I recently had the opportunity to return to St Guilhem le desert, a beautiful perched village I fell in love with when I was a teenager. Situated at 35 kilometers from Montpellier, St Guilhem shouldn't be missed during your next trip in the area. All the roads to go there have magnificent landscapes, and it's also part of the Association "Plus Beaux Villages de France".
Although we had a very bad night, the road trip to go and our morning wandering helped us to forget everything.
This article is part of the South of France itinerary number 1
St Guilhem le desert : the perfect village to stop close to Montpellier
As the weather wasn't so great on the morning, I decided to leave at the beginning of the afternoon.
Westie Jahan and I took the highway from Peyrehorade to Toulouse. I love the normal roads, but I'm so familiar with this area that it wasn't so interesting for me. And the great thing with this highway is the view of the Pyrenees mountains. I could also avoid the busy towns of Pau and Tarbes.
Hint : Leave the highway after Toulouse, or you will have a bad time like us in the traffic jam.
When we entered the department of Herault, I felt as if it was the beginning of our great road trip. We were surrounded by the mountains. The area was full of prehistorical caves and little cute villages. Instead of following the road through Carcassonne, I had taken the road through the Natural Regional Park of Haut-Languedoc. Up and down, right and left... Lucky me, my little companion enjoys road trip a lot and becomes crazy looking at beautiful landscapes.
Hint : If you're not in a hurry and don't want to visit Carcassonne, I really recommend this beautiful road through the Park of Haut-Herault.
Wine lovers : Why not to stop in Saint Chinian and try the famous AOC wine ? Did you know it's the oldest wine of the region as the vineyards were developped during the Roman presence in France ! You can also find ancient oppidums and the Via Domitia in the area.
I unfortunately couldn't take pictures as it was at the beginning of march and the day was over early.
A frightening night in St Guilhem le desert
Even a regular backpacker makes mistakes sometimes.
As I wanted to drive until the sunset and be free to stop wherever I wanted, I didn't know where I would sleep. I supposed I would easily find a hotel on the main road as it was the low season. I had a light sleeping bag in case of...
Saint Chinian was a tempting option but it was a little bit early and there was no restaurant along the main road. Earlier, I had seen what we call in french "relais étape", where it's possible to find an interesting package for the night and local food. It seemed a good idea... on the paper. I arrived in Béziers without finding one.
I wanted to continue through the small roads. My GPS sent me to Clermont-l'Hérault. When I saw the road sign "Saint Guilhem le désert", I was ecstatic : I knew it was one of the most beautiful villages of the south and I absolutely wanted to return to shoot pictures for you ! It was only a 20 kilometres' detour. I stopped at the bifurcation in Gignac.
Restaurant : I found the restaurant "La Table d'Emile" in Gignac, where I ate a delicious big pizza. A place I really recommend, as they also have a beautiful inner terrace, cheap price and a friendly reception.
At the restaurant, they told me that the guesthouses were certainly closed. There was a hotel close to the highway, or I could go to Aniane, on the way to Saint Guilhem.
After meeting a wild boar in the middle of the road, I finally found the hotel. Closed... Aniane : no hotel. I knew there were some accommodations in St Guilhem le desert, so I decided to continue. When I arrived in the perched village, there was nobody in the streets and no more light in the houses. I had no choice but finding a quiet place to park my car and sleep inside. The worst option at the beginning of march in a perched windy village !
Hint : Even if you travel off-season, be sure to find an hotel early or book one. Don't expect to be able to find one at 10pm if you don't know St Guilhem le desert.
Backup plan : Call the gîte / chalet de Saint Guilhem le désert. They will certainly have a cheap dormitory or another solution for you. 00 33 (0)4 67 29 39 98. Mobile : 00 33 (0)6 89 77 17 59
The night was awful. Westie Jahan was barking each time he was hearing a noise (often!). The sleeping bag was so light that I regularly start the engine to have heating. I finally put all the clothes I could find on my body and head and could sleep a little.
We were fortunately awarded by a wonderful dark sky full of stars; and on the early morning, the view of the ruddle mountains in front of us was magical.
A wonderful morning wandering around the village
St Guilhem le desert is a magnificent medieval village. It's part of the Association "les plus beaux villages de France" (the most beautiful villages). It's surrounded by the mountains and there's a lot of hiking possibilities around. Several kilometers separate it from the neighboring villages.
All the houses have the same medieval style. It is totally preserved and there are no modern buildings. This is a delight ! Even the town hall is in a cute building.
Among the most interesting places, there's the Gellone's abbey, built in 804 by Guillaume d'Aquitaine, the ruins of the Giant (ancient giant castle) and the main square.
Walking around the village is wonderful as there's no car, only small, sometimes tiny lanes.
Hint : Try to park your car in the main parking of the village. It's well indicated, on the left when you enter. The parking is close to the hiking trails and give a direct access to the medieval houses.
I spent a few hours wandering around the village. I took the time to talk with the local people and it was a warm welcome.
Hint : The tourism information is the place to visit to get the map of the village and all the informations you need. They are very friendly and efficient.
Accomodation and restaurant : There's a lot of charming guesthouses and restaurants in St Guilhem le desert itself. You will find everything you need here, even an ATM in the main parking. The list of the best ones are on the tourism information's website.
How to reach St Guilhem le desert
I won't make a long speech as clear information are provided here.
I would only recommend you to have your own transportation as there are plenty of attractions around : Pont du Diable, grottes de Clamouse, Cirque de Navacelles, Aniane, Pézenas, of course Montpellier, etc.
I hope you liked this article and I convinced you to visit this beautiful perched village. Tell us in the comments what you think and if you will visit St Guilhem le desert during your next trip to France.
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