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.
As our kids, ages 9 to 12, are real climbing monkeys, we thought they would be up for the big 3-hour hike around the Cirque de Mourèze. We started off with a delicious lunch at the restaurant “L’Art de la Flamme” in the village of Mourèze, which gave us enough energy to keep us going for a while. The Tourist Information Office at the beginning of the village gave us a map of the trail. It was a simple map, but clear enough to give us an idea of where we were while walking. There were eight numbers on the map, also clearly indicated with signs, so we walked from number to number. Every time we reached a new number, we had a break, which encouraged the kids to look for the next number.
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. They walked in front of us, showing us the way between the stones. After a while, the path started to climb more seriously, and everyone became quieter. We went through a forest, which was completely different scenery than below in the valley. In total, you ascend about 500 meters. Overall, no problem, just between numbers 4 and 5 the climb was quite steep, according to our kids’ grumbles.
160 million years ago
Once on the “crête”, or the mountain ridge, of Mont Liausson, the path was easily accessible again. At this natural barrier between the valleys of Salagou and Mourèze, we could enjoy the spectacular views. The highest point of Mont Liausson is 535 meters. On the one side, you look out over the Cirque de Mourèze. This valley, filled with gigantic limestone rocks, was 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.
Snakes and scorpions
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…
Lac du Salagou
On the other side of Mont Liausson, you have a great view over the Lac du Salagou. This artificial lake was built in the sixties to irrigate the surrounding agricultural fields. Because of the red earth around the lake, the landscape has also been compared to the Arizona desert. In France! So this hike is worth the trip. We walked for exactly three hours, including some KODAK moments and the “goûter” of course. As we were walking in the afternoon, it was impossible for our Frenchified kids to skip the “4 o’clock snack”…