Renowned for its natural splendours, the Cévennes is also host to beautiful villages, fascinating museums and more
Related article: Into the Wild, Travels in the Cévennes
Le Train à Vapeur (steam train)
Discover the beautiful landscapes and vistas of the cliffs, rivers and valleys of the Vallée des Gardons over bridges and through tunnels on an authentic steam train, travelling between Anduze and Saint-Jean-du-Gard. Open July-October, daily in high season, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday in low season. Be sure to check the website for departure times and prices.
Follow the signs up to the village and keep climbing to this third-generation goat farm where they make the delicious local Picodon cheese. See how the goats are kept in summer and winter, with a special bonus from February to April: adorable snowy white kids. Then taste the six varieties of Picodon: classic aged or fresh, a goat-milk tomme and camembert. Reservations a must; five persons minimum; 06 33 33 28 96.
Marché des Vans
The region’s best Saturday morning farmers’ market (second place winner in the Trophées des Marchés, Auvergne-Rhône Alpes) is not to be missed. You’ll find all the regional specialties and artisanal delicacies and rub elbows with the Cévenols. Held from 8am to 1pm every Saturday of the year, with special events in late July and early August .
Élise Renaud and Benoît Salel cultivate Rhône Valley grape varieties alongside the little-known native species they are intent on reviving: Dureza, Raisaine, Picardan and especially a distinctive red called Chatus. The couple offer tastings of their stellar wines at the domaine, set on a lovely road in the woods with views over a blue-tinged valley.
Olive oil producers for four generations, the 1,200 olive trees on this scenic 10-acre estate are sustainably cultivated and hand-harvested. The superior-quality oils are extracted at the family mill on the premises. In July and August visitors are welcomed for tastings and themed walks through the picturesque olive groves and vineyards.
At Castanéa you’ll learn everything there is to know about the 20-plus varieties of chestnut, an important Cévenol speciality. Texts are in French, but diagrams, models, videos and antique tools unlock its mysteries. Call in advance to arrange an all-chestnut lunch. The boutique is just the place for a range of chestnut products. Bonus: every visitor comes away with a tube of sweet chestnut paste.
Joyeuse is known for its namesake macaron, a crisp-chewy almond cookie whose recipe has remained a well-guarded secret since the 16th century. At Maison Charaix you can buy them fresh from the oven along with a election of chestnut delicacies: sweet biscuits, heavenly marrons glacés and crème de marrons.
This is the place to go for a fascinating introduction to the park’s four protected vulture species – the Griffon, Monk, Egyptian and Bearded vultures – which were reintroduced to the Jonte Gorges in the 1970s. From the observation deck and via three mobile cameras installed in a nest, you can observe the birds feeding and raising their young.
This fourth-generation enterprise has produced top-quality denim clothing and jeans in the Cévennes since 1892. Each pair of blue jeans is made by hand using up to 44 pieces from sustainable organic fabrics, including cotton, hemp and raw silk. From the stitching, rivets and leather label everything is super chic and made in France. See for yourself how the jeans are made at the workshop-boutique.
At the Cévennes National Park headquarters you’ll find everything you need to know about touring the area. Hiking and cycling maps, imaginative guided visits for both day and night, far-flung activities like paragliding, slacklining, or Paddle de Nuit, a paddleboat ride to spot beavers. You’ll also find maps of the many caves, standing stones and menhirs and information on bird-watching and the park’s exceptional flora and fauna.
At this authentic stone farm in the heart of the Cévennes you can ride a donkey (à la R L Stevenson), visit the fromagerie to see how the local cheese is made and aged then take a cheese-making workshop, pet the livestock, taste local delicacies, and learn about the land at the Ecomuseum. You can also spend the night in a charming rustic room and wake up to a farm breakfast.
From France Today magazine