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Hugging the western banks of the Gorges de l'Herault in Languedoc, is the stunning village of St-Guilhem-le-Desert. The ancient village of St Guilhem, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, is nestled amongst stunning Languedoc scenary. St Guilhem is regarded as one of the prettiest villages in France and has been attracting visitors across the South of France for centuries St Guilhem le Desesrt grew up around the eleventh-century abbey of Gellone situated at the upper end of the village (free entry, 8.00-12.00 and 14.30-18.30). The abbey was founded by Charlemagne's counsellor Guilhem, who returned to Languedoc from Rome in 800 AD with three pieces of wood, purportedly remnants of the Cross. The following centuries saw St Guilhem and the monastery thrive as a pilgrimage destination, as well as a stopping off point to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The church is the only surviving part of the powerful monastic house that existed here from the eighth to sixteenth centuries. Inside the impressive church is the casket holding the remains of Guilhem (who was canonised after his death). From the church you can climb down to the crypt (dating from eighth century) as well as the ruined cloister, parts of which are still in place.
St-Guilhem-le-Desert consists of narrow windy lanes leading down to the Gorge. Dotted about are ancient Pilgrim fountains, marked with the scallop-shell symbol of St James. Parking in St-Guilhem-le-Desert in the height of summer is a bit of a nightmare. Your best bet is to get there early or late in the day. Our favourite spot is to park at the upper end of the village. It costs about Euros 5 for the day. From hear you are well placed to walk out to the ruins of a castle (Cirque de l'Infernet) which offers dramatic views of the St Guilhem le Desert below. The walk takes about 1 hour to reach the castle. An alternative walking route is to follow the D4 road down through the Gorge and past the Grotte de Clamouse. These famous caves contain immense and delicate crystalline formations. There are guided tours on the hour (mainly in French unless you can encourage the guide to speak in English). The entrance price is around Euros 7 (Euros 20 for a family ticket). The tour lasts about 1 hour (make sure you go to the toilet before you go on the tour because it is a long way back up!).
Canoeing in St Guilhem
One of our favourite activities when we visit St Guilhem is to take the children canoeing up the Gorges d'Herault. Just south of st Guilhem there is a small lake where you can rent canoes by the hour and canoe under the magnificent ancient Pont Diable and up the spectacular Gorges d'Herault (see Canoeing in St Guilhem).
St Guilhem le Desert is located in Languedoc in the middle of the triangle between Montpellier (20km west), Lodeve (15km east) and Clermont l'Herault. The best route is from Gignac, through Aniane on the D32. As you leave Aniane you take the D27 towards St-Guilhem-le-Desert. It is well signposted to St Guilhem (and also Grotte de Clamouse) After about 3km and just as the mountains start to rise up, you will arive at Pont du Diable. Parking can be a bit difficult, it is worth getting here early. You can either park at the designated car parks or if these are full try and park up on the road. For more information on local events and visitor attractions in St Guilhem le Desert please visit the St Guilhem-le-Desert tourist office website.
Staying near St Guilhem:
If you would like to stay near to St Guilhem, please see our selection of houses in Clermont l'Herault and the Cevennes