The Cirque de Mourèze valley lies between the Orb and Hérault rivers, and the landscape is breathtaking. 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. Try to spot the “Sphinx” or “Camel” while the “Great Manitou” takes you right back to the Wild West.
As our kids are real climbing monkeys, I thought they would be up for the big 3-hour walk around the Cirque de Mourèze. I always inform our teenagers well in advance before going on a long ramble. So, the warming-up started a week before our hike. If I had waited to tell them, they wouldn’t have gotten out of bed I’m afraid. Therefore, Chéri, the kids and I happily (well…) got up on a sunny Sunday morning to drive to the village of Mourèze. Arriving at (paid) parking lot at the beginning of the village, we received a map of the trail at the small Tourist Information Office. It was a simple map, but clear enough to give us an idea of where we were while walking.
The map showed us eight numbers to follow, also clearly indicated on the actual trail with signs, except for number two. Every time we reached a new number, we had a break, which encouraged the kids to look for the next number. Between numbers 1 and 3, there is a not-to-be-missed lookout (maybe that’s number 2?) with a stunning view over Mourèze and the Cirque. The first part of the hike you really walk between the rock sculptures in the Cirque. Every now and then there was some serious climbing to do, which our kids absolutely loved. After a while, the path started to climb more seriously, and everyone became quieter. In total, you ascend about 422 meters. Overall, no problem, just between numbers 4 and 5 the climb was quite steep, according to our kids’ grumbles.
Lac du Salagou
Once on the “crête”, or the mountain ridge, of Mont Liausson, the path was easily accessible again. On this natural barrier between the valleys of Salagou and Mourèze, we could enjoy the incredible views. The highest point of Mont Liausson is 535 meters. On the one side, you look out over the Cirque de Mourèze. And on the other side, you have a spectacular view over the Lac du Salagou. The first lookout on the top, right after number 5, wasn’t clearly indicated, but there is a small path on your right that brings you there. The Lac du Salagou is an artificial lake, built in the sixties to irrigate the surrounding agricultural fields. The typical red earth around the lake combined with the blue tones of the water and the green of the surrounding vineyards and garrigue make it one of the best lookouts in the Hérault department.
The Cirque de Mourèze and its gigantic limestone rocks were formed about 160 million years ago (!) when a warm sea covered the region. Erosion, caused by the changing climate over thousands of years, has created all kinds of outlandish rock formations. Even today, the calcareous rocks in the Cirque are slowly changing thanks to the rain, wind and cold. Until the seventies, the Cirque just looked like a lunar landscape. Vegetation was low because of the grazing goats and burning coal. Nature was finally restored after they stopped breeding cattle and burning coal in the area, allowing the flora and fauna to come back to life. Now, you might encounter the “Couleuvre de Montpellier” for example, a non-venomous snake that can reach up to 2.55 meters long. Or the “Scorpion Languedocien”, Europe’s largest and most poisonous scorpion. Luckily, they are not deadly, phew…
After a well deserved picnic at the summit of Mont Liausson, we continued on our way along a rocky path downwards. Be careful here, as some bits are pretty steep, and the rocks might be loose. The track brought us back to the Cirque, with some other magnificent panoramas over the valley. But from a different angle this time, so inevitably I took more pictures. This 7.5 km hike is very much worth the trip and a pleasure to walk from the beginning to the end! Our little map said that the hike takes about 2.5 to 3 hours, and we walked for exactly 4 hours, including some KODAK moments and the long lunch. The last part, between numbers 8 and 1, led us through Mourèze, a lovely little village with a few restaurants and bars. We sat down at the first terrace we spotted to enjoy some well-earned beverages!