One of the last villages we visited in the south of France, Aiguèze and its fewer than 250 inhabitants sit perched on a plateau overlooking the Ardèche River, which divides the departments of Gard and Ardèche, and the regions of Languedoc and Rhône-Alpes. A single-lane suspension bridge over the river connects Aiguèze and the neighboring village of Saint-Martin.
Aiguèze’s village square is compact, anchored at one end by a magnificent parish church and a pair of cafés at the other. In between and built on a cliff is the Château d’Aiguèze, a fortress built in the 14th Century. Around 1374, the King of France sold the fortress to a salt baron named Pons de Biordon, who made his fortune by placing a high tax on salt and subsequently became one of the most hated lords in the region. In the spring 1382, a revolt broke out in Pont-Saint-Esprit when farmers refused to pay the tax, resulting in the sacking of Biordon’s warehouse and forcing him to seek shelter in the fortress his salty riches had purchased. In the fall of that year, the fortress was seized by a band of local rascals called Tuchins, who were interested in grain, wine and weapons stored in Biordon’s castle. The seizure was quite peaceful since Guillaume Astier, keeper of the castle on Bordion’s behalf, betrayed his lord and the few guards welcomed the assailants with wine flasks. The fortress became the headquarters of the Tuchins, some 900 of them, for fourteen months, not only refusing to leave but seizing a few other minor castles in the neighborhood. Finally, the local nobles set up an army, which besieged the Château d’Aiguèze in December 1383. The Tuchins were slaughtered, along with several villagers who supported them. Only nine families remained in the village, the fortress was dismantled and Aiguèze never recovered from the event. You might say it was an extreme case of pouring salt over an old wound.
We arrived in Aiguèze after breakfast and it was so peaceful, it was hard to imagine its violent history. The ruins of the castle remain and with the flag of Aiguèze hoisted overhead, it’s become one of the area’s main tourist attractions. The village is actually quaint, its entrance bordered by lush vineyards and its town square about as quiet as Sheriff Andy Taylor’s Mayberry on a Sunday morning. It took less than an hour to walk through Aiguèze and see almost everything that was there. The village boasts two hotels, and premiere accommodations can be found overlooking the Ardèche at Le Castelas, complete with sun terraces, vaulted hallways, restaurant and swimming pool. The 16th Century parish church has been recently restored and it’s one of the most beautiful in France. There is also white water kayaking and rafting (an element in our script) in the nearby Ardèche Gorge and ancient caves to be explored in the area. Aiguèze surprised me. It has charm and cinematic appeal, and for its salty past, there is nothing bland about it.