The road to medieval Montclus is beautiful and scenic. This charismatic village leans against the Ardèche department but is still ankered in the north of the Gard. Rising up from a hill surrounded by gentle mountains, the centuries-old houses overlook the friendly babbling Cèze river. It’s worth a detour to discover this officially classified ‘Most Beautiful Village of France‘.
Driving through the vineyards, I thought I had taken the wrong exit. Just before arriving in the middle of nowhere, Montclus all of a sudden popped up above the grapevines. The village is straightforwardly named after its location. Constructed on a hill (“mont”), Montclus overlooks the gorge (‘clusa’) of the river Cèze. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the name ‘Montclus’ appeared for the first time in 1550. However, the site was mentioned as early as 1165. And archaeological excavations near Montclus have proved the presence of humans even long before this date. The bridge over the Cèze river, the Pont du Moulin, dates from 1870. It was the first water crossing from Barjac, about 10 kilometres up north. Before this bridge, the inhabitants had to pay a steep price to cross the river on a vessel during high water. Therefore, the bridge was highly anticipated by Montclus’ inhabitants.
Even today, you can easily travel back in time, as the village has kept its medieval charm. I entered Montclus via the gate at the Rue de l’Arceau and let the narrow streets lead the way. Because the village sits in a meander of the Cèze river, it doesn’t have a wash house which is rare for a medieval Southern French small town. There was no need for it, as the women brought their laundry to the nearby river. Montclus has many vaulted passageways, like the one on the Rue Soleïado with another access to the river or along the Rue du Couvent. This architecture is typical for Montclus. Not only to support the houses but also to create extra room to live in.
Place des Aires
On my way to the village’s main square, I passed the restaurant Murier sur Cèze. It was a pity I had already had lunch, as the food looked delicious! If you want to go, they are open from the beginning of April to the beginning of October. The restaurant’s name comes from the many mulberry trees (‘mûrier’) around. The leaves from these trees used to feed the silkworms, whose cocoons served the many silk spinning mills like the ones in nearby Lussan. Arriving at the Place des Aires, the flags and bulb lights were put up for one of the many village parties. During the Middle Ages, this open space, called an ‘aire’ in French, was used for threshing grain. It has remained a square ever since, and it helps air circulation in the village.
Château de Montclus
Like many other villages around, Montclus also had a castle. It was probably built in the 12th century and named for the first time in the archives in 1275. Nowadays, only the remains of some high walls and the square “donjon” tower remain. In summer you can visit the castle with a guide from mid-July until mid-August (3 euros as of 12 years old). Also, during the high season, there is a weekly market on Tuesdays and some concerts, exhibitions, and other cultural events.