Uzes France: A place to fall in love with says Lucy Pitts as she luxuriates in this southern French hidden gem and uncovers a secret spa in a Roman cellar…
I’d like to take you somewhere special. It’s a place where rich Mediterranean skies slowly bake a rocky green landscape and where olive trees grasp the leafy fingers of the mulberry tree to provide welcome shade in a medieval town square. It’s a place where pale limestone houses gently glow and where history and ancient architecture walk hand in hand under the watchful eye of 3 feudal towers and the ancestral home and chateau of the town’s Duke, also known as the Crussol family.
You’ll find this place perched on the crest of a small mountain, swimming in the views of the Eure Valley. It’s called Uzes and it will lure you into its narrow, medieval streets and under its heavy canopy of thick leaved plane trees and cool stone arches and seduce in a way that leaves you breathless.
This is the Gard region of Languedoc Roussillon, home to the fragrant Garrigue vegetation and to sleepy, shimmering villages perched on the hills which float around Uzes. It’s a place where you can almost see the medieval merchants hurrying through the maze of pale stoned buildings to sell their produce in the Place aux Herbes. And hear the throaty laughter of the wealthy, as they pull up in their grand carriages in the Place de l’Eveche, which sits at the feet of the imposing cathedral St Théodorit, with its over indulgent and thoroughly boastful, baroque style organ.
La Maison d’Uzes
Tucked away in this bewitching town, in the Rue du Docteur Blanchard, not far from the main market square, is a tall and imposing wooden door with a large brass knocker. Welcome to La Maison d’Uzes, originally a “hotel particulier” (private town mansion) which has a history that dates back to the 17th century when the Chambon de la Tour family fused together 3 town houses, to form this enchantress of what is now a Relais and Chateaux. And it’s held a majestic and influential position in Uzes ever since, centred as it is, around a serene and soothing courtyard with the quiet of the town’s tiled roof tops calling in through the upper windows.
In more recent years it’s been a boarding school, a doctor’s surgery and home to the eloquently named philanthropist Madame Martine de Fontanes. And when the current incumbent describes the 4 recent years of renovations, he describes it with very obvious passion and with the doting pride of a parent. Every inch, he explains, has been caressed, loved and carefully crafted back to life and its former glory. He knows every stone in the extraordinary circular vaulted ceilings, every step of the well-worn flag stone stairs of the hidden staircase and every book in the vast library of the upper hall.
And it shows. Each of the 12 rooms washes over you like a cool, welcome breeze soothing you from the heat of the day and the quiet sophistication of the grand but simple furnishings makes promises of sublime comfort and calm.
At the back of this urban oasis, hidden away behind the grand central staircase, is a white walled courtyard with bright green parasols and giddy flowers. Here, Michelin star chef Oscar Garcia (nurtured by Frank Putelat – 2 Michelin star chef of Le Parc in Carcassonne and one of the finest chefs in the region) is creating culinary magic from a rich source of local herbs, fruits and produce. His work seems as much about textures, colours and form as it is about the subtle, seasonal flavours of both tradition and the innovative and his choice of regional wines each seem a perfect reflection of his menus. Tease yourself with “Chouquettes d’escargot”, delightful little choux pastry style mouthfuls of snail and savour the melting of fresh sea bream against the crunchy texture of polenta “croustillante”. La Table d’Uzes is a place to linger and to dine here is an experience to cherish.
One last secret
But I told you I’d take you somewhere special and now we’re nearly there. Because underneath the beautiful stone floors of La Maison, are the cavernous Roman cellars, with their vaulted ceilings and labyrinth of cool, hushed rooms, now home to a wellbeing spa.
So slip with me, smoothly and silently into the luxurious warm liquid of the still subterranean bath and let the gentle caress of the water work its magic as it laps against the stone. A tiny glimpse of the hot blue sky peeps in from a skylight way up above and if you listen carefully, you can just hear the gentle patter of sandaled Roman feet hurrying through the corridors with a pitcher in one hand and your robes in another.
La Maison d’Uzes is all about wellbeing and from the moment you’re ushered into the cool arms of its walls, its inherent tranquillity acts like a balm. Its elegance and charm reach right into your soul and you leave here feeling refreshed, renewed and in love.
You can find out more about Uzes at www.uzes-tourisme.com
Lucy Pitts is a reporter for The Good Life France and freelance copywriter who divides her time between the UK and the Vendée, France