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. As I was with our three kids, I decided we would go on a little adventure. We chose the 1-hour hike “Parfums de Garrigue”, so that we could discover 8 capitelles in a fun way.
It was one of those gorgeous spring days with deep blue skies and very clear views. The tourism office gave me an informative leaflet with the walk. The starting point for the walk we chose is the “Moulin du Rocher” on the D20, only a few minutes drive from Saint-Chinian. The kids and I followed the yellows signs, beginning with the path that lies beneath the mill. As the mill is on a hill, we immediately got a picture-postcard panorama of Saint-Chinian and its surroundings. We could even see Mont Caroux, or the “Reclining Woman” as it is called locally.
Each of the kids took turns holding the leaflet to show us the way, and, soon enough, we encountered our first capitelle. A capitelle is a small, igloo-shaped hut, made out of dry stones without using mortar. Farmers and wine growers used them to seek shelter from the rain or sun or to store their tools. Today the capitelles are a distinctive landmark in the Languedoc landscape. Continuing on our way, we reached the village of restored capitelles, including a lookout with a breathtaking view.
Looking for all eight capitelles was a fun game. We went inside a few of them so we could admire their ingenious construction from the inside. 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). Nobody knows exactly how long these capitelles have been around, but apparently, history books mention them as early as the 17th century.
The eighth capitelle, called “la Capitelle de l’Oliu” (olive tree), was set up as a “learners capitelle”. During its restoration, volunteers could use this capitelle to perfect their capitelle building skills. It was fascinating to see that all the doors are low and generally face east so as to regulate the temperature throughout the seasons. The path that led us back to the mill was easy and gave us time to imagine how life would have been back in those days.