The Lac du Salagou, known for its unique natural features, is an artificial lake that was created in the 1960s. When visiting the lake, it is also worth stopping by the abandoned hamlet of Celles. This deserted little village was evacuated before building the dam for the lake. Miraculously, the rising water stopped right in front of the houses. To this day, this unusually beautiful and quiet village is still desolate, although life is slowly coming back.
When I visited Celles in 2017, located on the north bank of the Lac du Salagou, it really impressed me. Not only because of the abandoned houses with their graffiti, but also because of the beauty of the landscape. The surrounding nature has a remarkable palette of colours, with a vivid red earth that stands out against the deep blue of the water and the sky. The authorities evacuated Celles as a precaution when building the dam to control the river Salagou between 1964 and 1968. As the dam would cause the water level to rise, everyone thought that the water would flood the village, however, it actually stopped right in front of it.
Recently, I went back to Celles to find it as deserted as years ago. Even more, as fences and roadblocks now blocked most of the houses and little streets for safety reasons. However, there are plans to make the village habitable again, although the current 25 inhabitants definitely want to avoid it becoming a tourist trap. Instead, Celles will be transformed into an eco-friendly village with only one commercial activity allowed. Mayor Joëlle Goudal took over the honour of running the village from her father Henri Goudal in 1995, and has been an avid fighter for the rebirth of the hamlet ever since. Not least because her and her family were among the original 80 inhabitants who were relocated back in 1969.
So, Celles isn’t your typical tourist stop in the region. However, it is a peaceful place with an interesting history, and I hope in the years to come it will conserve its unique beauty. Nowadays, you will find only one commercial business near the village: Le Mas de Riri. A restaurant with a history, as Riri Goudal and his wife, Marcelle, set up the restaurant in 1970. Today, their grandson Youri runs this beautiful place, that has since been extended with a camping site and hotel. While having a glass of wine on one of their panoramic terraces, I contently gazed over the impressive surroundings. What a way to conclude my day!