I’ve never visited the Cevennes other than in Autumn, but it’s definitely the time and the place to go. Especially on a Tuesday. It’s market day in Saint Jean du Gard.
The mountainous town of Saint Jean du Gard’s history dates back to the twelfth century. It was then that monks from the Abbey of St-Gilles created the settlement on the banks of the Gardon River. With its religious beginnings, Saint Jean du Gard and the surrounding area — the Cévennes — became known as a stronghold for French Protestants (Hugenots).
The citizens of the area, mostly white-shirted Calvinist peasants (Camisards), famously banded together to fight royal control throughout years of religious wars. Many fled to America, England and Switzerland from 1685 into the early 1700’s to avoid ongoing persecution. More recent history of Saint Jean du Gard includes the town’s mention in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.
Market day in Saint Jean du Gard
Because market days seem to be the focus of my explorations in France, I planned the visit to Saint Jean du Gard on a Tuesday. When I arrived in the town, I was happily surprised to see familiar sights. I had been here before on my trip a few years ago — the same visit when I discovered Uzes.
It was a rainy, overcast day but that didn’t stop me from wandering around to some of the same places I remembered and exploring new places for photo opportunities. First there was a stop at the “indoor” market area to see which local products were in season.
Apples, apples more apples.
Apples everywhere. All varieties of apples and all types of juices. Many are the same as in the States. Only a few I’d never seen before. In addition to the raw apples, there were several versions of apple juice. Not being a big fan of fruit juices, I didn’t buy any to bring back with me. Nevertheless, it did make a great photo.
Also in season were chestnuts. While doing a bit of research on Saint Jean du Gard, I learned that chestnut trees were once an important food crop and brought a degree of wealth to the area because of the popular “marron” nuts. When planting mulberry trees to “nourish” the silk worm industry became more profitable than harvesting chestnuts, mulberry trees took over much of the landscape. Fortunately marrons are abundant enough in the markets today for all to continue to enjoy.
Root vegetables and pumpkins
You find pomme de terre (potatoes) on French dinner tables probably more than any other side dish. So it is no surprise there were bushels and baskets of white and red-skinned potatoes in every market, regardless of the season. It’s much harder to find baking potatoes (russet-type) in the markets where I’ve ventured. Certainly I haven’t seen Outback Steakhouse giant-sized spuds anywhere!
Squashes and pumpkins were on display in time for fall menus, including creamed soups. I prepare squashes like we do in the South– splitting a butternut squash in half and baking it with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. That’s unheard of by anyone I’ve asked here. Instead, they peel and steam the squash, then mash it. The one I have at my house is going to end up in a creamy soup.
One vegetable that puzzled me, pictured in the photo on the right, was a giant radish. According to the vendor, it is eaten raw like its tiny kin. Presumably it’s almost as hot as horseradish. The truth I’ll find out about later.
There were not many varieties of green, leafy vegetables like collards and kale in this markets. But there were many types of veggies like endive, shallots, fennel, and leeks. Eggplant (aubergine) is very popular in France and prepared in many ways. Mesclun, spinach and other salad greens are in the market throughout the year. Having lived most of my life in the southern states of the US, there are not many vegetables here that I don’t recognize. Some I’m trying for the first time — fennel for example. Yum!
People watching in Saint Jean du Gard
Now, for some of the best views along the journey. Perhaps this will give you a feel for the town of Saint Jean du Gard. Even on a less than beautiful day, it’s a special place to see.
Along with the quaint village streets and scenes, tourists head to Saint Jean du Gard for the steam train ride through the mountainous areas of the Cevennes. The 45-minute roundtrip to Anduze is on my to-do list for on a sunnier day. Hikers and outdoors travelers head for this part of the Cévennes and the Cévennes National Park in the summertime in droves.The beauty of the hills and river, speckled with small farms and villages, also attract photographers and artists.
Did I mention? … there are pottery shops and wine domains all along the way.
More on autumn in the Cevennes: