Cévennes – the Land that Time Forgot

Stuart Sommers, 17 April, 2020
The Cévennes is a timeless and half-hidden French National Park, perched just above the Mediterranean Sea. Here are ten reasons why it's so special...
1) Scenic and delicious walks
The Cévennes Mountains are older than both the Alps and the Pyrenees, by several hundred million years. The hills are softer, but the landscapes aren’t any less dramatic. The walking here includes a mix of imposing gorges, fairytale forests, mountain peaks, and high rolling hills blanketed with broom and heather. The paths are lined with blackberry bushes, and in the higher elevations it’s not uncommon to find lots of energy boosting snacks: wild blueberry, raspberry and strawberries.
2) Off the beaten path – quite literally
There are 5000 kilometres of marked trails through the rolling hills of the Cévennes – and even more that aren’t marked – and none of them are well-trodden. The Cévennes Mountains are as remote as you can get in France, and in fact it’s the least populated region in the country. The stone villages that dot the countryside are authentic and lost in time, and its people are welcoming and very passionate about their region.
3) Exceptional 'produits du terroir'
The foothills of the Cévennes are set in a Mediterranean climate, and harbour silvery-green olive groves and sweet figs. Higher up, the Pélardon goat’s cheese tastes of the sunbaked herbs that blanket the hills, and the honey is perfumed by the sweet chestnut trees that attract the bees. The acidic soils are perfect for chestnut trees, which in French are affectionately known as arbre à pain – literally the 'bread tree': chestnuts traditionally made up the base of the local diet, providing flour for bread, an ingredient in dishes of all kinds, and even nourishment for livestock. The local sweet onions are known all over France, while the elusive Cèpe mushrooms are hidden in the shaded forests.
4) Views from Pic Cassini
Amid a chaos of granite rock and near-Alpine meadows, a metal pyramid marks the summit of Pic Cassini. At 1680 metres in altitude, the 360-degree views are far-reaching, atop a series of hills that seem to roll out far into the horizon. To the east is the Rhône Valley, and on a clear day you can see Mont Ventoux, and even the Alps beyond.
5) A home-away-from-home stay at Le Merlet
Le Merlet is not just any guesthouse: it’s a working stone farm run by Philippe Galzin and his daughter Perrine. Some of the buildings date from the 16th century, and were restored respecting traditional building materials and methods. Guests eat together around an old oak table, while meals are enthusiastically animated by Philippe’s anecdotes and infectious laughter. Many of the menu items come from the farm itself, which grows vegetables, produces local honey, and maintains a flock of sheep. The setting atop the high plateaus is idyllic.
6) Flora & fauna galore
The Cévennol hills harbour an impressive diversity of both fauna and flora. Wild boar, deer, and many other mammals are present, including the infamous wolf, who returned naturally via the Alps about 20 years ago. Your walks will take you under the graceful flight of some of France’s most impressive birds, including the golden eagle and the bone-eating bearded vulture. A diversity of landscapes and altitudes, and dense forest cover contribute to varied flora: close to half of all plants listed in France can be found in the Cévennes, a land that covers just 0.5% of the country’s territory.  
7) Walk in the heart of a National Park
The Cévennes National Park is one of ten National Parks in France, and in 2020 the park is celebrating its 50th year. It is the only National Park that is inhabited in its protected core, though only 64,000 people are spread over a vast land of 2700 square kilometres. Its people are fervent defenders of the local natural environment, but also of traditional pastoral activities. UNESCO has listed the Cévennes both as a Biosphere Reserve and as a Heritage Site for its agricultural activities.
8) Medieval village of La Garde-Guérin
Sitting atop the Chassezac Gorge, La Garde-Guérin is listed among the most beautiful villages in France. You’ll be able to stroll through the cobbled streets of this fortified medieval village, which has kept its authentic charm, its stone buildings beautifully maintained and restored. The 12th-century watchtower offers super views above the tiled roofs of the village, including a small Romanesque church.
9) Follow the trails of Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson and his stubborn and untamable donkey, Modestine, travelled 120 miles through the remote Cévennes in 1878. The following year Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes was published. This work is often regarded as a pioneering classic of outdoor literature, inspiring generations of travel writers who followed.   
10) Historic lands of the fight for religious freedom
The Cévennes is home to the villages and battlegrounds of the Camisards: an early 18th-century religious revolt. The Protestants of France once had limited tolerance, but following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Louis XIV set out to destroy the Reformed Church. The Camisards, a sect of the Reformed movement, fought using their intimate knowledge of these hills to their advantage. Though unsuccessful, the revolt helped keep the Reformed Church active in the Cévennes for centuries to come.
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