France

Friday 5: Discovering Uzès

The other day I tried and failed to find a great guidebook for the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France since it's one of our honeymoon destinations. I guess it’s still a slightly under-discovered area, which surprises me in some ways because it’s such diverse region full of history and beautiful, varied landscapes. It’s located on the southern coast, west of the Côte d'Azur, and it extends all the way to Spain. Crème-de-Languedoc, which has been a fantastic resource in our planning, has a wonderful quote about it being called the “real South of France”

thanks to its largely unspoilt countryside, traditional wine-making villages and slower, Mediterranean pace of life. The contrast with the ‘bling’ of the Côte d’Azur and the often prissy artifice of Provence is marked - Languedoc still feels very traditionally French, with villages that aren’t emptied in winter, good food and wine that doesn’t cost the earth, and countryside that is as beautiful as anything in the Luberon or Tuscany. Here, you’ll find unspoilt landscapes of undulating vines punctuated by rocky outcrops and rocket pines, often with a stunning backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
— http://www.creme-de-languedoc.com/Languedoc/index.php

I started out writing this as a mini introduction to the Languedoc-Roussillon through five towns that showcase the region, but there are just too many interesting things about each town. So today it’s all about Uzès. 

Uzès is located in the Gard department of the Languedoc, which borders Provence and the sea. It is a lovingly restored town with Roman roots and limestone buildings. According to this CN Traveller article, “The Secret Side of the South of France,” the town was in disrepair until the French government declared it a ville d’art and put money toward its restoration. Today, its small (nearly car-free) stone streets wind around revealing lovely cafés, restaurants, and shops. 

Each Wednesday and Saturday there’s a market in Place aux Herbes, a big square surrounded by Plane trees. The Wednesday one is mostly local food, while the Saturday market is bigger and includes crafts and other goods that rival the famed Provençal markets. 

Two major landmarks dominate the skyline. One is Le Duché (warning: the site auto-plays music), which is is the duke’s castle. The 17th duke apparently still summers there with his family. Luckily, it is also open to the public for tours.

The other is La Tour Fenestrelle, the bell tower of Saint Théodorit Cathedral. It’s the only surviving medieval part of the cathedral, which was destroyed during the Wars of Religion and rebuilt in the 17th century. 

Tucked away on Impasse Port Royal is the Jardin Médiéval, a “living herbarium” with 450 different types of plants that were used in the medieval period. Visitors can walk through the garden, visit exhibits in the outbuildings, see magnificent panoramas from the King’s Tower and Bishop’s Tower, and, finally, sip tea made from the garden’s herbs. 

Take a short 15 minute drive and you’ll find yourself at the famous Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard. There you can spend a the day picnicking, canoeing, swimming, hiking. I can already see myself lazying around in the shadow of the ancient bridge pondering Roman ingenuity with some crusty bread in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. 

Based on what I’ve read, Uzès has been able to maintain it’s feeling of authenticity. It’s a real town that isn’t (yet?) overrun by tourists despite being so close to Provence.

Instead it’s a small but cultivated and unpretentious town that’s attracting a growing number of interesting creative people, and unlike many southern French towns, there’s life here year-round and a strong sense of community.
— http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/on-the-verge-uzes-the-hidden-gem-of-the-south-of-franc/?_r=0

Perhaps the siren call of the Luberon hill towns is what keeps it safe for now. I think it’s proximity to Provence is what makes it a great home base, though. Fewer crowds (hopefully!), the whole Gard to explore, and Provence is within reach. I’m really looking forward to visiting it soon!  


That's all for this week, we're going to head to Niagara for Easter and have a relaxing long weekend. I hope you have beautiful weather wherever you are. 

Book Review: How to be Parisian Wherever You Are

via  Amazon

via Amazon

I remember in high school on of my friends from class told me, “You look like you belong in Europe.”  I don’t remember what we were talking about or why she thought that. I had big dreams of moving to Europe at the time, so I took it as a compliment.

I still daydream about living in Europe. Sometimes I want that effortless French girl style and a Tuscan fixer-upper farmhouse even though I know it’s all overly idealized and stereotyped.

So when I spotted How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits while milling around a bookstore, I knew I had to read it but I was wary. The book is written by four Parisienne friends: Anne Berest - a writer, Audrey Diwan - a scriptwriter and magazine editor, Caroline de Maigret- a model, Chanel ambassador, and music label founder, and Sophie Mas - a film producer.  (video link for email subscribers)

They cover a lot of ground--from style to favourite breakfast spots--using photos, vignettes, quotes, recipes, and more. They start with a list of aphorisms like: “If you only own one sweater, make sure it’s cashmere.” Ok, I can get on board with that. S, who was sneakily reading over my shoulder, tapped one further down: “Take a deep breath and keep it simple.” He then gave me a look that said, “Yeah, you could learn some things from this.” Hmph! 

As it turns out, he was right. The book is funny, irreverent, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It's not for everyone, but if you like this video, you'll probably like the book. 

It’s also full of good-hearted advice on living well. I chose a few favourites to share.

On Natural Beauty

Parisiennes will have you believe that they are born with perfect skin and delightfully messy hair. That from the cradle onward they exude a scent worthy of Chanel No5. That these “natural” attributes are a heritage that cannot be explained.

They are all lying.

Au naturel is the fruit of hard labor; meticulously passed down from generation to generation.

On How to Spend a Parisian Weekend

Eat croissants and buttered toast for breakfast—beause it’s Saturday morning and you burned enough calories last night, damn it.

Agree to (at least a little) exercise but only in “beautiful” surroundings: a run in a picturesque public park or a swim in a historically listed pool.

Go to the market on a Sunday morning with your wicker basket. Prepare a delicious lunch with vegetables, fresh bread and salted butter.

 

On Taking Time

Take the time to listen and to get to know yourself. Take the time to change, to grow, to rest. Take the time to say yes, take the time to say no. Take the time to be quiet. Take the time to look after your body, to eat well. Take the time to ask yourself who you are and what you want. [. . .]

Take the time to take time because nobody else will do it for you.

I enjoyed this book in small doses. I found it best to flip through until something caught my eye. It’s not a book that needs to be (or should be, in my opinion) read from cover to cover. It's the kind of book I would keep on my shelf and pull down to rediscover from time to time. 

What I really liked is that the Parisienne in this book is not perfect. She’s has her faults and bad habits. Her lifestyle isn’t really as effortless as we want to think (or have been led to think, perhaps). She is, however, confident. Living life well, fully, and freely is important to her. I don’t think that attitude is singularly Parisian, but I think they do a damn good job of it and How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are is a fun way to tap into it. 

Versailles: Dull and Ungrateful?

vesaillespalace

Today I've been working on the Vignette Guide: Versailles a bit and wanted to share one of my favorite vignettes. The whole idea for the guide is that you can read a little or as much as you would like, so each room or part of the tour will have a section of fast facts and a fun vignette or ancedote that somehow relates to the room and helps bring it to life.  

This vignette is the first of the tour and serves as a something of an introduction. 

“Dull” and “ungrateful” are not the words you normally hear associated with Versailles. 

Before it became the magnificent building you see today, the palace began as a relatively small hunting lodge. Although it was worthy of being the king’s hunting lodge, the original plot of land was no place for a court. It was a mixture of swamp and sand. The water was stagnant and unhealthy, which often made workers sick throughout the years of construction.

None of this mattered to Louis XIV. He was The Sun King, after all, and this was his chosen land. It was tamed and moulded to fit his desires, whatever the cost and in spite of anyone else’s opinion. 

As The Duc de Saint-Simon wrote in The Memoirs of Louis XIV, His Court, and the Regency :

[. . .]nobody ever approached his magnificence. His buildings, who could number them? At the same time, who was there who did not deplore the pride, the caprice, the bad taste seen in them?[. . .]Saint-Germain, a lovely spot, with a marvelous view, rich forest, terraces, gardens, and water he abandoned for Versailles; the dullest and most ungrateful of all places, without prospect, without wood, without water, without soil; for the ground is all shifting sand or swamp, the air accordingly bad but he liked to subjugate nature by art and treasure.⁠1 

So the will of a king as powerful as the sun created this magnificence at the great cost of money and time, yes, but also of lives. 

 Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon, Memoirs of Louis XIV, His Court and the Regency, accessed November 17, 2014, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3875/3875-h/3875-h.htm.

I love this vignette for a couple of reasons. Saint-Simon was not afraid to lampoon the king (or anyone else for that matter) and I love that he pulls back the mask of the  Versailles. I also love it because I think it helps set the stage for understanding just how powerful Louis XIV was and just how unpleasant Versailles could be. Louis XIV not only built one of the most magnificent palaces in history from what many thought was nothing, but he forced his entire court to move there. He took them out of the comfort and bustle of Paris to live in his vision, literally and figuratively. That vision was not always pretty or comfortable for them.