05 July, 2009

Room to breathe.

If you can, allow yourself the liberty of taking the road that follows the Hérault river into the departement of the same name, across garrigue-filled plateau and through winding gorge. After stopping in Aniane and environs for some of the most exciting wines made in the Languedoc today, continue following the river, crossing it at the Devil's Bridge, or Pont du Diable. (Legend has it that, in the eleventh century, the devil nightly undid the construction work of the monks, until prince-turned-monk Guilhem promised him the first soul to cross the completed bridge. The clever saint-to-be Guilhem then sent an unlucky dog across the bridge to his fate, thereby ensuring the bridge's continued use until present times.)

Do try to pull yourself away from the soaring white escarpments, teal green water and gouged rock face around the Pont du Diable, as you will have nearly reached your destination: Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert.
The eponymous Guilhem founded a Benedictine abbey there, in the lost reaches of the wind-lashed desert. Perched on an escarpment, less promising spots to begin an abbey, let alone village, could hardly be imagined. But the (it is also said) heartbroken Guilhem, cousin to Charlemagne, left the court life and battlefield as a time-tested and valiant warrior after the early death of his youthful, second wife, to build the abbey that would later take his name.

Having spent some thirteen years successfully defending the southern borders of France (on land that had been wrested from first the Visigoths then the Moors by his own grandfather), Guilhem turned to carving out a place that would later become a popular stage in the pilgrimage route to Spain's Santiago de Compostela, and still later a flourishing touristic village with still-functioning abbey--and this after intervening centuries of benign decline and outright destruction.
But please, do be clever: avoid the congested periods in order to also avoid the Disneyland effect. Do take shelter from the burning sun under the century-old plane tree in the main square, its trunk a full six meters in diameter. Make liberal, cooling use of the fountains scattered across the village--drinking only from the ones marked eau potable. Lose yourself in the labyrinthine passageways. Peek into the well-maintained vegetable gardens of the order and other 250-some village residents.Admire the flowers growing in every possible cranny of the limestone walls, then duck into the cool of the Romanesque abbey itself. Only there will you find a small reprieve from the pressing heat and the sustained, fever pitch of the locusts.

I am fairly certain that regardless of your feelings on faith, the atmosphere of the village can be restorative, if you can remain open to the possibility.


  1. What a simply gorgeous blog! Visually rich, varied, well-informed and thoughtful - and, not least, you can write (a rare attritube!).
    I cannot believe you're not flooded with comments and followers. You definitely merit 'exposure' (sounds awful, I know!). Blogging seems to be all about misery memoirs (I'm not entirely innocent myself) and/or a peculiarly self-absorbed form of smugness that - mystifyingly - plenty of people appear to find compelling (I find it repellent).
    I've had to close down my blog due to malicious posters/stalker, otherwise I'd definitely put you on my blogroll and trumpet your presence. But I shall be sure to tell the good blogfriends I have about you.
    Greetings from the Cote d'Azur.

  2. Blimey! Sorry and all, but I've invented a word: 'attritube'!
    Of course, I meant 'attribute' ...
    Good luck and good wishes, P

  3. My goodness, thank you for all the compliments! I do enjoy hearing from people and you've made my day...please come back and visit again. I will be taking a little trip to your part of the world this coming week--specifically to Cassis. I'm looking forward it. Can you suggest anything interesting in that area?

  4. Hello Tammy - me again, reincarnated, renamed, refreshed and up and running new blog.
    Sorry failed to revisit earlier; but couldn't have advised, as have done lamentably little exploring.
    Hope all well with you.
    Best from Nice, Min.


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