Just a stone’s throw from Roque-sur-Cèze, you can admire a highlight of the Gard department. Go and visit the impressive Cascades du Sautadet and see them abruptly interrupt the course of the gently flowing Cèze River. This geological curiosity has spectacularly shaped limestone rocks, eroded over thousands of years by the cascading river. It is strictly forbidden to swim here though, because the water swirls dangerously into deep holes.
As the Cascades du Sautadet are close to an officially declared “Most Beautiful Village of France”, you can easily park your car. The parking lot (5 euros a day in summer) is at the feet of Roque-sur-Cèze, and from here it is a 10-minute walk to the waterfalls. Before you reach the natural site of the Cascades du Sautadet, you will be warned several times. Not only that swimming is forbidden but also to keep your distance from the edge and to hold your children’s hands. It made our family outing a bit exciting. Especially when we spotted a big banner across the road mentioning the number of fatal accidents: 31 people have died since 1960. We wanted to cool down safely though, so we curiously decided to follow the numerous people carrying inflatable tubes.
The Cèze River is a small river that originates at the foot of Mont Lozère in the Cévennes, and throws itself into the Rhône River some 150 km further. At Roque-sur-Cèze, the Sautadet waterfalls plummet from an altitude difference of 8 to 10 meters over a width of 500 meters. It’s the dramatic limestone rock mass with the hidden underground caves that make the waterfalls so astonishing- and dangerous. The strong currents have created holes, bursts and giant pools, called ‘marmites’ in French. Therefore, the water generates waterfalls and rapids that can unexpectedly push an adult to the bottom of the river. People often underestimate the force of the water, hence the number of accidents and the danger of this site.
The devil’s jump
According to a local saying in Occitan, “Quau vai a La Ròca, se i cròca”, which means “Who goes to La Roque, will hang on it”. Due to a bad translation into French though, the “se i cròca” bit has been transformed into “the devil will eat you”. That’s why locals also know the Cascades du Sautadet as ‘the devil’s jump’. It seems a suitable name for such a dangerous site. In summer there are even lifeguards who whistle when you’re coming too close to the edge. Well, so much for the warnings; I hope you get the message!
Besides marvelling at the natural beauty of the Cascades du Sautadet, we came for a dip. We followed a little path along the river, passing the waterfalls, the limestone rock formations and the canyon. To finally arrive at the part where it is safe to swim. As we came early, there weren’t many people. However, the later you go, the more there will be. A line with yellow buoys clearly marks out where you can swim. You’re not supposed to jump off the rocks, however many kids- and adults- do. At the end of the day, we visited some friends at the camping La Vallée Verte. From there, we walked back up to the waterfalls to let ourselves drift away on the Cèze. And that’s when the inflatable tubes come in handy to protect your bottom. A perfect end to a perfect day!