Mandagout – a mountain community in the Cévennes

We were invited again this year by friends of Colleen to their home in the Cévennes – to Richard and Arlette. First we met up with Arlette’s sister Eliane who lives in Montpellier and then proceeded for an hour and a half’s drive in a north-westerly direction into the mountain ranges of the Cévennes.
Eliane and Arlette (Baccuet) were born to French Missionaries in Lesotho at the beginning of WW II. They still speak fluent Sesotho!! Colleen became very fond of them while they nursed together at Groote Schuur in the early 60’s. They returned to France in the mid 60’s and two years ago, after 47 years they reconnected and the friendship taken up where it left off. Arlette married Richard Dahan, a protestant Pastor, still very active as co-ordinator of prison chaplains of the greater Montpellier area. We are delighted and privileged to be enjoying this contact.

The community of Mandagout is composed of a number of hamlets dotted along the valley and surrounding mountain sides.

A valley dotted with hamlets forming the community of Mandagout.

The Cévennes together with the “Causses” – i. e. a group of lime stone plateaus in the Massif Central – have recently been declared a World Cultural Heritage Site.
Though thinly populated there are still agriculturalists keeping up the tradition of farming with goats, Reinette apples, chestnuts and sweet white onions.
Our hosts treated us with a tian of vegetables from their own garden and a most delicious traditional onion soup.

Arlette, Richard and Eliane.
A tian - a dish of baked vegetables - "tian" being an old Provençal word for frying pan - here with Arlette's and Richard's own home grown vegetables interspersed with goat's cheese.
Exceptionally warm October weather. Colleen with Arlette (r.) and Eliane.
Upright stone houses - typical for the area.

The area is rich in history. According to local legends the Goths founded Mandagout. Traces of Roman road works are still distinguishable along paths in the forest. Benedictines lived here. The religious wars of the 17th century, the French revolution and the Résistance against the occupying forces during the Second World War left scars well documented and vividly remembered today. Once prosperous, in the 19th century the area became impoverished with the loss of the local silk industry due to industrialization and many people were forced to leave. Today with an average of 24 people per square kilometer the area still is sparsely populated but a growing trend is noticeable of people apart from holidaying returning permanently to this part of the world.

The cromlech of Perrarines outside the village of Blandas. A prehistoric circle of stones - on the Causses de Blandas - remains of an astro(nom)(log)ical tool. Archaeologists tend to agree on dating such neolithic sites to at least 6000 years B.C. and before. Walking around this site - a depression with hills surrounding it on all sides - a natural amphitheatre - it is easy for the mind to sense that time deep within ourselves.
On the left the center stone of the circle.
Cirque de Navacelles and gorge of the river Vis - the biggest canyon in Europe and one of the prime tourist destinations in the South of France. Being a calcified sea it is classified as a historical monument. We walked down to the river bed and visited the site of ancient mills.
Moulins de la Foux - Mills at the source of the river Vis - These mills or part of them were built in around 900 and have operated since then until the late 19th century. The renovations are still in progress. The river emerges here out of the lime stone rocks.

Life here, remote and harsh as it may be is becoming increasingly attractive to people who have grown weary of consumerism and are seeking distance to city noise and pollution – not to opt or drop out but to rekindle some kind of personal inner joy that many seem to have lost in the mazes of our shopping malls.

On our return from this outing the moon rose magnificently over the hills of the Mandagout valley.
A quick shot through the open car window - Mandagout castle which has changed hands recently and is being renovated to become a guest house ...

Thank you, Richard, Arlette and Eliane for opening your home and hearts to us. We are looking forward to your visiting us in South Africa.

With love as always
Colleen & Walter
Antibes, Côtes d’Azur/France
Friday October 14, 2011