After an intense week of French language courses, I spent a whole weekend with some friends in the countryside around Montpellier, exploring, hiking, and taking in the fresh air. I really like that at ILA language school, there is no pressure to do homework or work hard on your French at the weekend. It’s really time you can use to enjoy yourself and explore the region – though it’s a bonus if you can manage to practice your French whilst doing this!
We left bright and early from Montpellier centre, and drove towards Mourèze, a sleepy mountainside village. After exploring a little bit around the houses nestled into the hillside, we started our hike, a 7km round trip up to the top of the Cirque de Mourèze and down. This was a really nice hike with some beautiful scenery; it wasn’t too hard, but there were some parts where we almost had to climb as it was so steep. Apparently, Cirque de Mourèze was used as a setting for some European western films, as with the sand and the rocks, it looks a bit like the Arizonan desert. From the top, we could see the cirque in its entirety, a deep valley which was once underwater, and there was even a view of the next stop on our tour: the lac de Salagou.
After climbing down from the top, we drove to have lunch on the red banks of the lake. This was so peaceful; the village next to the river is abandoned, and the only movement was a boat drifting over the other side. We then made a quick stop at the Pont du Diable, a stone bridge dating from the 11th century. Legend has it that, every night as the bridge was being constructed, the devil would come and destroy what progress had been made during the day. An accord was eventually reached: in exchange for allowing the bridge to be built, the devil would take the first soul that crossed the bridge for his own. This posed a problem for the men building the bridge; however, they managed to outwit the devil by sending a cat across the bridge first, who was taken by the devil instead.
Then, we headed to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, probably my favourite place of the trip. It was included in the official list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, and for good reason. We walked around the village, exploring its tiny cute streets and stunning abbey – part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage – before getting crepes and hot chocolate in a café. It is definitely somewhere you have to visit during your French immersion stay in Montpellier; luckily, the language school run trips here very frequently. Overnight, we stayed in one of the gîtes which are often used by people doing the pilgrimage. It was here also that I tried raclette for the first time, a popular dish in France where you melt raclette cheese and drizzle it over potatoes, charcuterie, and vegetables. It’s also a really sociable meal, as the raclette machine is put in the middle of the table, and the meal can last for hours as everyone sits around melting their cheese and drinking wine. I was told that most French people have a raclette machine, which they use for special occasions and dinner parties – I am very tempted to bring this tradition back home to the UK!
The next day, we walked through the village in the morning light before setting off for the Cirque de Navacelles. This is often offered as a hike as part of the extracurricular activities at the French language school, and I would really recommend going whilst you’re here. From the top, you have a panoramic view of where the water has carved out a massive bowl into the rock. We took the cars down to the village, and the view from the bottom was equally incredible, with the rocky sides of the cirque stretching upwards in all directions. Our last stop was yet another picturesque village, Laroque. Autumn was definitely in full swing here, and the trees were all shades of red, yellow and orange. We got some nice photos here, as the golden afternoon light was really beautiful; it was the perfect end to our trip to the countryside. The fact we did so much in just two days really made me realise how beautiful the Herault countryside is; there are so many natural sights to visit during your French immersion stay in South of France!