In search of lost time: discover France’s secret wonders

Wikimedia Creative Commons: Pentes de Toureille

On a midsummer morning in France’s Cévennes Mountains, I sip coffee from an earthenware bowl. 

I lie in a canvas-backed lawn chair stretched across the grass, a book propped in my hand.

The sound of bells from half a dozen goats heading to pasture reaches me. “Hoi, hoi, hoi,” the goatherd calls, pressing her troupe. I can hear the animals but see very little – a dab of white or brown moving behind chestnut and pine trees.

Here, near the Arboux River that rushes to meet the Hérault dozens of miles downstream, the French land is green and fertile. I’m told by one of the neighbors that the Cévennes is a rude, rough land, and worse than when she was a girl.

The rough charm of French farm life


French farmers who once walked to the fields to carve the hillside with the only implements they could carry on their backs, now, she says, buy tractors, power saws, and battery-operated fertilizer sprays that whine like outboard motors. But what I see are apple, peach and pear trees growing along the roadside; tomatoes, zucchini, melon, string beans ripening in garden plots.

Each day I buy little cakes of fresh, wet goat cheese from a French farm just down the road. The cheese is bland but the more it dries the firmer and stronger in taste it becomes.

At night, when the sun has gone down behind the big mountain and the stone stoop in front of the house has begun to cool, I step inside and fry vegetables and eat French cheese.

Then, the house creaks. Is this because the terra cotta tiles are cooling off on the roof? Moths flutter around the lampshade and about the room. A wasp drums on my window. I get up to watch him at the pane. His big belly hits the window, rattles it as he buzzes and hums.

A journey to French serenity…

via Wikimedia Commons -Ronnie Hess -

Was it yesterday, at the bathing area along the stream, that I plunged into the dark, cool, waterhole? When I emerged, a lavender butterfly circled me, landed on one of the rocks and then on my thigh. It moved slightly on my body, tickling me until I shifted and it flew off.

My vacation is almost over. I will fly away soon, too.

Where have your travels taken you?

Image Credits:
1. Pentes de Toureille, via Wikimedia Creative Commons.
2. Beaulieu, via Wikimedia Creative Commons.
3. Couchée de soleil sur les montagnes des Cévennes, Spy-Sek, via Wikimedia Creative Commons.

About the Contributor

Ronnie Hess

“I’ve had a long and passionate interest in France and especially French food. An American now based in Madison, WI, I’ve lived and worked in Paris as a reporter for CBS News and in Burgundy as a teacher. I’m the author of Eat Smart in France and Eat Smart in Portugal, both culinary travel guides. See my web page for further information.”

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One Comment

  1. Florent Rols Aug 13, 2013 at 1:47 PM - Reply

    Hi Ronnie,

    I love the Cévennes too! They are very scenic and beautiful.
    My favorite part is the South with the wonderful “Gorges du Tarn”. I advise a canoe trip during the summer, the sceneries are unique.

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