The Cevennes

«The life escapes time in these silent solitudes. She curls up on her there even by listening to their winds, their waters and their forests. Everything seems established, since the origins of the World.»
André CHANSON, Cévennes 1957.

Geographical situation :

The Cevennes are a mountainous part of the Massif Central, and extending essentially over the departments of Lozère, of the Gard and the Hérault. The south part has a Mediterranean climate, while the area Mont Lozère and Mont Aigoual has a more mountain climate, considering the altitude of these two massifs.

The National park of Cevennes is situated for his almost totality on the department of Lozère. This park was created in 1970, its cration is a long history, since the idea dates back to 1914. This park has the unique feature among the national parks, harbors a large permanent population. That are for the most part of the farmers..

One of the peculiarities of the Cevennes National Park, is its great variety of landscapes:

  • The Causses and the Gorge of the Tarn in particular,
  • Its geological complexity : alternation of limestone with slate and granite, these differents geology, are found on vegetation.
  • The woody zones cover nearly two-thirds of the park (it is the only, park national forester of metropolis) and there are a wide variety of species: oak, maritime pine, beech, and of course, the chestnut : the breadfruit tree of Cévenoles.

The Mount Lozère forms a heavy granitic relief, which contrasts with the aigues forms of slaty Cevennes, and the limestone of the great Causses. This diversity of rocks marked the architecture of each of the regions of Cevennes. The Mount Lozère is the highest granitic summit of Massif Central with 1.699 meters in height at the Peak of Finiels.

The Cassini Peak with its 1.680 meters in heights, is the second summit of Mount Lozère. This summit was so appointed in homage to the French geographer Jacques Dominique Cassini, who establishes the first maps of our country. Of this summit the glance embraces a magnificent landscape, ranging from the Alps to the highest peaks of the Massif Central.

The Mount Aigoual culminating at 1567 meters altitude is the second summit of the Cevennes. It offers a panorama by beautiful time from the Alps to the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. Its summit houses a meteorological observatory, built in the late nineteenth century.

The City of Ales, which are considered the capital of the Cevennes, and the city of Grand'Combe were an important mining center. Today only a few blocks of steel on old mine shafts bear witness to this past.

Of all the Cevennes, the Mount Lozère is the region which I prefer. Here born the Tarn which dives on the small village of Pont de Montvert, and who goes to the Atlantic,, and many other small rivers to trouts, such as the Hommol and the Gourdouse.

You can go around the Mont Lozère, bike if you're a seasoned cycling. Departure from the small town of Vialas, dominated by the rock of Trenze, direction Saint Maurice de Ventalon, then climb the pass of Croix de Bertel (1088 meters), then descent to the village of Pont de Montvert (and his bridge of the XVIth century), gone back up in the direction of Bleymard by the pass of Finiels (1.541 meters), in direction of Cubières, Altier and his Castle of Champ", Villefort on the road Régordane, and return to Génolhac and Vialas.

The way Régordane:

The Régordane way, communication way, from the 12th century between Nimes and the Puy en Velay, crosses this region. Its origin would be ancient even much more and would go back up before the Roman civilization. We find on his passage of the strong points : the Castle of Portes (At the top of the pass of the same name), in direction of Alès, while further north, after Villefort is the medieval village (listed as a historical monument) of the Garde Guérin, who dominates the gorges of Chassezac. These gorges are of a wild beauty.
This way is one of the roads connecting the Mediterranean ports in particular that of Saint Gilles in the Gard, to the fairs of Champagne. The path of Régordane turns out to be the path more at the east of the kingdom of France. The port of Saint-Gilles, whose the Abbey houses the tomb of Saint Gilles, becomes a place of pilgrimage, the path of Régordane becomes widely known under the name "way of Saint Gilles". This way is one of Roads of Santiago of Compostela.
In the thirteenth century the port of St Gilles silted, is supplanted by that of Aigues Mortes.

The Knights of the Order of Malta :

The rangelands and forests of the summit of the Mount Lozère belonged until 1795 to the knight of the order of St Jean of Jerusalem, who had installed the commanderie of the hospital workers of Gap-Francès at the hamlet of the Hospital. Their property was bounded by standing stones marked with the Maltese cross, emblem of the Order.

The architecture in Cevennes:

Building materials privileged of this region is unquestionably the granite. It is true that the Mount Lozère constitutes an island of granite in the middle of the ocean of the Causses limestone, and shale found elsewhere in the Cevennes.

Three types of rocks : granite, schist, and limestone were used in the construction of housing and shaped the landscape. The architecture is adapted to climate, and needs related to rural lifestyle. The structures are made to resist weather, in all weathers....

  • On the northern flank of Mount Lozère, we find numerous hamlets situated at a high altitude, and thus exposed to severe climatic conditions in winter. The great danger for the inhabitants and the travelers of the time, was the snowstorms. The snow swept by a violent wind had early made make you lose your direction. As the highlanders had imagined and built the steeples of storm. As soon as the storm became too violent, the bells began to ring, of day and night, allowing travelers, shepherds, muleteers and the villagers lost, to find their way. The steeples of storm is for the highlanders, what the lighthouse is for sailors. Some of these bell towers of storm are visible at Fage, at Serviès, at Sagnes, and at Oultet.
  • The Farm of Troubat which is a part of the ecomuseum of the Mount Lozère, is an old farm. This one consists of several main buildings of pink granite, dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. This set is abandoned since the early twentieth century. Farm stored in his barn, bread oven, and his threshing floor, it visits nowadays thanks to the ecomuseum of the Mount Lozère. This farm is built in pink granite, or of special colors if this architectural ensemble.
  • The Camargue Mas is located in the central zone of the Cevennes National Park.
    This old farmhouse is an indicator of the agricultural activity of the last century. Archival documents of the fifteenth century relate that this area belongs to the "Lord of Portes". At the end of the nineteenth century, peasants of Mount Lozere become owners. Victim of its isolation and the agricultural evolution, the farm, despite its technical lead and his beautiful home, was abandoned at the end of the first world war. The Tarn has its source near of this magnificent Mas, in a set of peat bogs.

The Village of La Garde Guérin :

Located at the gateway to the Cévennes to about 900 meters above sea level, the village of Garde Guérin is a small medieval city of the XIIth century. This medieval village is situated on the Régordane way. The Régordane way, the communication route from the 12th siécle, between Nimes and Le Puy en Velay, crosses this region. His origin would be ancient even much more and would go back up before the Roman civilization. We find on his passage of the strengthened points: the castle of Doors (at the top of the pass of the same name), in the direction of Alès, while more in the North, after Villefort is the medieval village (registered on Historic Monuments) of the Guarde Guérin, who dominates the gorges(breasts) of Chassezac. This village possesses a very beautiful Romanic church of the XIIth century, dedicated to Saint Michel, boss of the Knights Pariers. She was classified as "Historic Monument" in 1929. It is one of the most remarkable religious monuments of the region.
In 1992, the village was of used as the setting to the movie of Christian Fechner : "Justinien Trouvé ou le Bâtard de Dieu".

Festival of the Transhumance to Espérou:

Transhumance, bells and pom-poms, such is the theme of this festival held each year about at June 15th to Espérou, near the Mont Aigoual, and met several herds. Some villages of Cevennes, have keep several herds of sheeps, so immortalizing a millennium transhumance.
The herds of sheep go in transhumance, for summer months towards the pastures of height of the Mount Aigoual and the Mount Lozère, towards in the middle of June, and comes down again in September.

Herds borrow "drailles" itinairaires and ancient paths, traced over the centuries and connecting the plains of Languedoc to the highlands of the Massif Central.

This festivalis is organized by the Ovine Labor union of the breeders of the Gard, the Chamber of Agriculture of the Gard and with the cooperation of numerous partners. We find with pleasure highly-rated festive of this demonstration, and ewes always well dolled up, indeed, ewes are adorned with very colored woolen pompoms, and with their sonailles.

The sweet chestnut tree and the sweet chestnut:

The sweet chestnut tree is an integral part of the from Cévennes culture. The implantation area of the chestnut is situated between 500 and 800 meters. It is the daily food of the Cévenols, that consumed his fruit, the sweet chestnut. This tree was nicknamed the breadfruit tree of the Cévennes. The wood of sweet chestnut tree was used for carpentry, furniture, barrels. The trunks of sweet chestnut trees hollowed out, covered with a lauze of schist, acted as hives for bees. These hives trunks, are specific to the Cevennes. Some beekeepers still use this type of hive.

After harvest, the chestnuts were stored, in rooms called " clèdes " which allowed them of to dry. The chataignes were arranged on racks, and a wood fire was lit from below, so allowing to make "sweat" the chestnuts. The process was repeated until the clède is filled with chestnuts that have sweated, then maintained a low heat, for two or three days to complete the drying.

Today, the culture of the chestnut is abandoned, some chestnut groves are still cultivated, the collected chestnuts serving to make the liquor, jam and flour.

The silk and the breeding of silkworms:

The sericulture in the Cevennes is very ancient. However, it is that at the beginning of seventeenth century that it enjoyed a real boom. The mulberry plantations needed to silkworm rearing (Bombyx of the mulberry tree) succeeded the chestnut. The habitat was transformed with the constuction of "magnaneries" place of rearing silkworms. These breedings were at the origin of a very successful industry of spinning and knitting.

The last spinning of Cévennes, closed its doors in Saint Jean du Gard in 1965. The Cevennes siriciculture fell victim to several hazards (diseases of the breedings,, importing foreign silk, artificial silk development). Sericulture has been revived in the Cevennes in the 1970s, but the Cevennes silk is treated on site (production of the cocoon to the finished product), and gave birth to an arts and crafts.

Travels with a donkey through the Cevennes:

The young Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson who crossed in 1878 the Cevennes with her donkey "Modestine" of Monastier on Gazeille in Haute-Loire in Saint Jean du Gard, tells his adventure in a book " Journey with a donkey through Cevennes ". This narrative was published in 1879 by the one who became a famous writer with his novels " the island in the treasure " and " doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde ".

The GR 70 allows today to redo this initiatory journey. You will so discover :

  • the Haute-Loire with a volcanic landscapes with its basalt rocks, and its red and black colors,
  • the Lozere with a landscape rather granite, Mont Lozere in particular,
  • the Cévennes with its narrow valleys, its landscapes shale and chestnut.

If you're tempted by the adventure, the Association on the way of Robert Louis Stevenson can help to organize your hike.