The South of France is home to some spectacular natural sites. Since I am living in this region for already over eight years, and I like hiking a lot, I thought it might be helpful to share my favourite hikes, in random order. I’ll start with the Hérault department because that’s where I live and did most of the explorations. As always, I am curious to hear about your favourites. So, please feel free to drop me a line, and you might find your favourite in an updated version of this list.
Hidden in the hinterland of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, you will find one of the most impressive hikes in the Hérault department. In 10 kilometres, the Circuit des Fenestrettes will take you from the bottom of the Verdus Stream to the imposing cliffs of the Cirque de l’Infernet. This highly rewarding circular trail will give you breathtaking views over the valley called “Val de Gellone”. To make the steep foothills of the Massif Central more accessible, monks of the Abbey of Gellone in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert created several tracks. Realising that these routes have been used since the Middle Ages make this hike even more memorable.
The landscape at Cirque de Mourèze is amazing. This beautiful valley lies between the Orb and Hérault rivers. Dolomite rock columns spread out like some sort of natural labyrinth, with fanciful rocks ranging from 170 to 530 meters high. You can let your imagination run wild with the strange rock formations, a fun game to play with children. You might spot the “Sphinx” or “Camel”, and the “Great Manitou” takes you right back to the Wild West. The first part of the 7.5 kilometres trail you really walk between the rock sculptures in the Cirque. Then there is a little climbing to do and once on the “crête”, or the mountain ridge, of Mont Liausson, the path is easily accessible again. This natural barrier between the valleys of Salagou and Mourèze will give you spectacular views. On the one side, you look out over the Cirque de Mourèze, and on the other side of Mont Liausson, you have a great view over the Lac du Salagou.
The beautiful Gorges d’Héric in the heart of the ‘Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc’ are always well worth a visit. Not only for a dip in the river Orb and the naturally formed rock pools, but these impressive gorges are perfect for making great walks. Too warm during summer though, when I only can think of getting into the river as quickly as possible. So, I prefer hiking during the other seasons, not least because you will find it less crowded in the off-season. There is an easy track- very accessible for kids and buggies- that will lead you in one and a half hours all the way up to the hamlet of Héric. There, you can have a pause in a tiny café, run by a lovely lady. Don’t expect too much of it; it’s just nice to sit there and rest for a bit before you head back. Downwards will go twice as quickly, following the same path. To round off the day, you will find plenty of wonderful places to spread your picnic blanket.
Get ready for spectacular vistas when doing the hike at the Gorges de Colombières. These gorges might be less known than nearby big brother the Gorges d’Héric, but its varied landscapes are equally beautiful. The challenging 13 kilometres trail will bring you through the mountainous Haut Languedoc, with its impressive rocks, rushing waters and chestnut forests. Besides hiking, Les Gorges de Colombières offer a great diversity in activities. Nature lovers as well as hikers, climbers and swimmers will all find something of their liking. This wilderness has every reason to be nicknamed ‘a part of Corsica lost in the Languedoc’.
5. Mont Caroux
Most of the time, when I drive home to my village near Béziers, I can see the impressive Mont Caroux in the distance. Its recognisable shape is visible as far away as the Mediterranean coast. And now I can finally say that I have climbed Mont Caroux.The hike’s starting point is in the tiny village of Douch, where several hikes start. My family and I followed the yellow signs to the summit of the Caroux, called “PR Circuit Sommet du Caroux” and takes about three hours for 8 kilometres. Mont Caroux is locally known as “la Femme Allongée”, meaning the reclining woman. Gazing over the magnificent landscape from the summit, it is easy to understand how this magic place inspired many mysterious legends.
It is very much possible that you have seen the characteristic mountain Pic Saint-Loup from afar. The Pic Saint-Loup has two faces. The southern side is the gentle one, located in the middle of a landscape of garrigue and oak forests. The other side is rough with a steep slope, giving the summit its recognisable triangular form. From the village of Cazevieille, you will find a hiking trail all the way up to the summit. The hike is 6 kilometres long and takes about 2.5 hours in total. The extraordinary natural surroundings are not only a joy for your eyes. The scent of aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary and laurel are a feast for your nose. With a difference in altitude of only 364 metres, the trail is not very steep. You only have to climb quite steeply for the last bit before reaching the summit at 658 metres above sea level. When you finally reach the top of Pic Saint-Loup, the amazing view of the Languedoc region will reward you handsomely.
This is a hike I particularly like to do in autumn, as nothing beats a walk in an autumnal forest. Chestnut trees surround the little village of Brenas in the Haut-Languedoc. By walking the Boucle de Montbringues hike of 5.5 kilometres in about two hours, you will see plenty of them. The cultivation of chestnuts developed in the 16th century and covered the flanks of the Haut-Languedoc between 300 and 800 meters. Keep in mind that the chestnut trees belong to a private owner, though. Therefore, you aren’t allowed to bring any chestnuts home. It won’t matter though, as the most beautiful fall foliage will surround you, together with breathtaking panoramas over the region.
The hinterland of the Haut Languedoc hides many natural treasures, like the unspoiled lake of the Lac de Vésoles. This dam lake is perched on a plateau in the Somail mountains with their varied landscape. Also, it one of the four lakes you can visit on the ‘Route des Lacs’ in the Hérault and Tarn departments. My family and I began our first exploration of Lac de Vésoles with a hike around the lake. The lake itself isn’t too big, about 50 hectares. So, it only takes 6.5 kilometres and 2 hours to walk around it. After walking along the lake for a little while, the variety of landscapes surprised us. We walked on paths surrounded by ferns, crossed vast meadows, admired the honeybees and butterflies in the heath flowers, and even walked on boardwalks. There is a more challenging hike of 11 kilometres and 5 hours long, starting from the Lac de Vésoles. Called the ‘Sentier des Milles Marches’ or the ‘Chemin des Légendes’, it should give a fantastic view over the Jaur valley.
Normally when I go to the lovely village of Roquebrun, I spread my towel on the pebbled beach to have a refreshing dip in the River Orb. However, you can also walk the 9.5 kilometres trail of “Le Sentier de découverte au Cœur des Schistes”. Translated this means the “Trail to Discover the Heart of the Schist” because this hike takes you in 2.5 hours right into the heart of the reputed vineyards of Roquebrun. Roquebrun benefits from a very mild but rather dry climate. The surrounding vineyard sites, therefore, have acid soils based on schist. This layered and crystalline rock deals with the heat very well- the perfect soil for the different grape varieties of the Saint-Chinian appellation. Although the hike doesn’t involve much climbing, you still get high enough to have a beautiful view of Roquebrun. Including Mont Caroux and Les Espinouses in the background. If the weather is clear, you can even see the Pyrenees!
The charming village of Saint-Chinian lies in a well-known wine region within Languedoc. But there is so much more than wine to this lovely village! When I visited the very informative tourism office, I found out about many, many interesting walks. One of my favourites is the easy 1-hour hike ‘Parfums de Garrigue’, which leads you to discover eight capitelles in a fun way. Each capitelle has a different shape and its own name. Some carry the name of the family that owned the capitelle, like ‘La Capitelle Seguin’, while others use the capitelle’s function, like ‘Lo Claus’ (meaning ‘l’enclos’ in French, as in a grazing enclosure for sheep). If you’re up to it, you can make the hike longer. Leaving from Saint-Chinian itself, the ‘Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth’ hike takes about 3 hours and is a 9 kilometres long loop around the capitelles starting from the Maison des Vins.