In the South of France, in the heart of Languedoc and the Hérault gorges, the ‘Grand Site de FranceSaint-Guilhem-le-Désert – Gorges de l’Hérault’ main tourist attraction is one of Languedoc’s gems. It is thus no surprise that it has been awarded the ‘most beautiful villages of France’ label.
Set between vertiginous cliffs and stretching out along winding streets, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert originally developed around Gellone Abbey, just a few kilometres from the Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge). Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites by virtue of their being on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The Saint-Guilhem mountains and the Pont du Diable, are much appreciated by hikers and are perfect for discovering fantastic views and rare botanical species.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE
Abbaye de Gellone – Hérault, le Languedoc Photothèque Hérault Tourisme – Julie Noclercq The ‘Grand Site de France Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert – Gorges de l’Hérault’ (Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert – Hérault Gorges Major Tourist Attraction) is best-known for Gellone Abbey, founded by Charlemagne’s cousin, Guilhem. Extolled by troubadours during the Middle Ages, Guilhem became famous for his military campaigns against the Saracens. The hero of the siege of Barcelona in 803, he eventually decided to lay down his arms to become a monk. In 804, guided by Saint-Benoît d’Aniane, he founded a monastery in the isolated Gellone valley.
From the 10th century onwards, Guilhem was known as Saint-Guilhem and the spiritual importance of Gellone was further strengthened. The monastery became a privileged stopping place
along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
At the beginning of the 11th century, reconstruction of the Abbey began. It is a symbol
of early Romanesque art in Languedoc.
The Abbey is also classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site by virtue of its position on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, as is the nearby Pont du Diable bridge, considered to be one of the oldest medieval bridges in France. It is situated at the extreme southern end of the Hérault gorges, at the point where they suddenly open out onto the plains of Languedoc.
The gorges offer a spectacular, steep and plunging rocky landscape. Reaching a depth of between 200 and 300 metres in places, they are home to a wealth of uniquely Mediterranean flora and fauna. When the weather turns warmer, kayaking down them is great fun, and the St-Guilhem mountains above make an equally great day out for hikers. From the village square, you can head off to discover some of these exceptional panoramas, as well as some rare botanical species, such as the Salzman pine.
For all these reasons and more, the ‘Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert – Gorges de l’Hérault’ site has been awarded the ‘Grand Site de France (Main Tourist Attraction) label. In 2012 the French people voted it their second favourite village.