Hidden France: the Cévennes mountains

We all think that we know France, and yet some of the best-educated Parisians, who have no difficulty rattling off the obscurest capital cities, are unable to locate Cévennes on the map. They know that the Lozère is the most sparsely populated départment in France. And they knew that the cévenols – those taciturn, heavily defended peasants who feature in Raymond Depardon's fashionable and rather condescending documentary on rural France, La vie moderne – are mostly Protestant.

For the French, a nation of lapsed Catholic pleasure-seekers, the word Protestant evokes hard work, austerity and mirthlessness.

And yet, for most of the year the climate is Mediterranean, softened a little in summer by the altitude. Winters are relatively short and mild, with the occasional dusting of snow on the summits –you couldn’t ask for more.

Unless that is you want to experience an épisode cévenol: when cold air from the Atlantic meets warm air from the Mediterranean, leading to apocalyptic rain, flash floods, broken bridges, dead sheep, restive children and unhinged mothers – but these are rare!

Check out the Hotel Bourgade, HotelBourgade, or some of the magnificent slef-catering cottages from Gites de France, GitesdeFrance.

Ryanair flies to Nîmes from Liverpool and Luton and to Montpellier from Bristol and Leeds-Bradford.

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