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About Me:Hi I’m Nadege and I study French at the University of Leeds, and I have just completed my third year abroad in Montpellier studying literature and enjoying the sunshine! I love art; painting and being creative, as well as photography and baking. Travelling is my favourite hobby at the moment; experiencing the French language and culture. I hope you enjoy reading some of my articles!
Saint-Guilhem le Désert has to be at the very top of the long list of places and sights I have visited since being on my year abroad in Montpellier, as it is the most stunning and picturesque village in the middle of the mountains, with a population of only around 250 people. Who would have thought that such a quaint, remote little village could be situated only 30 kilometres northwest of the bustling life of Montpellier city? It is considered to be one of the ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’ (most beautiful villages in France) and due to its abbey and the Pont du Diable, which is a bridge providing a link to the two abbeys in St-Guilhem, the village has become famous across France as these two aspects are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites since 1999.
St-Guilhem was one of the villages along the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela (in northwest Spain) and is located on the Chemin St Jacques. Consequently, the village is a recognised stopping point for pilgrims from as early as the middle ages, and the village is centred around the abbey and the village square, named ‘Place de la Liberté’ which is said to be over 160 years old. The abbey dates back to the 11th century, where monks rebuilt their monastery due to the influx of pilgrims, yet in the 19th century, the abbey was vandalised and parts are scattered all around the region, meaning that it had to be reconstructed in the 20th century. It remains a parish church for the village.
Walking through the narrow streets of the village, you will pass little entrances to cute shops the residents have opened for tourists, with bunting and lanterns hanging from the houses, it is very typically ‘French’. Houses have streams running alongside them, as well as waterfalls and little bridges you are able to cross. However, the main waterfalls and bridges can be seen a little further from the village, where the Pont du Diable is located which was also constructed in the 11th century by the monks. Here, there are three bridges, a beach and many waterfalls trickling down the cliffs of the countryside – a pretty sight, much appreciated by hikers and tourists who want to discover the fantastic views or simply sunbathe by the beach.
There are various walks / hiking paths you are able to follow and the one which I followed was named ‘le bout du monde’ (translated as the end of the world). Living up to its name, the hike really did carry on forever! Walking through rivers, rocks, even snakes - maybe wearing sandals wasn’t the right footwear! Additionally, it was certainly an adventure as we met some very interesting people who seemed to live in St Guilhem, and used the hiking path to simply relax. The first man we came across was wearing no shoes, and was playing a guitar in a bush – as you do! We soon got used to the strange ‘hippy’ vibes of St Guilhem as another man was also chilling with his friends and asked us if we wanted to smoke with him – non merci! Once we reached the end of our hike, we ate lunch on a rock surrounded by the vertiginous cliffs. The hike definitely taught me how hard it must have been for the pilgrims who went through St Guilhem on their route to Spain.
The village has retained its medieval appearance with its abbey, the old prison tower, and houses built in amber stone. Visiting these UNESCO sites is something I highly recommend because many would not think to go exploring and would prefer to choose a holiday where you can sunbathe on a beach. Yes, sunbathing is nice, but why not do something a little different? Something you will remember forever and that stands out in your memory as the most picturesque, beautiful place with exceptional panoramic views. It really makes you appreciate the wonders of nature.
IMAGE 1 - personal picture. St-Guilhem abbey.
IMAGE 2 - personal picture. One of the three bridges, and waterfalls.