The path less travelled in France produced stunning rural vistas, friendly locals and a vibrant food and wine culture far beyond our expectations.
Heidi and I hired an electric car at Paris CDG airport in early spring and drove a six thousand kilometre “ figure of eight” around France. Despite moderate fitness levels we hiked and cycled in many remote picturesque places. We also found rural and remote areas of France have much to offer serious foodies.
Off the Beaten Path: Nothing ‘ordinary’ to be found
Determined to take the path less travelled we discover stunning rural vistas, super friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture in France, way beyond our expectations.
This is part 3 of a 12-part mini-series which follows our recent 12-week trip.
I invite you to join us and make some delightful discoveries.
Saint Péray en route to les Cévennes
The plan was to travel 450 km from Veuvey in Burgundy to Pont-de-Montvert, a remote village in les Cévennes in South West France. So we broke the trip with a two-night stay near Saint-Péray in the famous Côtes du Rhône wine region. Late Saturday afternoon we arrived at Domaine de Lorient in the pouring rain and checked into our cottage for 2 nights. We had a choice of several small, rustic, but comfortable, cottages all with sweeping views of the valley – but only when it’s not raining cats and dogs.
The domaine is a tiny organic winery and farm perched high above the town. We were welcomed with a wine tasting of rich and opulent Cornas (shiraz) and a bright and succulent Saint-Péray (Roussanne and Marsanne blend). Each was excellent, but unfortunately, the coveted flagship Saint Joseph (Shiraz) was sold out.
Hiking les Cévennes: Highlights and Hidden Gems
M. Laure at Domaine de Lorient had recommended some weeks before that we dine at the bistro La Ruche in Saint-Péray. This was a serious but unpretentious restaurant, featuring fresh local produce presented with a modern twist. We ate super seafood and game paired with the Saint-Péray blanc we’d tasted just hours earlier. Meanwhile, our EV was at a charging station near the restaurant. By the end of the meal, it would be fully charged to complete the trip to Les Cévennes on Monday.
Walking, Cycling, Touring – Hiking les Cevennes
We arrived on Monday under a clear spring sky at our farmstay Le Merlet, just five kilometres upriver from Pont de Montvert. On arrival we noticed a sign ‘stationnement des ânes’ meaning parking for donkeys. Les Cévennes is famous for people who take multi-day hikes through the dramatic mountains and stay overnight at farm accommodation along the way. They enjoy a home-cooked meal and share stories around a communal table. Most travel with a donkey to carry their gear, hence the need for donkey parking.
We hiked each day but the highlight was an all-day out and back to Pont du Tarn, an ancient stone bridge and picnic spot up in a mountain valley. The path started from the farm and we climbed uphill for an hour along narrow, rocky, single paths. Near the summit, we found a pristine mountain stream. A perfect stop for a pastry snack and a stunning view back to the farm and down the valley to Pont de Montvert. The few hours to our destination alternated between a shaded mountain stream paths and quiet roads through ancient stone villages. It was a stunning walk that most moderately fit people could enjoy.
Pont de Monvert is a quaint, well-preserved stone village located at the confluence of three roaring mountain streams including the Tarn. In 1878, Robert Louis Stevenson hiked through the village and a major walking route is now named in his honour. The village was also the setting for a number of large skirmishes during the religious wars of the 16th century. Its sometimes grim history is offset by a delightful small town square with mountain and river views and several decent bars and restaurants.
Food and Wine
On our third night at the farm, we ate in the dining room with the overnight trekkers. Our companions for the meal were two French families on a seven-day school holiday trek. Everything we ate and drank was produced on the farm. We commenced with an excellent glass of vin blanc, baguette, some cured meats and dips.
The main meal was an unexpectedly rich lamb stew, full of locally grown seasonal vegetables. I willingly accepted a second serve. The stew was served with a rustic but very drinkable vin rouge. It was definitely worth a second and third glass. And to finish, bien sûr, a selection of farm-crafted cheeses. It was definitely a feast suitable for people hiking twenty kilometres each day!
- Avoiding the main towns and tourist centres continued to provide unexpected surprises.
– The village restaurant at unfashionable Saint Peray was of the highest quality and showcased the best seasonal local produce and wines.
– The Domaine Lorient wines were world-class.
- The Le Merlet accommodation was fairly basic, however, the cottage we stayed in was comfortable, private, and functional and we enjoyed an open fire on the cooler mountain evenings.
– Our hosts were extremely convivial and the food and wine were simple, fresh, tasty, and well-prepared.
– The walks were terrific and very beautiful, if a little challenging.
– And as a bonus, we met and befriended some really interesting French people.
And...all this was achieved on a modest budget.
When you travel do you plan to the nth degree or let it flow? Do you like to discover the path less travelled? Please share below in the comments section – we look forward to hearing your preferences.
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