New journeys always evoke past ones for me. Just now, a visit to the Languedoc region, France with its famous Pont du Gard had me recalling another beautiful bridge under light blue skies. Suddenly I was back in San Francisco, a very young ad exec, at the iconic Golden Gate, and about to experience a career-changing moment. Passing the bank of elevators operated by elegant Orientals in shot-silk kimonos, I checked out of the Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill. I was visiting a branch office and before flying back to New York, I took a trolley-car down the steep slope to Fisherman’s Wharf, where I saw a crowd massing. I had my Rolleiflex, and found myself snapping Bobby Kennedy, my Senator from New York, a dogged fighter for Civil Rights, who glad-handed us all. On my way in to my New York office the next morning, I noticed a sombre mood – I learned of the politician’s shocking post-midnight assassination in LA’s Ambassador Hotel. It was as if I had taken Wellbeing’s crash-course in self-motivation seminar, the incident announcing a radical change in direction. I thought, if Kennedy’s voice was stilled – mine wouldn’t be, however minor. A book published by Doubleday and a career in journalism took off. Visiting Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, which has its own ancient tongue and roll-call of martyrs, the UNESCO World Heritage 2,000-year-old Roman site of the Pont du Gard, is as iconic as the Golden Gate behind RFK that fateful day, for it also ‘built bridges’ to its citizens.
Languedoc / Rousillon
EasyJet flight from Gatwick (dep. 11.35am GMT) to Montpellier (arr. 2.20 pm Cont.) takes under 2 hours. Built before the Christian era, Pont du Gard, architectural masterpiece, Roman aqueduct’s superb engineering, the bridge has three tiers of arches spanning River Gard. La Begude St Pierre, a mile from the bridge, is a former 17th-century coaching inn and is the perfect place to relax. The 4-star hotel has 23 rooms, terraces and olive trees, an open-air swimming pool, and restaurants that offer French and Mediterranean cuisine as a speciality. Le Castellas, in the heart of Collias, is a charming hotel with a brand new spa which offers massages, Turkish baths and other treatments. Maison d’Uzes’ 5-star 12-roomed hotel, restaurant & spa features hammam, roman bath, massages, etc. The 17th-century listed building in the heart of the medieval Uzes with honey-coloured walls and old beams offers Michelin-starred fine dining prepared by Chef Garcia. Ranked in the top 35 hotels in the world. A 16th-century farmhouse that once belonged to the Bishop of Uzes, the hotel has 8 guest rooms/suites, swimming pool and a luxury spa located in beautiful vaulted cellars and includes a hammam, Jacuzzi, massage room, plunge pool and gym. Exquisite food by Michelin-starred Restaurant Artemise – incl. seasonal dishes.
Hotel le Clos, Montagny-les-Beaune, is a beautifully refurbished 4-star 18th-century farmhouse lovingly restored by Alain and Christine Oudot. There are 24 guest rooms yet we were overwhelmed when the owners offered us no less than a cottage to ourselves! After a sound night’s sleep, we walked across the gravelled courtyard passing an ancient picturesque well, agricultural implements and a wine-press before entering Reception replete with ancient beams, stone flooring and open fireplace. We had breakfast on an open terrace among guests who were obviously no strangers to a favourite hostelry, and sat out in their lovely orchard planning our next visit to the Abbey de Morgeot vineyards and then on to the stunningly beautiful 365-roomed with moat with drawbridge in southern Burgundy Chateau de Sully, a castle owned by Scots-born Duchess of Magenta, also the 9th Marchioness de MacMahon. We enjoyed a veritable feast of a picnic lunch in the Abbey de Morgeot vineyard hosted by Amelie MacMahon, the 4th Duchess, whose refreshments included one of their wines, the superlative Chassagny-Montrachet. Hearing the Duchess was from North of the Border, we speculated if we were going to meet an independent, rather fiery ‘gone native’ Margaret Rutherford – instead we got a fine-boned and flame-haired Deborah Kerr. We learned the bizarre tale how the castle was saved from destruction from French revolutionaries. A predecessor, Charlotte MacMahon, was seemingly at death’s door when a rampaging mob arrived at her gates, set on reducing the stately pile to rubble.
Fearlessly, the elderly lady told them they were trespassing and should leave. Six months later, presuming that the old Dowager was no more, the rebels were astonished to be told she was alive. (In fact, she had died the night before). A quick-witted estate manager, Claude Beaune, placed the old lady’s corpse in a trough filled with brandy, so that when the mob entered her boudoir, they found the resurrected Charlotte propped up in her bed with a lace cap, curtains drawn and obviously poorly. Thwarted yet again, the rebels retired never to return!
Brittany Ferries offer a wonderful service to the Continent for the foot traveller. FB says: I was car-less in Caen. But was I bothered? The region is a hub of efficient and brilliantly linked public transport – the perfect way to find your feet in Normandy. I travelled in luxury from Portsmouth to Caen return with cabin. Bus Vert buses link up Ouistreham port with the Bus Terminal and bustling rail station in the city centre. My destination was Deauville and I chose to continue on the Bus Vert, plying the scenic coastal route in great comfort and style. Hotel Le Trophee is (FB) “A Michelin-starred centrally located hotel, with its 24-hour health club, sauna, steam room and outdoor heated swimming pool. In the heart of the chic coastal resort with its fabulous shops (Chanel started here), there are many ways to keep fit such as tennis, golf, swimming, sailing and attractions as La Toques racecourse, George Clooney stays during the International Film Festival.”
Easyjet Gatwick-Montpellier easyjet.com
La Begude St Pierre 30210 Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France
Hostellerie le Castellas 30210 Collias www.le castellas.com
Maison d’Uzes 30700 Uzes www.lamaisonduzes.fr/uk/
L’Artemise Chemin de la Lauze, 30700 Uzes
Uzes Tourist Office 30700 Uzes +33 (0)4 66 22 68 88
Hotel le Clos, 21200 Beaune, France +33 (0)3 80 25 97 98 hotelleclos @ wanadoo.fr;
Chateau de Sully 71630 Sully
NORMANDY Brittany Ferries, reservations @ brittanyferries.com
Hotel Le Trophee 14800 Deauville, France +33 (0)2 31884586 information @ letrophee.com