An idyllic spot, only 179 lucky people live in La Roque-sur-Cèze, a dozen kilometres from Bagnols sur Cèze and listed amongst the most beautiful villages of France, a veritable heaven on earth.
To visit the village, you have to cross the bridge with its twelve arches that span the Cèze River. Listed a Historic Monument, it dates from the 13th century. Its name, "Charles Martel Bridge", remains an enigma because that king of France had nothing to do with the history of La Roque.
You can park along the banks of the Cèze in the shade of the sycamores that will protect your car from the heat of the sun.
Here, the scene is already set and, from the parcel of grapevines planted at the foot of the village, you can admire the medieval town clinging like an amphitheatre to its rocky outcrop.
You start to have a beautiful view over the houses of the village as you walk up to the parish church built in 1883. But you have to keep going a bit higher to really grasp all the majesty.
The village is completely car-free and the houses huddle together at the foot of the château, along the cobblestone lanes with their picturesque names. Undaunted visitors will take the aptly named Rue Rompe-Cul (Backbreaker Street) to reach the very top of the village.
The medieval village of La Roque sur Cèze
Parish church of La Roque sur Cèze
Rue Rompe-Cul, a steep cobblestone lane leading to the top of the village
12th century chapel at the top of the village
View over the Cèze Valley in Autumn
Cobblestone streets in the village of La Roque sur Cèze
Rue de l'Arceau with its old mulberry tree
Place Palou and the bistro La Hulotte in La Roque sur Cèze
The bridge to La Roque sur Cèze
The beautiful stone houses are dressed in Mediterranean vegetation such as oleanders, Virginia creeper, cypress, hackberry trees that bring colours to the streets from springtime on.
The street names also evoke the silk-making past of La Roque-sur- Cèze: the “Traverse des Mûriers” (Mulberry Pass), the “Rue de la Magnanerie” (Silk Farm Road)... and you will see many mulberry trees, today just ornamental but in the 18th and 19th centuries their leaves fed the silkworms.
The little lanes intertwine, criss cross and climb up to the 12th century castle. Arriving at the esplanade bordered by the ruins of the ramparts, we can only regret that the gates are closed: the castle is a private home and cannot by visited. But take a moment to admire the Romanesque chapel attached to the castle, also from the 12th century and in which the apse is ornamented with “gear tooth” friezes. It is also private property and only occasionally open to the public. At least the fantastic panorama rewards the efforts put into climbing to the top of the village and you can admire the Cèze River snaking through the valley in an ocean of vineyards, scrubland and woods.
You can continue to wander through the village, watch the pétanque players on the Place des Marronniers and have a drink at the bistro of La Roque on Place Palou. This square was named in honour of Jean Palou, an innkeeper and artist quite well known in the 1950s. He counted Jean Carmet and Marcel Amont among his regular guests. He was also one of the people who began the restoration of the village, partly in ruins at the time.
A few hundred metres from the village, the famous Sautadet Cascades are worth a visit. The Cèze River violently carved out its path through a limestone massif that blocked its way and today the water flows through a spectacular warren of crevasses and giant potholes.
The site is dangerous and bathing is strictly prohibited. It is only authorized further down from the Sautadet Cascades, where the Cèze terminates it torrential fury to become a more tranquil spot for swimming. The name Sautadet comes from the expression “saut d'Hadès” or “Hades' jump” (named after the Greek god of the underworld). This interpretation may give you an indication of the site's dangers, which have caused 23 deaths in the past 20 years.
An approximately 300-kilometre network of paths and trails have been set out and marked. Bicycle tourists will also love the region, discovering its villages and hamlets as they cycle through the countryside.
Less then 8 kilometres from La Roque-sur-Cèze, the villages of Cornillon and Goudargues are worth a visit. And don't miss the Chartreuse de Valbonne, a big monastery of impressive proportions nestling in a dense forest at the bottom of a valley.