How about discovering Uzès, the oldest French Duchy? – Meanderings through France
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Located in the French department of Gard on the foothills of the Cevennes, Uzès is a discreet yet elegant small town where you can find a gentle lifestyle in an historical setting. From antiquity to Middle Ages, Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment visiting Uzes and the surrounding area is a travel through time and history. In the beginning Uzes was an oppidum, a fortified village, created by the Romans of the first century. Of course they did it on purpose: they had built the city of Nimes but they lacked water. So they built an aqueduct to take the waters of the river Eure that takes its source close to Uzes to take them to Nimes. The famous Pont du Gard is part of this 32 miles long aqueduct.
The Uzes Duchy is the oldest French duchy still existing and the present duke and his family still live in the ducal castle called the “Duché”, built in the middle of Uzes. The castle is open to the public and you can visit the duke’s private apartments and their interesting collection of period furniture and “objets d’art”, the impressive thousand-year-old cellar and the 12th century dungeon from where you’ll get a beautiful view of Uzes and the vineyards surrounding it.
During the 16th century the kingdom of France was devastated by the Religious Wars which pitted the Catholics against the Protestants. Uzes was the fifth protestant town of France and was partly destroyed when the Catholics won the war. A new cathedral and a bishop’s palace were built on the ruins of the former protestant church. Today you can still see its beautiful round church tower with many windows making it look like a straight tower of Pisa! The palace has been turned into a museum dedicated to Uzes history and to the famous French writer André Gide who came for a holiday at his paternal grandmother’s house.
“La Maison d’Uzes”
But most of all you should discover Uzes at your own rhythm, strolling along its narrow medieval cobbled streets and admire the beautiful 16th and 17th centuries’ facades. Don’t miss the lively Saturday morning market on the beautiful “Place aux Herbes” lined with stone arcades and shaded by century-old plane trees. There are no less than 40 mansion houses that have been listed as Historical Monuments in Uzes and one of them has been recently turned into a luxury hotel, “La Maison d’Uzes”. The 300 years old building has been completely restored to its former splendour and is now one “Relais et Chateaux” hotels de charme. Don’t let yourself be put off by the gloomy reception room, the lounges and the dining rooms with their panelling, parquet floors, fire places, arched ceilings or the majestic straircase will take you back to the 18th century. The 12 bedrooms with their exposed beam ceilings and period fire places are furnished in a contrasting contemporary style and the Spa is set in the spectacular vaulted cellar.
Oscar Garcia the young chef in charge of the “Table d’Uzes”, the hotel’s restaurant has amazingly quickly been awarded 1-Star, only 6 month after the opening. He achieved this feat by creating recipes using simple produce: an egg, a carrot, an onion or apples are cooked staying as close as possible to the season’s produce allowing sharp prices menus. On a warm summer evening ask for a table in the shade of the lime-tree on the small outside terrace to enjoy your meal.
Sin of gluttony in Uzes!
Why not lapse into your second childhood? I guess we all have eaten at least once in our life a Strawberry Tagada, a chamallow or a Dragibus but few of us know that they were born in Uzes. Henri Lafont created a liquorice factory there in 1862 and since then its owners have employed great ingenuity to create tempting candies. The Haribo factory shelters now a museum where you will discover this sweet world including a dream like shop for all candies lovers!
Saint Quentin La Poterie: a village dedicated to clay
Saint Quentin la Poterie is a small village 4 miles away from Uzes where potters have been working since the 14th century. There was a time when dozens of them lived in Saint Quentin and the artefacts they made, from a humble bowl to big pieces such as earthenware jars to keep water or oil. The Pottery Museum will introduce you to the history of pottery making in the Mediterranean Basin from France to Morroco and from Italy to Turkey… Hundreds of objects of all shapes, uses and colours are gathered in a beautiful building that used to be an oil mill.
There are still 25 potters working in Saint Quentin la Poterie making traditional potteries as well as contemporary designed ones. Don’t be afraid to visit their gallery-workshop, they will be pleased to talk about their savoir faire! Every year they take part in the European Ceramic Festival: it is the meeting point for artists-potters from all over Europe and an opportunity to discover and buy their works. This year from July the 11th till July the 14th, 40 potters from abroad will compete during the festival.
“Terr’in”: an address that should not be missed out!
For a great meal you can confidently go to La Terr’in: from appetizer to dessert everything is flawless. Whether in the vaulted dining room or in the shade of the big plane tree of the terrace you will get a warm welcome and a delicious meal made by an imaginative chef. Using fresh produce every dish is homemade: spring rolls stuffed with crayfishes, octopus with chorizo, hake with mango sauce, poultry with cherries… The menu changes every day depending on the availability of the different produce on the local markets but you can bet you’ll never be disappointed. And all this for an amazingly good value for money!
Coming to Uzes:
Remember, if you want to avoid the long car trip to this Southern region of France, since early May, Eurostar links directly London St Pancras to Avignon (and Marseille too) with a departure around 7am and an arrival in Avignon around 2pm. Then Uzes is just a forty kilometres drive from Avignon, about half an hour.
For more information:
Uzes Tourism Office www.uzes-tourisme.com
La Maison d’Uzes and La Table d’Uzes www.lamaisonduzes.fr
Haribo Museum www.museeharibo.fr
Pottery museum in Saint Quentin la Poterie www.musee-poterie-mediterranee.com
For the Pottery Festival www.terralha.fr
Terr’in Restaurant in Saint Quentin la Poterie , tel: 04 66 03 17 29
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny