We spent 10 months (September 2012 – June 2013) in St Etienne de l’Olm, a small working village in the French department of Gard in Languedoc Roussillon. Like many medieval villages across southern France it’s is a mix of rural French workers, retirees and French and international holiday makers. As such, many of the mostly stone structures are beautifully maintained while a few are in need of care, giving the village more of a real-people-live-here feel rather than the Disneyland vibe those perfect medieval villages can have.
With a population of less than 400, in-town services consist of a hair dresser – by appointment only – and a school. There is also regular bus service. Vézénobres (3 k from St Etienne), whose quaint medieval old town is perched on a hilltop, has a few restaurants, a boulangerie and a small grocery store.
Alès (10 k from St Etienne), population of 40,000 plus, has a wide range of services including a large commercial center southwest of town, 15 minutes from St Etienne. Here you’ll find Cora, the French version of a Wal-Mart style Supercenter, with the largest cheese section I’ve ever seen anywhere. There is also a Grand Frais on Ancienne route de Nîmes with a great selection of produce, meat and cheeses.
Our favorite food markets in the area include –
Alès, Les Halles de L’Abbaye indoor market -20 minutes – open every day but best on Saturdays.
Anduze – 25 minutes – Thursdays.
Uzès – 20 minutes – Saturday is the big everything market, Wednesday is a smaller food market.
Nîmes Les Halles – 35 minutes – Open every day – Saturday is the busiest, Monday the slowest, not sure about Sundays.
For wine, we like Le Caveau de Bacchus and l’étiquette in Alès, both have very friendly and knowledgeable owners who can help you find that perfect bottle of wine in your price range. Le Caveau de Bacchus has wines from across France while l’étiquette focuses more on regional wines.
The rolling hills surrounding the village are a patchwork of natural garrigue – a Mediterranean scrubland – wheat fields, and vineyards with a few fields of sunflowers and lavender for color. A delight for driving, biking or walking in just about any season. Numerous blazed day hike trails crisscross the Gard department many of which are written up in the French guide Le Gard …à pied. In fact one of the hikes, #32, La Droude, traverses St Etienne. A list of the hikes we have done in the area with links to the related post can be found on the Languedoc Roussillon page.
Golf in the area includes –
Golf de Nîmes Vacquerolles on the outskirts of Nîmes has a population of regulars as well as international visitors.
La Grand Motte is a pretty resort course near the Mediterranean.
Golf Club d’Uzès situated outside the medieval market town of Uzès, is a rustic 9 hole course surrounded by fruit orchards.
We lived in this charming 4-bedroom stone house on the edge of the village which makes an ideal home base for a longer stay in the area. The interior stone walls give the house that desirable country French feel, while the sizable kitchen and 3 full bathrooms (almost unheard of in France) made it practical for everyday living and entertaining guests.
It is the terrace, garden and pool, however, that make the house a real find. Well situated on the property with a southern exposure, the awing-covered terrace is perfect for dining and is well protected from the north wind and hot summer sun.
The garden, with views over neighboring fields and garrigue, is a delightful spot to enjoy the sunset, while the pool is refreshing and private. The owners, a charming English couple, couldn’t have been easier to work with.
Although the house is not currently listed on any websites, if you would like more information leave me a comment and I will pass on your contact information to the owners.
St Etienne de l’Olm is centrally located, about 30 minutes from the Cevennes Mountains to the east, an hour from the Mediterranean to the south and 45 minutes to the Rhône River and Provence to the west. If you want to explore farther afield you can reach the peaks of the Massif Central, Alps or Pyrenees in roughly 4-6 hours by car. The Nîmes train station, about 45 minutes, connects the village to Paris in about 3 hours. Larger cities in the area include Montpellier, Marseilles and Avignon. We frequently flew in and out of the Marseilles airport (1 hour 45 minutes) to a number of international destinations – including Brussels, Casablanca and Venice.
If you are looking for something a little off the beaten path, this is a great area for both relaxation and exploration. For more information on the area see the Languedoc Roussillon page for a list of posts and the related links.