Hi! My name is Julie and I’m a French immersion teacher in Provence. I live in Avignon, but today I wanted to tell you about one of my favorite cities around here: Uzès. I’ve been goign there every summer since I was a child, thanks to my grandparents who own a country house there.
C’est à 40 minutes d’Avignon. Il n’y a pas de train qui va à Uzès, seulement un bus mais ce n’est pas pratique du tout! Mais si vous venez chez moi en immersion à Avignon, je vous emmène dans ma voiture ! Allez c’est parti ! :)
Uzès is a 40-minute drive from Avignon. There is no train that will take you to Uzès, only a bus, and that is not at all convenient. But if you come to Avignon for an immersion homestay, I will take you there! Let’s go!
Donc chaque été, et parfois à Pâques, je me retrouvais avec mes cousins pour jouer à cache-cache autour des cyprès, des oliviers, et des pins parasols. Ah les vacances de mon enfance ! Plus tard, comme adolescente, je me dorais au soleil autour de la piscine au chant des cigales… Jusqu’à ce que ma grand-mère vienne nous chercher pour déjeuner sa légendaire ratatouille.
Every summer, and sometimes for the Easter break, I used to meet my cousins and play hide-and-seek around the cypresses, olive, and pine trees. Ah, the wonderful lazy vacation days of childhood! Later on, as a teenager, I would suntan by the pool to the tune of the cicadas… Until my grandmother would call us in for lunch and enjoy her legendary ratatouille.
1 – Uzès – History
C’est d’abord un duché: c’est-à-dire qu’il y a encore un duc qui vit à Uzès et lorsqu’il est là, le drapeau est levé sur le château, comme quand Elizabeth II est au château des Windsor. Au XVIe siècle, le roi Charles IX élève son seigneur au rang de 1er duc de France. Le comte de Crussol, premier duc d’Uzès devient alors le 2ème personnage le plus important du Royaume. Et aujourd’hui, le château appartient encore à la famille du duc!
First of all, it is a “duchy”: in other words, there is still a duke living in Uzès nowadays and when he’s in town, the flag is raised above the castle, just like when Elizabeth II is in Windsor. In the 16th century, King Charles IX (Saint Louis) elevated the lord of Uzès to the rank of 1st Duke of France. The Comte de Crussol, first Duc de France became the 2nd most important person in the Kingdom. And nowadays, the castle still belongs to the duke’s family!
2 – The Market of Uzès
Uzès est connue pour son marché provençal du samedi matin. Ce que les touristes savent moins, c’est que le marché du mercredi matin est beaucoup mieux. Le mercredi, il y a seulement les producteurs locaux et pas tous les attrape-touristes du samedi matin! Ils vendent des fruits et légumes frais de la région, dont de magnifiques tomates coeur de bœuf parfaites pour les salades d’été ! Il y a aussi des producteurs locaux d’huile d’olive, des tapenades, et du fromage de chèvre frais ! Miam!
Uzes is famous for its Saturday morning open-air Provencal market. What most tourists don’t know though, is that the Wednesday open-air market is actually much better. On Wednesdays, you’ll only find local producers and none of the Saturday market tourist-traps. They sell fresh fruits and local veggies, including gorgeous beef tomatoes perfect for summer salads! You can also find local olive oils producers, tapenades (olive spread), and fresh goat cheese! Yummy!
Sur la même place où il y a le marché, la Place aux Herbes, il y a de nombreux cafés où on peut s’arrêter pour prendre un expresso, une orangeade ou un verre de rosé. Et puis si vous avez faim, il y a des boulangeries où vous pourrez goûter la spécialité locale de la fougasse! Et avant de repartir, n’oubliez pas d’admirer les magnifiques arcades et les grandes fenêtres du XVIIIème siècle tout autour.
On this same market place square, the “Place aux Herbes”, there are many cafés where you can stop for an expresso, a freshly squeezed orange juice or a glass of rosé. If you’re hungry, there are also bakeries where you can sample the local specialty called “fougasse”. And before continuing your visit, don’t forget to have a look at the exquisite arcades and large 18th-century windows all around you.
L’après-midi, on peut venir à la ”Place aux Herbes” pour prendre une glace artisanale et prendre le frais autour de la fontaine à l’abri du soleil sous les platanes.
In the afternoon, you can come to the Place aux Herbes for homemade ice cream and cool off by the fountain in the shade of the plane trees.
3 – The Many Charms of Uzès
Officiellement, Uzès n’est pas en Provence, mais en région Occitanie, dans le département du Gard. Mais en fait elle ressemble beaucoup à la Provence, avec ses volets vert clair, bleus ou rouges et ses façades calcaires très blanches.
Officially, Uzès is not in Provence but in the Occitanie region in the department of Gard. But in fact, it resembles Provence a lot, with its light green, blue or red shutters and its really white limestone facades.
C’est à Uzès que se trouve la fontaine d’Eure qui alimente en eau les villes alentours depuis la Préhistoire. Les Romains ont construit un magnifique aqueduc, le Pont du Gard classé au patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco, pour fournir de l’eau à Nîmes, à ses luxueuses villas romaines et à ses thermes au Ier siècle après JC.
Uzès is the city where you’ll find the Fontaine d’Eure, which has supplied water to the surrounding cities since Prehistorical times. The Romans built the amazing “Pont du Gard” aqueduct, listed in the Unesco World Heritage, to carry water from the Uzès spring all the way to Nîmes and to its luxurious Roman villas and baths in the 1st Century AD.
Enfin, vous ne pourrez pas résister de visiter ses petites boutiques très branchées de vêtements et de décoration. Et même les Parisiens meurent d’envie de se perdre dans les petites ruelles uzétiennes (c’est l’adjectif qui caractérise ce qui vient d’Uzès : uzétien, uzétienne) et de faire de petits achats dans ses ravissantes boutiques, véritables temples du bon goût!
Finally, you will not resist the temptation to visit its trendy clothes and decoration boutiques. Even Parisians are dying to get lost in the narrow “Uzetian” streets and shop in its delightful shops, real “temples of Good Taste”!
D’ailleurs, nombreux sont les acteurs (Jean-Louis Trintignant..) et les écrivains (Racine, André Gide) qui ont vécu à Uzès et tous sont indéniablement restés sous le charme…
By the way, many celebrities including actors (Jean-Louis Trintignant..) and writers (Racine, André Gide) lived in Uzès and undeniably remained under its spell…
L’auteur classique Racine était parisien, mais il est venu plusieurs fois à Uzes quand il était jeune. Il a écrit à propos d’Uzès: ” Et nous avons des nuits plus belles que vos jours “…
The famous French playwright Racine was Parisian, but he often came to Uzès when he was young. He wrote this line about Uzès: “And our nights are more beautiful than your days”.
J’espère que je vous ai donné envie d’aller à Uzès ! Cette ville a tellement plu à mon étudiant Jim qu’il m’a envoyé un grand récit de notre visite de la ville : le voici ci-dessous (en anglais)
I hope I convinced you to go visit Uzès! My student Jim liked this city so much she sent me a long story of our city visit: here it is below (in English).
4 – My French Immersion Trip to Uzès
For the second week of my two-week french immersion class with Julie in Avignon we decided for that Wednesday to visit the town of Uzés about fifty kilomètres west of Avignon in the region of the Pont de Gard.
Julie picked me up in her car on the Rue Joseph Vernet and passing through a portal in the city wall we crossed the Rhone river on the Pont E. Dalidier and continued on through the French countryside. The day was one of those beautiful mid-summer days in Provence with bright sunlight, a deep azure blue sky and not a cloud in sight.
On the way we passed vineyards spread over low hills, groves of old gnarled olive trees and rows of fruit trees stretching off into the distance. Sometimes there were just fields of sunflowers all bright yellow in the sun. Amid the fields one could see old provençal stone farmhouses and rows of plane trees along the edges of fields as a windbreak against the strong winds of the Mistral. Off in the distance there were ancient villages situated at the top of high hills and on occasion the towers and ramparts of a medieval castle.
Later on after turning off the main highway onto an older local road we passed through long allées of old plane trees with their branches meeting overhead in a canopy and sunlight flickering down through the leaves.
During the drive Julie and I practiced some French conversation and she pointed out to me the correct pronunciation of the town that we were visiting, – Uzès with a distinct final “s’ sound and not a “z” sound. I had to practice it several time over to get it right.
After arriving in Uzès Julie parked the car in an underground garage located under a square in front of the Town Hall. Once at street level we walked along a side street towards the Place aux Herbes. After turning several corners along some narrow streets, one could see in the distance squares of varied colored cloth that seem to be just floating in the air. As we got closer one could see that they were big sun umbrellas turned at various angles to the sun.
A short walk further on the street merged into the Place aux Herbes. Spread before us was the bustling and somewhat chaotic outdoor market held every Wednesday in Uzès primarily for the local residents of Uzès and highlighting mostly local produce and products. There is also a Saturday market that has a wider range of merchandise and attracts more visitors and tourists.
The Place aux Herbes is an old market square surrounded by three and four story buildings equally old and each with their blue volets alongside every window. At ground level are low heavy stone arches and arcades that continue around most of the square. Plane trees planted in the square years ago spread their shade over the square. A large old circular fountain still stands in the square dispensing water .
By the time we reached the square, the market was in full swing. The entire square was a jumble of stalls and tables spread out under the plane trees or with their own colorful shade umbrellas furled above them and each watched over by vendors ready for a sale. A large crowd of people was already there walking among the tables, accepting samples handed to them, and doing their morning shopping.
Farmers from around the local region brought their best produce for display and sale at the Wednesday market. There one could see tables loaded with vegetables neatly set out for display or in crates propped up on the tables. One could find peppers of various colors, deep purple eggplants, bunches of carrots and deep red beets fresh from the ground. Also displayed were fat stalks of celery, long white leeks, string beans, bunches of radishes, crates of big purple artichokes and fronds of dill tied up in little bunches with string.
Many tables had their own display of tomatoes ranging in size from large tomatoes down to small baskets of cherry tomatoes and their colors varied from deep red to purple, orange, yellow an even multicolored. One tomato that particularly caught my attention was a big ugly tomato called in French “coeur de boeuf”.
I remembered Julie during an immersion class making for our lunch a delicious tomato salad with this tomato that included small pieces of sheep’s milk cheese , a touch of moutarde de dijon, a few black olives and just a mild olive oil to dress the salad; with a few slices of baguette a true taste of Provence.
Not to be overlooked were the tables with their displays of fruit such as peaches, apricots and melons of various kinds so sweet and delicious at that time of year and boxes filled with ripe cherries. One whole table was covered with small baskets of freshly picked strawberries. As we walked along Julie pointed out regional specialties such as artisanal cheeses locally made and wines bottled by local vineyards. Further on we stopped to taste some olive oils recently pressed from olives grown in the surrounding region. There were bins of freshly baked baguettes and other breads and a table of assorted varieties of honey. Further on there was a table of containers filed with a wide selection of spices and dried herbs. One could put together one’s own packet of Herbes de Provence. Hanging overhead were tied bunched of dried lavender. At another table we sampled black and green olive tapenades served up on small pieces of baguette .Around the base of the fountain were spread out hanging baskets of flowers. Under the shade of some plane trees and close to the stone arcade of one of the buildings was a long counter with a glass barrier in front filled with fresh seafood nestled in crushed ice. Next to it in the same row was a counter filled with fresh meats and poultry.
By one o’clock in the afternoon the market was beginning to wind down. Vendors had begun to pack up their unsold produce and merchandise and preparing to move on to the next market day in another town. Many of the remaining shoppers filled the food shops and bistros under the stone arcades or pulled the white acrylic chairs out into the square for coffee and conversation.
Julie and I found a small café under one of the old stone arcades and sat down to a cold drink and some French conversation. After finishing our drinks we began our walk back to the underground parking garage through an old section of the town along narrow cobbled streets. Although the origin of the town goes back to the roman era, the old buildings that we passed are said to date from the the 17th and 18th century and some appeared to be medieval.. They looked to be constructed from blocks of the light colored stone of the region now weathered rough with age. Each structure has its wooden shutters with some painted a soft blue or light green now faded from the sunlight to a dusty hue.
After a while the street opened into a small neighborhood square surrounded by similar buildings. Straight ahead was an austere stone wall with just a simple wooden door set in a heavy stone surround. A few old plane trees spread their wide branches over parts of the square that evoked a sense of timelessness.
After retrieving the car we drove out of the town passing the imposing entrance to the medieval castle of the Duche d’Uzès. I noticed as we drove by that the personal standard of the present duke was flying at the top of a high rampart announcing that the duke was at home in his castle that day.
On the return trip to Avignon we stopped in a boulangerie at a crossroads for a bite to eat. Along with a selection of breads the shop featured savory filled pastries. We both selected a pastry from the display case and ate it on our way back to the car. In another half hour we were crossing the bridge over the Rhone on our way back to Avignon.
Julie dropped me off on the Rue Joseph Vernet and from her car she opened a garage style door in a building wall that gave me access to an inner courtyard. Crossing the courtyard I entered through the back entrance of the building in which Julie provides an apartment for the use of her immersion students.
This spacious and modern apartment is located in a recently restored 16th century building on the Rue Bouquerie. A plaque on the front of the building attests that in 1655 Moliere gave one of his plays in a covered courtyard that was part of the building at that time.
This was the end of a full immersion day in Avignon and one that was for me was a very rewarding experience.
Jim Riddle 9/6/2018