V alcèzard is the expanse of land lying between The Cèze and Ardèche rivers is known locally as Valcèzard. That is Val + Cèz + Ard. This territory is much more than just a fabrication by the local tourism department and has an identity all of its own that is more akin to that of Provence. It lies in Gard Provençal and it must be remembered that governmental administrative regions do not normally reflect historically-defined or distinct areas on the ground.
Valcèzard is a tale of two rivers, the forest of Valbonne with its Carthusian monastery lying between the two, and sixteen ‘communes’ with their distinctive hill-top villages and expansive vineyards. The area offers myriad options for walking holidays in France.
To the north, the Ardeche Gorge cuts spectacularly into the limestone bedrock as it meanders downstream towards the Rhone Valley. The vertical, and occasionally potholed sides, contrast starkly with the meandering calmness of the river bed below, save for the occasional shallow rapids. To the south, The Cèze is much more topographically diverse, with serrated gorges, followed by expansive and flat floodplain, and abrupt waterfalls before calmness is once again resumed.
In stark contrast to the gentle stretches of the Ceze around Goudargues, where a canal flows down ‘Main Street,’ the river then carves great channels and cavities into the rocks at Sautadet, near Roque sur Cèze, the next village to the east, as its waters disappear into a complex network of galleries and cylindrical pot-holes, formed by the swirling movement of the pebbles. The whole site was probably the result of some unusual uplifting of the limestone bedrock five millions years ago.
What gives the terrain its unity are the vines, the lavender fields and, yes, the unmistakable homogeneity of the undulating ‘Garrigues.’
For those who would like to get to know this fascinating area as part of a Hiking France tour, The Enlightened Traveller offers a hike-drive programme, featuring light hiking entitled Hiking Gard-Provence which, due to the gifted nature of the Mediterranean climate, is available all year round. France hiking rarely comes with a better finish than our ‘grande finale’ to this week’s hiking in France: a half or full-day’s hiking to the Pont du Gard.
Those of you who love short hikes punctuated by village ‘rambling’ or strolling will find this particular France hiking programme very attractive indeed. Valcèzard is in easy reach of Avignon or Nimes airports and getting between walks and villages is via quiet departmental roads that are a joy to drive on.
Some of the village highlights are described below…
Aiguèze is a small medieval village perched high on a cliff at the mouth of the Ardèche gorge.This stunning village is a historic monument. With its Sarrasin tower and keep, fine church and entrancing cobbled alleyways, Aiguèze is a joy to behold.
Cornillon is set high up on a rocky peak, overlooking its low-lying sister-village, Goudargues. One of our walks is a fascinating hike between these two contrasting and picturesque places. Cornillon has a special feel about it that has attracted some of the regions top artists. It’s feudal castle, dating back tgo the 12 century, is almost always open and refreshingly understated, with free entry. The uprising of Henry de Montmorency against The Crown in 1632, part of the Wars of Religion, resulted in the destruction of much of the castle. Nevertheless, there is still much to enjoy and the views afforded from its ramparts along the Cèze valley are simply stunning.
Goudargues grew up around the former 12th century Benedictine abbey, after the monks had channeled the waters of the Gordanicus lake. These waters are still omnipresent as one walks the charming streets and alleys of this uncharacteristically low-lying village, with its notable canals, wash room and abbey.
LaRoque sur Cèze is a small medieval village, built on a rocky outcrop and offering a splendid view of the Cascades du Sautadet. Its castle vestiges and chapel rise above the landscape, and remains of the surrounding wall are still visible – the castle was burnt down in 1573 by Huguenots and was abandoned in the late 19th century. The pont Charles Martel from the Middle Ages, crosses the Ceze via eleven arches.
Montclus is a tiny village perched on a hill surrounded by small mountains that dominate the Cèze valley. Vestiges from an extant fishing tribe have been found dating their presence to between 8000 to 2000 BC. The medieval village existed before the thirteenth century under its Latin name ‘Castrum Montecluso.’
It boasts some remarkable examples of rural architecture, like the old hospital. The abbey of Mons Serratus was founded In 1263. Twelve years later, the castle was built, but only its square keep remains. Later, the Pont du Moulin bridge was constructed over the Cèze. It is the setting for the Medieval Festival and the occasional French period film.
For an unforgettable hiking experience, please visit our Walking Provence-West tour page.
Click to visit The French Hiker’s Guide to Holidaying in the Hexagon and the Best French Self-guided walks, trails, trips, places & themes.