For my first venture to the South of France, to Uzès (or just outside) we went. Situated in Le Gard, the region felt local, authentic and unspoilt. In tune with this local spirit, each town in the area had its own “fête de votive” celebration going on in honour of a local patron/saint, typical of early August. Uzès was designated as a historic town and a “ville d’art” by the French government in 1965 and has since benefited from investment into its restoration. Whilst this main town is upbeat and busy, smaller towns just outside are quaint, quiet and full of pottery-related charm. All in all, there’s a lot to discover in and around Uzês.
We picked Les Mas des Oules for our week’s stay in the region. This place offers the perfect balance between style and practicality. Comprised of eight self-catering “maisons” and apartments, its décor – not least the central courtyard – effortlessly weaves contemporary elegance with farmhouse rusticity. Located a 45-minute drive from Avignon, the journey here sets you up for a week in Provence very well: roads lined with cathedral-like altars of trees, views of vineyards, olive groves and mountains, and stop-offs at charming (though pricey!) épicieries. If you’re here in January, you might smell the scent of truffle in the air as the area is surrounded by truffle plantations. Luxury.
Owners Christophe and Christine converted this former farm and winery in 2018. Both are incredibly warm and welcoming and are available in situ at any time to answer questions (and provide Nespresso capsules for the well-stocked kitchens!). Les Mas des Oules juxtaposes self-catered essentials with touch of TLC. A local baker visits the central courtyard at 9am every morning selling freshly baked croissants to residents. With a communal pool, a popular tapas bar and a play area, it’s relaxed, homely and very family-friendly. Whilst there’s a seven-night minimum stay, a week here is easily spent.
One of the joys of Provence is simply driving around and discovering: spend your days sourcing supper at local markets and épicieries, admiring ancient ruins and enjoying a sip (or two, naurellement) of wine.
For markets, the best and most well-known are the Wednesday and Saturday markets in Uzès and the Wednesday market in Goudargues.
Stocked with everything from tapenades, madelines, charcuterie and white donught peaches, it’s worth going armed with shopping bags (and a camera).
Whilst you’re in Uzès, meander around the town’s cobbled streets, explore its shops and sample one of its artisan gelateries. Whilst you’re there, also stop off at the medieval gardens. Not to miss is the popular bakery Nougatine for nougat, of course, as well as other delicacies including a wonderfully sticky honey and almond cake and a cappuccino.
Another local attraction around Uzès is the extraordinary UNESCO-listed Pont du Gard, a 15-minute drive away from Les Mas des Oules. Built in the 1st century, this 360m-long and 50m-high Roman aqueduct spans the River Gardon and helped provide Nîmes’ citizens with fresh water for five centuries. Whether you cross its bridge, kayak under it, or dip into the waters, you’ll be hard pressed to not marvel at it’s 2000-year old history. The rows of arches mirror waves or ripples, an architectural picture of the river up above. It’s breath-taking.
Another local(-ish) highlight are the Caves of Salamander, a 45-minute drive from Les Mas des Oules. Its scale is magnificent. Also impressive is the artisan gelato bar on site: the lemon and thyme combination is unforgettable – a perfect balance between sweet and herby.
Classified as one of the “most beautiful villages in France”, La Roque-sur-Cèze is not to miss. The accolade is well-deserved: the cobbled streets and cornflower blue shutters are picture postcard perfect. The village is completely car-free, home to only 179 residents and the houses huddle together at the foot of the château,. Although the paths are very steep, it’s worth the walk up to the parish church built in 1883. Continue up to the top for majestic landscape shots of Provence. Idyllic.
If you’re self-catering, cooking regional food is most enjoyable. We loved driving between towns, visiting farm shops and stopping on the roads to buy produce from stalls: think cherries, peaches, apricots, tomatoes and in the winter months, truffles. Each house at Les Mas des Oules has its own outdoor terrace for eating so cooking and eating long lunches / dinners alfresco here is a dream.
Eating out, a pizza at Le Petite Tomate in the charming pottery town of Saint-Quentin-la-Poterie is a must. The emphasis is on fresh market produce from the local area and it lives up to its self-description as “a taste of Italy in the Midi” very well. Forty varieties of pizza (red and white) are offered, all cooked to order by the female owners. The highlight for me was a pizza bianco of artichoke cream, ricotta and buffalo mozzarella. The delicate richness of the pizza, which oozed a truffley flavour despite not featuring this speciality, was bliss.
And whilst you’re in Saint-Quentin-la-Poterie, browse the dozens of pottery workshops and ateliers that line the quaint, hilly streets. The village has had an international reputation for ceramics since the 14th century, and you’ll find everything from decorative sculptures to functional garden pots Caves.
For fine dining, La Table d’Uzès at La Maison d’Uzès is very well-recommended, as is Comptoir du 7.
No review of Provence can fail to mention its wine and rosé in particular. Not to miss is a trip to Tavel, home to its famous rosé, a former favourite of the royalty in court at Avignon. Though I’ve always associated rosé with cheap undertones, sampling the produce of Tavel will prove you wrong quickly. The region is strewn with wineries, each selling the sweet pink tipple straight from the source.
We stopped off at Château de Manissy which stands on the right Bank of the river Rhône. An historic wine estate dating back to the 17th century, their iconic vineyards produce wines in the Tavel appellation. In the early 20th century, both the château and its vineyards were bequeathed to a religious order of monks. In 2003, winegrower Florian André took over management of the vineyards and has picked up where the Brothers left off, making classic southern Rhône wines. Florian’s mission is to find new ways to improve environmental performance and protect his vines and terroirs. We’d sadly missed an earlier wine tour and buffet on offer on the site from 10am to 3pm but that’s something to definitely bookmark for my next visit. The tasting on offer here is informative and varied.
Deleuve Rochetin is also worth a visit due the range of wines on offer, introduced by the very informative and welcoming sommelier, in a modern setting.
Not the end
With the ease of the Eurostar, a train to Avignon makes this region easy to visit, again and again. There are so many more towns, olive farms, wineries, markets, restaurants and ruins to discover and re-discover. It’s the kind of place I’ll return to and make more memories of.