From The Toronto Sun (May 5, 2011), by Robin Robinson :
Suzanne Reynaud knows a thing or two about truffles. A visit to Maison de la Truffe - the shop she runs with her husband - is like a trip to truffle heaven for fans of the prized edible fungus. Perched on the edge of the town’s main square, Place aux Herbes, this cozy little gourmet boutique is the place to go, not only for fresh truffles but also for truffle oil, truffle honey, truffle salt, truffle vinegar, truffle pasta, truffle wine, truffle knives - you name it, if it’s truffle-related the Reynaud’s probably sell it.
A one-time restaurateur, Reynaud says truffles are available year-round in Languedoc-Roussillon, the region in the south of France of which Uzes is a part, but their aromas and flavours vary in different seasons. She confides that “winter truffles have the most delicate flavour.” Throughout the year, Reynaud and her husband also organize truffle events, which include food and wine tastings and demonstrations.
Everyone who travels to France soon learns that food and wine are national obsessions, which easily surpass our own country’s preoccupation with hockey. Even small villages such as Uzes, home to about 8,500 residents, have wonderful food markets selling local organic products and food-related events such as the annual Truffle Fair held each January. In preparation for this weekend treasure hunt for foodies, organizers dump an enormous pile of earth in Place aux Herbes and stud it with truffles. Then truffle pigs are let loose to sniff out the buried booty, and the whole town goes a little truffle mad.
The Saturday market is the place to shop for food, household goods, clothing and accessories. There are stalls selling everything from garlicky olives to cheeses, lavender and French linens.
On market days, Terroirs is packed with locals but if you can commandeer a table under the arcades, do sample the tartines - hearty open-face sandwiches of toasted bread topped with all manner of delicious things. I ordered the L’Uzetienne, a regional creation of pesto, ripe tomatoes, goat cheese and olives. Sip a couple of glasses of rose, sample some Verveine, a local herbal beverage, and let yourself fall under the spell of the French way of life as it unfolds around you.
Don’t leave without going inside to buy a few gourmet treats from Terroirs’ wide selection of flavoured honey, olive oils, rose-hip jam, salted caramel, sea salt, spices, tapenades, terrines, and more.
Take some time to wander in the narrow cobblestone lanes that snake off the square in all directions. Uzes has a long history and remnants of its past - dozens of well preserved medieval mansions, churches and courtyards - await discovery around every turn.
The Pont du Gard
There are hundreds of places in France where visitors can see remnants of Roman amphitheatres, aqueducts, villas, city gates, bridges and other structures. But only at the Pont du Gard - the world’s highest Roman aqueduct bridge - can you cross a river by walking through the inside of an ancient canal that carried water to people who lived more than 2,000 years ago.
A testament to the skill of Roman engineers, the bridge is part of a 50-km aqueduct built in the first century to transport water from a spring near Uzes to fountains, baths and homes in Nimes, a rapidly expanding Roman city of 20,000 residents, guide Alejandro Mendez Graf says. At 275-metres long and 49-metres high, the three-tiered bridge dominates the landscape for miles around. The elegant structure was built from 50,400 tons of stone and erected “largely without mortar,” Mendez Graf says. Experts estimate 44-million gallons of water per day once flowed through the aqueduct - some of it up hill!
After the fall of the Roman Empire, many monumental structures across France fell into ruin. Without regular maintenance, the aqueduct slowly became clogged by mineral deposits, vegetation and dirt. Eventually the water stopped flowing altogether, Mendez Graf says. While much of the aqueduct and its other bridges crumbled, the Pont du Gard survived “relatively intact” for practical reasons, Mendez Graf says. As the only structure spanning the wide Gard River valley, the Pont du Gard found “new life in the Middle Ages as a toll bridge.” Bridge upkeep was delegated to noblemen and bishops, who also had the right to charge tolls to travellers who wanted to cross the river.
By the 1800s, the Pont du Gard was a major attraction drawing not only tourists but royals and other celebrities. To accommodate an increasing amount of traffic travellining over the ancient structure, the French government ordered major repairs and the addition of a road bridge.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, the Pont du Gard is now part of a very visitor-friendly complex that includes a museum, a visitor centre and restaurants - including the 2-Michelin-starred Les Terrasse. There’s also a 165-hectare park that showcases how the Mediterranean landscape has changed over 2,000 years of history.
With 1.3 million visitors each year, it is one of France’s top attractions. Guided tours through the inside of the watercourse must be booked advance. These are limited to 33 people at a time. As for the view from the top tier of the bridge? C’est magnifique.