Have you ever experienced the real France?
I’m not talking about the sidewalk cafes of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, or candy-coloured pastries stacked prettily in a window. What I’m referring to is the baguette-in-a-handbag-on-the-way-home-from-the-markets kind of France, usually found in tiny towns in the countryside.
And one town in particular, tucked into the gorgeous scenery of Southern France, is truly the epitome of authentic French life.
The town is Uzès, and it’s a little slice of picturesque perfection in France’s Gard region.
Arriving in Uzès in the afternoon heat, I wound my way through the tiny streets to find Hotel Entraigues, a spectacular newly-refurbished boutique hotel in the heart of town. The temperatures outside were soaring, but the hotel was an oasis of cool and calm; the perfect base for exploring the gorgeous town it calls home.
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The rooms are minimalist without being stark, and the beds are so unbelievably comfortable that I wasn’t sure how I would get up in the morning.
I had a shower to refresh after a hot day of canoeing and strolling (but with only a tiny patch of sunburn to show for it – yay!), and then made my way downstairs to the hotel restaurant. I enjoyed an exceptional meal of bouillabaise (a kind of fish stew that’s a local specialty in Southern France) that was laden with delicate saffron, accompanied by a glass of local white wine and a pineappley dessert.
It was the perfect end to a pretty incredible day (check out more about Pont du Gard and canoeing along the Gardon River).
I’d set my alarm early to see the sunrise, although when the sound of Beyoncé woke me I seriously considered turning it off and going back to my gloriously comfortable bed. Feather pillows: I need these in my life. I knew the views would be worth it though, so I pulled the curtains open for the light to shock me from my drowsy state, and dragged myself up the stairs to the hotel’s roof terrace.
I’d made the right decision: the colours were amazing, and the view across the terra cotta tiles and deep green trees was breathtaking!
After taking a moment to gaze at the view, and snap pictures of the medieval Fenestrelle Tower across the road, I desperately needed coffee. Stopping at the restaurant again, I chatted to the lady who kindly prepared my caffeine hit for the day.
I could have chatted to her all day – she was fascinating – but it was market day in Uzès, and I wanted to catch it before the crowds arrived.
Market day in Uzès
This weekly Saturday event sees producers and artisans filling the town square, called the place aux Herbes, and lining the surrounding streets, visited by the locals and people from villages for miles around.
There’s a lot of soap, lavender and hats for sale, but that’s not all. I bought a jar of bee pollen for €5.50 (it’s something like £15 in health food shops in the UK, although I have no idea what it does) and some pastries, which I munched on happily as I walked.
It was thankfully quite cool in the morning, as the hot sun hadn’t moved high enough to peek over the city’s limestone buildings yet. I strolled down narrow lanes and admired the pastel-coloured doors and windows adorned with sweet-smelling roses.
As I took a photo of a cute antique shop, I was schooled in etiquette by a stern Frenchman who reminded me a little of my equally stern Belgian Grandpa.
Apparently it’s rude in France to take a photo without asking permission (although I’ve been to France countless times and this is the first I’ve heard of it). “Désolé, Monsieur,” I smiled, and he relented.
Things to see and do in Uzès
Casually strolling through the town’s streets is the main attraction of Uzès, but there are a few other sights that visitors can explore.
The medieval Duke’s Castle is a walled structure in the middle of the town, complete with turrets and colourfully-tiled towers. It’s a structure that could easily belong to a Disney tale – all it’s missing is a princess and a villain.
Visitors can explore the inside of the castle for €17, which includes access to the viewpoint at the top of the donjon (tower).
Another gorgeous view can be enjoyed from the top of the King’s Tower inside the 12th century Medieval Garden. You’ll find the peaceful garden behind a colourful door that’s hidden at the end of a narrow stone passageway – and entry is just €6.
After getting lost in the winding streets of Uzès, the sun began to creep in and overtake the shadows, so I retreated to the gorgeous hotel pool, complete with brightly-coloured Acapulco chairs and an Insta-worthy view.
Once again I had to drag myself away, this time to pack up the car and hit the road. It was with sadness that I watched the town of Uzès grow smaller in my rearview mirror, but I have a feeling I’ll be back.
If not for the stunning scenery and rich history, then at least for this perfect bed:
I travelled to Southern France via train, first on the Eurostar to Lyon and then the TGV (a French train) to Avignon where I picked up a rental car. Train tickets are available through voyages-sncf.com.
You can also fly directly to Lyon from Birmingham, Southampton, Edinburgh and London airports.