La Roque-sur-CezeWe’ve found the prettiest village in France. Officially, it’s only one of the prettiest this year and only for the past six years.

At the top of the hill is a real medieval chateau in which lives a real (presumably French, as they don’t like to sell significant symbols of their patrimony) family. I don’t know if they are of the same line of seigneurs de la Roque-sur-Cèze as the one who lived there in the 12th century, and set off to rescue the princess of Verfeuille (another picturesque walled town, about 15 minutes away driving) when he heard she was abducted.

He was successful, by the way, but on the return to the-Rock-on-the-Cèze-River (and why he was bringing her there, when he should have been bringing her home to the bosom of her loving family is a question only modern cynics would ask), she fainted at the chapel of Saint Sauveur. He awoke her with a kiss (the panacea for all damsels in distress at the time…. Or maybe it was the “kiss” that was the problem) and asked her to marry him. I’m sure that made her feel much better.

St-Sauveur Chapel

St-Sauveur Chapel, above St-Gély

Because of this legend, the chapel has a reputation of bringing happy-ever-after to all lovers. The chapel hill is also where the monument to lost and deported victims of WWII stands, so some of the ecclesiastic ruins display graffiti from those who fought in the war.

WWII memorial, St-GelyHope and grief, on one hilltop.


La Roque-sur-Cèze is one river valley and one hill away from the chapel. Judging from the names on the post boxes, the former-seigneur’s village owns its recent renaissance to an infestation of Brits. Brits with loads of moulah. Even the streets are cobbled. Ce n’est pas typique.

For instance, in another picturesque bastide (medieval walled fortress town) on a hilltop across the Cèze valley in the other direction (west) from St-Gély, Cornillon has asphalted over the cobblestones of its twisty, windy, narrow streets. I can only presume this is why the last time it was officially named “one of the prettiest villages in France” was in 2006.

It’s so darn picturesque here. Medieval buildings, “perched” villages, cafes with awnings and abrupt waiters perfunctorily serving you café ou vin (but who also remember exactly what you ordered the first time in when you wander in again two days later), and field upon field of vines.

Upon waking at la Maison des roses on our first day in St-Gély, about 20 minutes west of Bagnols-sur-Cèze in the south of France, we were up with the roosters. Before the roosters. And at about 9:00 A.M., right when the village was stirring, Gaston announced he was in need of a nap: jet lag was taking its toll.


St-Gély on the valley bottom at the left; Corneillon on the hilltop to the right

Two hours later, he was awake and ready to walk the three kilometres through wood and vale into Gourdagues for groceries. But—ah!— it was Sunday: We managed to catch the bakery just before it closed, but were too late for the supermarket. Half the week had passed before we amassed ingredients for a green salad.

As Mrs. Plaskett said to Helen Sawyer Hogg on the subject of incessant afternoon-tea engagements in Victoria in the 1920s and 1930s: “It has quite simply ruined my digestion.”

France pretty much shuts down at noon on Sundays. This is, of course, the case any day of the week. At midi, which lasts from noon until 2:00 P.M. at least, the only creatures that stir in the country’s towns and villages are cats, lizards, and visitors such as ourselves who haven’t figured out the French daily rhythm. And, on Sundays in deep France, you often don’t even have the post-siesta opening hours to look forward to.

However, after about a week of getting it wrong, in Fanjeaux, a village perched on the north edge of the Sault plateau about 20 minutes from Mirepoix, we found a wee salon du thé serving through the prolonged lunch hour. It opened its doors across from the back door to the Dominican abbey.

Defenders of the faith at Fanjeaux’s Dominican abbey would have literally overseen miles of countryside.
The church and abbey themselves were firmly closed until 3:00 P.M.; Fanjeaux is a pilgrim town, being not only one of the way stops along the route through France to the via Compostela but home also briefly to Saint-Dominic. Church and abbey offer the faithful hope for refreshment on Sunday afternoons.