blue, the heat oozes from the stone, cicadas chorous their welcome from the trees lining the autoroute. Moving away from the sea, 10 days of heat & peace await.

Castillon-du-Gard is a small medieval village that overlooks the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct over the River Gardon that brought cool water from a source near Uzes to Nimes. A tangle of narrow streets interlace themselves around the church and buttressed buildings,leading to rampards that overlook the vines, olives and wheat fields that fill the valley below. The homes are large and feel prosperous as if Parisens and Swiss have come to buy, renovate and stay (which they have).A un-umbrellered cafe of silver, aluminium, sun- exposed chairs and tables caters for a few old boy locals. A very flash hotel/restaurant caters for the top echelons. Two other simple but excellent food places cater for everyone else – visitors and locals alike. There’s also a small alimentation and a very good clothes shop.

The children from the school are just off out.

Exploring Uzes with its perfectly preserved medieval architecture is a joy of memories of family and friends. Narrow streets lead off the large enclosed market place, ringed by tall buildings that look out from cracks in shuttered windows over bustling market days, squares of chattering cafe tables, truffled restaurants & luminous, slushy ice cream parlours. The canopy of plane trees provide a camouflage of dappled shade over all this activity.

Surrounding streets show off groups of exploring tourists, classy clothes shops (for men & women), local products, cafes, posh cake shops, boulangeries, bars and bistros.

The place has a special atmosphere even if the afternoon sitting in the cafes is slightly spolit by the aroma of fish from the morning market.

And then the return to the Renaissance streets and squares of Barjac with so many glorious memories around bull runs, swimming in Speedos, apricot flans, the Gold River, canoeing the Ceze, naturist pirates on the Ardeche, roundabouts in Avignon.

The heat blasts the back streets, burning anyone prepared to explore behind the square’s branch-covered facade. The access through the huge walls is evidence of shady Sunday meetups for short coffees before separating to find larger covers of cool breeze.

And just for those of you in the know – the buvette is still there, surrounded by Barjac lavender which at this time if year has not yet ben harvested. You can really smell it.

Happy memories 🙂