The Bogtrotter

Tag: Cevennes

Walk in the land of the menhirs

by on Sep.17, 2013, under French Walks, Walks

Any Asterix fan will tell you that a menhir is an ancient standing stone. Whilst they are spread all across France, there is a curious concentration of them in the northern Cevennes and this walk takes in many of them.

CombettesThe “Balade au pays des Menhirs” is a 3.5 mile circular walk in the Lozere department in southern France. It takes about two hours to complete the loop, but you will travel back in time through Millennia.

The walk starts from a signed car park on the road from Le Pont de Montvert to Mende. From here you cross a couple of fields, then turn left and follow a farm track with hedges on either side as you descent downhill into dense pine forests. Almost as soon as you enter the woods you start to see menhirs, standing upright in small clearings in the forest. Modern man has worked around these ancient landmarks, leaving them untouched over thousands of years.

The track continues to descent until you emerge into rolling farmland, with a wide vista of the resplendent Gorges du Tarn opening out before you. After 2 miles you reach the tiny hamlet of Combettes, which provides the pretty rustic idil that seems to typify rural France. As you enter the hamlet, a small building on your left (which is actually an old bread oven) houses a permanent exhibition on “Mont Lozere before history”. (continue reading…)

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Steaming through the Gardon valley by train

by on Oct.17, 2009, under France, French Experiences

Preserved railway lines are something I always think of as typically English. Who else would spend so much time and effort lovingly restoring an outmoded, dirty, slow form of transport?

So imagine my pleasant surprise at finding a steam train line running throuth the heart of the Cevennes mountains. The Train a Vapeur des Cevennes runs from Anduze to St Jean Du Gard is 13 km, taking a route first opened in 1909 by SNCF after 12 years of planning and construction.

Steaming along in the Cevennes

Steaming along in the Cevennes

The line was closed in 1971, but taken over by volunteers in the mid-1980s and re-opened as a tourist line.

Many of the services are steam-operated but some (particularly the later or off-peak services) are diesel-powered, so check before you arrive if steam is your thing. Several of the carriages are open-sided, giving you the best views over the amazing landscape. But be warned – it can get dirty as the steam and smoke from the engine get funnelled down the train as you go through the tunnels and under the bridges.
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La Bambouseraie – a bamboo jungle in the heart of France

by on Jun.06, 2009, under France, French Experiences

Bamboo always makes you think of the far east – of China and Panda Bears. But tucked away in the foothills of the Cevennes in Southern France is a 15 hectare bamboo forest that provides an oriental oasis from the Mediterranean heat.

Bamboo Forest

Bamboo Forest

The Bambousarie park is a horticultural delight. As you would expect, much of the park is covered with waves of bamboo. But it is not a continuous monoculture, there are numerous varieties of bamboo from the blue-tinted Giant Bamboos rising over 20 metres into the sky to carpets of knee-high bushes, with a range of colours, shapes and sizes in-between.

There is even a small Laosian village set up to demonstrate how people use bamboo to create houses and other buildings, with small traditional garden plots dotted between.

Looking Up

Looking Up

As well as bamboo there is an impressive tree collection. Notably a column of Gread Redwoods (Sequoia) planted in 1861 that now climb 40 metres into the air, towering above the tallest bamboos. There are some of the largest Magnolias in Europe, great Oaks, and a 140 year old Ginko tree that stands over the Dragon Valley.

The Dragon Valley is a relatively new addition to the park – a Feng Shui inspired garden created by Eric Borja in 2000 (the year of the Dragon). With its colourful Acer trees, rolling landscape and Red Phoenix pagoda you really do feel you have been transported to the other side of the world.

Dragon Valley

Dragon Valley

Tucked away and easy to overlook are the smaller garden spaces that are equally inspiring. The water garden with it’s lotus flowers, the bonsai collection set over a pond, and the Victorian greenhouses which now house temporary exhibitions all bring another dimension to the park.

The Bambouseraie is easily accessible by car, but you can combine it with a trip on a steam train by taking the Train a Vapeur des Cevennes from Anduze or St Jean Du Gard and stopping at the Bambouseraie’s own station. Get more details on the park by visiting the Bambousaraie web site.

And if you get inspired by what you have seen you can buy your own plants at the nursery, and start creating your own oasis back at home.

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