On a beautiful summer day, I decided to pay a visit to Presqu’île de Maguelone: a fantastic site just 20 kilometres outside of Montpellier. This peninsula, or “almost an isle” as the French call it, is perfect for a day trip if you like to mix culture with nature. And more, as wine and oysters are cultivated there as well.
Peninsula of Maguelone
The adventure started when I parked my car at what seems the last available parking lot at Palavas-les-Flots. Crossing the long straight road, I headed towards the peninsula of Maguelone. It is quite a long walk, about 1.5 kilometres, to get to the cathedral. But from May until September you can take a little train that leaves from the parking lot. The surroundings are beautiful: on the left side a small strip of low dunes with access to the beach and the big blue sea and, on the right side, a great view over the Étang du Prévost. Arriving at the site, I got my ticket and audio tour for my visit of the cathedral.
The peninsula of Maguelone has a long history. Roman and Etruscan remains have been found on the site and in the 5th century, the Visigoths created a small town on the former volcanic island. Since then, men have always occupied the land: as home, fortress, agricultural land, religious centre and hiding place. The Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral dates from the 12th century and was the first cathedral in the South of France. It not only served as a religious place but also as a refuge. It was a hide-out for the four popes of Rome and has always been a safe haven for sick persons and fishers. Being a shelter for people in need was more important than its religious role.
Although the thick walls of the cathedral kept me cool during my visit, I did find some shade in the lush green garden as well. Slowly I strolled back to the visitors’ centre, which also hosts a restaurant and a small shop. While I enjoyed a refreshing drink (I have to come back to eat, as it looks great), I learned that the peninsula is run by “Les Compagnons de Maguelone”. This association has three missions. First of all as a social project to host and educate 90 disabled people. Secondly, they protect the extraordinary patrimony of Maguelone. And finally, a cultural mission, which is evident in all the festivals, exhibitions and concerts that are organised on this fabulous site.
Presqu’île de Maguelone is located in such a magnificent place between sea and swamp. To my great surprise even in this secluded place, grapes are grown. This is the work of Frédéric Fabrège, whose father bought the domaine of Maguelone in 1852. Frédéric Fabrège didn’t only save and restore the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral; he also restored the vineyards on the peninsula. With great success, as even today you can enjoy a nice organic red, rosé or white wine. Paired with a locally cultivated oyster, life can’t get much better.
The walk back to my car took a bit longer, as I still wasn’t done taking pictures. Apparently, you can see peacocks and flamingos around the waters of Maguelone, but unfortunately, I didn’t spot them. I did see other birds though; I thought I saw some black-winged stilts and white egrets. And I’m not even a birdwatcher :). At the end of my visit, I was happy to have found another special place in the South of France!