Singing the praises of slowness in Anduze – Meanderings through France
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Anduze is a small town in the Cevennes, the south-eastern part of the Massif Central, an area dedicated to nature-based and cultural tourism where you will be strongly encouraged to change pace. Slow down and take time to discover this beautiful region and the men who left their mark on it.
“Le Train à Vapeur des Cevennes”: the Steam Train of the Cevennes
This steam train was originally built from 1905 till 1909. It actually took 5 years to build the 14km (9 miles) railroad due to an uneven, almost precipitous relief between Anduze and Saint Jean du Gard. In those days Saint Jean du Gard was a small village but a well-known silk production site where there were dozens of magnaneries, the silkworm nurseries and the fields around were planted with mulberries which leaves were used to feed the worms. Four tunnels were drilled through the mountain, one metallic bridge and ten viaducts, several miles of retaining walls and four stations were built to complete this amazing structure allowing the precious silk to be safely carried to Anduze.
Silkworms breeding slowly came to an end and nowadays the train is dedicated to tourism. Recently renovated the railway is as safe as can be allowing old locomotives and carriages to travel across mountains and on the bridges spanning over the rivers. From the open-air carriages you will enjoy the panoramic view riding 30km/h for 40 minutes. But you can also get on and off the train using the same ticket any time you want and
stop at the Bambouseraie, an extraordinary bamboo garden, in one of the railway station turned into restaurant or at the picnic area in Saint Jean du Gard. You can even get off the train in one of the stations go hiking in the mountains for one or several days and get back on board later with the same ticket. Feel free to live at your own rhythm and enjoy the trip as you wish.
“La Bambouseraie”: the bamboo plantation of Anduze
Every gardener knows that creating a garden is a long, patient and everlasting work. In 1855 when Eugène Mazel, a rich botanist who lived in Marseilles bought a piece of land close to Anduze to create his botanical gardens he knew that he was working not only for his own pleasure but also for future generations. A local microclimate allowed him to acclimatise exotic plants from Japan, North America and Himalayas and he was more than successful with bamboos! Unfortunately he went bankrupt and had to mortgage his properties. In 1902 the Nègre family took over the “Bambouseraie” and today Muriel Nègre manages it with love and “savoir faire”.
Of course bamboos are everywhere to be seen but there are plenty of other exotic species to create a huge plant universe. There are at least 240 different varieties of bamboos and some of them are unique in Europe. Walking under a tunnel like alley made with tall bamboos you feel at once transported to Asia. In spite of their height these bamboos are dwarfed by giant sequoias planted by Eugène Mazel in 1860. They are the oldest ones in France but are just like children compared with the old-timers in California and Oregon that can be two thousands years old.
The Dragon Valley is the most peaceful area of the park and it’s hard to believe that it was only created 15 years ago in 2000, the year of the Dragon in Chinese cosmogony. A 140 year old ginkgo biloba, Japanese maple trees, conifers shaped like clouds, dwarf bamboos, rhododendrons, azaleas grow on the banks of a small river and sitting there on a bench you can relax or even feel ready for a meditation session! And there is much more to discover here: a Laotian village made with bamboos, a centuries old farm, a majestic Chinese palm tree walk, a pond where water lilies and papyrus give shelter to koi carps, a labyrinth made with a dense species of a Japanese bamboo, a greenhouse… Once again you will need to take your time and fall into the spell of these wonderful gardens.
The centuries old pieces of pottery from Anduze
Since early 17th century potters have found fine quality clay in Anduze. They soon became famous by creating the “Anduze vase” and its characteristic shape: it looks like an upside down bell set on a base and is adorned with garlands of flowers, lion’s heads, fleurs de lys or
medallions and are traditionally covered with green, ochre and brown enamel They also bare the name of the potter and their “birth date”: when you see one you know at once that this piece of pottery comes from Anduze. They were very popular in the 19th century: Napoléon and the aristocrats bought many of them to embellish their gardens and you might see them when visiting a castle almost anywhere in France.
Today making an Anduze vase is still a long and traditional process: there are no less than 7 manufacturing steps to create the perfect one. First the clay is kneaded for a long time to make it homogenous and malleable then it is thrown by hand, while casts are used only for the biggest ones. Garlands and medallions are set on the vase before it is covered with a thin layer of white clay that will hide the red clay underneath. The fifth step is the longest one: the vase is allowed to dry for several weeks. Finally the vase is enamelled and fired in a kiln for 48 hours. Even for an experienced potter opening the kiln’s door and discovering the final result is a moment full of expectations!
You will be able to follow this process when visiting “Les Enfants de Boisset” the oldest pottery workshop in Anduze, a long line of potters since 1610. They make traditional Anduze vases as well as contemporary style ones, a wide range from 5 to 40 inches high pots and only excess baggage problems could stop you from taking one back home!
“La Ferme de Cornadel”: a friendly guesthouse
Close to the Bambouseraie the Cornadel Farm is ideally located to visit Anduze and its surroundings. The five rooms are very spacious and prettily decorated in a local traditional style. The swimming pool will offer you a refreshing bath after a hot busy summer day. The owners and their staff are very welcoming and will do their best to make your stay an enjoyable one.
The restaurant is a must even if you’re not spending the night there and treat yourself to a relaxing meal in the protective shade of the kiwi arbour of the terrace. They use only fresh produce and the different menus offer a large selection of tasty dishes. You will not be disappointed by the wine list. “La Ferme de Cornadel” is the right address for brief holydays in this beautiful region.
For more information:
Steam train: www.trainavapeur.com
Les Enfants de Boisset: www.poterie-anduze.fr
The bamboo plantation: www.bambouseraie.com
The Cornadel Farm guesthouse: www.cornadel.fr
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny