Many villages in France are worth a visit. However, there are a few special ones that merit more attention. These villages can officially call themselves “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”. Those selected as “Most Beautiful Villages of France” wear their title with pride, as do the four villages in the Gard department who have been chosen for this honour. All of them are definitely worth a visit!
Up in the North of the Gard, just before the border with the Ardèche, you will find the picturesque village of Aiguèze. The village is built around an ancient fortress in an exceptional setting. It sits on top of a cliff while overlooking the gorges of the river Ardèche. Aiguèze is a small but charming, medieval village. The remains of the fortress, with its dungeon and tower from the 11th and 12th century, are markers of a bygone era. Walking over the ramparts will give you a great view over the Ardèche and the vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône. However, you get the best picture-perfect view of Aiguèze when standing on the pebbled beach on the other side of the river. Just cross the Saint-Martin suspension bridge and turn left twice (follow the D290A) to reach this perfect vantage point. It’s also an excellent spot for swimming and canoeing. And a picnic with this view would definitely be one to remember.
Nestled between vineyards of the Gard region, the village of La Roque-sur-Cèze proudly perches above the river Cèze. A marked-out route for visitors makes exploring La Roque-sur-Cèze easy. This guided walk leads you to 13 points of interest throughout the medieval village. The castle on top of the hill dates back to the 12th century. It served more to defend the village than as a residence. Cobbled, narrow streets and vaulted passageways make you believe that you have been sent right back to the Middle Ages. You would never guess that by the 1950s the upper half of the village was mostly in ruins. Nowadays, many of stone houses which are so typical for the South of France have been beautifully renovated. A nearby highlight is the natural site of the Sautadet waterfalls. This geological curiosity has impressive shaped limestone rocks, eroded over thousands of years by the cascading Cèze. It is strictly forbidden to swim here though, as the water swirls dangerously into deep holes.
You have to climb a bit to be able to see the lovely village of Lussan. Situated on a limestone rock, Lussan overlooks plains of low, scrubby vegetation that is typical to the Gard and the South of France and that they call ‘garrigue’. If the weather is clear, you will have a magnificent panorama on the Cévennes. You might even spot Mont Ventoux in the distance! The first settlement of Lussan dates back to the Gallo-Roman Period. And if you take into account the largest menhir in Languedoc- “La Pierre Plantée”- the history of the village goes even further back. In the Middle Ages the village prospered, and, as a result, a castle was built there in the 12th century. Unfortunately, it has been destroyed over time. In the 15th century, the mighty Audibert family built another castle, which has stood the test of time. It now hosts the Mairie of Lussan, quite a cool location for a town hall!
The road to the medieval village of Montclus is beautiful and scenic. 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 pops up above the grapevines. The village is straightforwardly named after its location. Constructed on a hill (“mont”), Montclus could overlook the gorge (“clusa”) of the river Cèze. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the name “Montclus” appeared for the first time in 1550. Even today you can easily travel back in time, as the village has kept its medieval charm with narrow streets and vaulted passageways. The village castle, built in 1275, still shows the remains of some of the high walls and the square “donjon” tower.