Yesterday I worked up some energy and drove up the road to St. Ambroix, on the northern edge of my departement – the Gard. It’s an odd little town, inhabited by pot-bellied men in velour jumpers and skinny, dredded youngsters on cargo bikes. This is one of the areas the French ‘counter culture’ fled to during the 60s and 70s to live off the land (Pierre Rabhi, the most famous of them all, still lives here). It’s also a tourist town, but the Dutch campsite residents are missing, so it’s the locals who shine.

Anyway, above is not actually St. Ambroix, but Les Vans, across my first set of small mountains. Saturday is market day and I saw two old folks wearing masks. People feel safe up here.

Above is a picture of a giant bunch of blooming chestnut trees with a ubiquitous hill village in the background. This tree is everywhere in the Cévennes and is/was/has been used to make everything from bread to soup to booze. The chestnut tree was called the ‘Bread Tree’ (arbre à pain) and helped the Cévennes never experience famine, like neighboring areas did.

There is also a link between the trees and the village you see in the photo. A thousand years ago Benedictine and Cistercian monks infiltrated this land, building hundreds of tiny hamlets of priories (sometimes just a couple of fortified buildings). Around these dwellings the monks planted chestnut trees because they would grow. Eventually the monks disappeared and villages popped up in their place. The chestnuts will hopefully outlive them all.

This is an excellent little 6 km climb out of Pied-de-Borne, in the luscious Chassezac valley. It’s the perfect road for a guy who is 8 kg overweight, with nothing more than 3% to slow you down too much. It’s also dead quiet and beautiful.

I turned around at Villefort, in the Lozère department, and rode back to my car on a magical route that I’ve done many times, usually with a Mont Lozère climb added in (when I’m not 8 kg overweight). This road drops, weaves and meanders for a good 33 km and the views are always amazing. This is the tiny village of Aujac, I think.

If you’d like to see where all this is on a map, here’s my Strava activity.

7 thoughts on “Ardèche

  1. The roasted chestnuts at xmas around here are great. There are lots of horse chestnut trees around here which are majestic in size and have huge beautiful blossoms. Unfortunately the burning teary eyes, runny nose and sore throat makes me less a fan of them during the pollen season. And these ones apparently aren’t edible. That region looks super and the quiet roads sound inviting.

    • I wondered for years if my I was allergic to that pollin, too, but the test I did a couple of years ago says it’s ‘grass’. You definitely should stay away from the Cevennes in May and June, Luc! The whole area is fantastic, yes, but so are so many in France. I just happen to live in this one.

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