Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Walks in Hérault: Hermitage de Notre-Dame-de-Monnier

I think most of with gardens were out in them last weekend. I know I was. I was tidying up the patio with my youngest (responsible for most of the mess) and took two car loads of rubbish to the tip! Behind the house now looks less like a squatters' encampment and more like a garden. I even ate my lunch outside on Monday, in the sun, at the table which had been cleaned. It was a tiger mosquito-free event too; they obviously have not got themselves together yet.

On Sunday afternoon, my DB and I drove up towards St-Bauzille-de-Putois and turned off to drive to Montoulieu which is dominated by its own ruined castle, called the Castellas. In 1626, Cardinal Richelieu wanted to calm the local noblemen, and had the castle dismantled. Apparently it was still a place of shelter until it was burned down with its owner, de Montoulieu, looking on in 1703 by Montrevel who was in command of the royal troops in Languedoc. He was irritated with the family for supporting the Camisards. The Cevennes was a hotbed of religious revolt against the Catholic Church at that time which didn't go down well at all.

We didn't in fact stop in Montoulieu (more on its history here), but turned right towards the hamlet of La Vielle where you can park on the tiny central square and follow the directions on the signpost.
We ended up walking 6.8km, about 10,000 steps :)
Just outside the hamlet we came across a home-made catamaran. Not what we were expecting to see in the middle of the arid garrigue!
Seen along the way - home-made catamaran
The path is accessible to all, but anything with wheels (prams, wheelchairs, bikes) would have to be robustly built.
View towards the Cevennes
It's a steady climb through the bois de Monnier to the hermitage, with views that get wider and farther the higher you go.

Wild violets
We saw a fair number of little blue flowers. After consulting with my botanical advisor, MM, I've found out they're violets. Very pretty, but the only thing I took was a photo.

Chapel Notre-Dame-de-Monnier
We arrived at the chapel Notre-Dame-de-Monnier, protectrice du village de Pompignan (in the Gard) which has been restored, and where you can see the graves of the last Franciscan monks by the hermitage nestling in the wood. The chapel was dry-stone built in the sixteenth century. It's set in peaceful grounds which are shady enough for a picnic.

Peaceful, that is, until a small van lurches up the track in a haze of diesel fumes spilling out the five people and two dogs crammed inside with loud exclamations. Oh, how lovely, it's a group of the colourful and quaint people so beloved of bobos from afar - gitans. Why they couldn't park their car at the bottom and walk up the hill like the rest of us, I don't know. The track is of course forbidden to unauthorised vehicles, but I expect they thought such instructions didn't apply to them.

Inside the chapel Notre-Dame-de-Monnier
We followed them inside the chapel (just in case) and admired the charming interior where there were vases of fresh flowers. Were they there in celebration of International Women's Day? It felt rather crowed inside, so we went out and started on our way back down. We were, naturally, overtaken a bit later by the van with its three passengers and dogs illegally huddled in the seat-free boot, and tried to waft away the disgusting diesel exhaust fumes that they left behind.

Seen along the way - movable look-out post for hunters?
Seen along the way was a look-out post. When my DB tried to climb up it, he saw very quickly that it wasn't fixed to the earth as it nearly toppled him into the bushes behind. Deducting that it was there temporarily, we wondered who used it.

We also saw evidence of wild boars but no actual animals (thank goodness). When we set out, we expected to be practically the only ones on the path, but just because it was new to us, didn't mean it was unknown to others, and we saw a dozen or so walkers (not including the gitans who weren't walking) in total. It was a beautiful day to be outside and enjoying the sunshine and early Spring warmth.
View across to the Cevennes. You can zoom in on the Castellas in the middle.
We had enough water, but I was pleased to see that drinking water is available back down in the hamlet.

Drinking water on tap in La Vielle
As we drove back the few hundred metres to Montoulieu, we stopped to take a photo of this dramatic wild boar activity. This is where they must have slept. They obviously like digging a cosy hole for the night. Lucky they decided not to sleep in the vineyard behind!

Wild boars slept here
Instead of turning left towards Montpellier, we turned right at the junction of Montoulieu to take a detour home up into the Cevennes via Sumène. We crossed the main D999 road and were surprised to find a tiny road which went through a tiny but dramatic little gorge, like a mini version of the one near St-Guilhem-le-Desert. I couldn't stop and take pictures because the road wasn't wide enough but we'll have to go back on the motorbike, and I'll take some then.

The narrow road continued on upwards with hairpin bend after hairpin bend. We didn't stop at the Prieuré de St Martin de Cézas although it looked very interesting, and at the top, 700m altitude, we found the dinky hamlet of Cézas, absolutely miles from anywhere. As we slowly passed a bloke on a tiny tractor chatting to another man and his dog, I spied a signpost indicating some public footpaths which looked promising.
Hamlet of Cézas
There were some fantastic views from up there, and we'll have to go back to walk through the forest of oak, pine, chestnut and cedar trees. Can't wait!

Extra Information
The pdf of the hermitage walk in its different versions is here.
Walks in the Cevennes here.
Someone else has been there too (with pics) here.


  1. Apart from the gyppos, a lovely outing, then. How people can romanticise them is beyond me...

    1. Yes it was really invigorating for mind and body. Shame about the noise and fuel pollution though. Mind you, to be fair, the gitans were actually interested in the chapel and read the blurb on the wall (a bit). So it could have been worse... :)

  2. I don't know these areas in the Hérault, but it all made me feel like I have to get down there again SOON. It is always such a warm and sunny change from Aveyron...

    1. The weather has been lovely, and there are so many gorgeous spots off the beaten track. :)

  3. Glorious scenery and the hermitage is my kind of building - old and simple. It's a shame the gypies came in their van, but it sounds like they came for the right reasons.

    1. Yes, they did, thank goodness!

      I think the hermitage is still used occasionally. There were only benches to sit on, but it must be quite an experience to attend a service there.

  4. I love tagging along on your walks - always something unusual to see and stunning scenery. Where are we going next?

    1. Thanks Trish, yes you'd be surprised what you come across in some of the most out of the way places. :)

      Back to the Cevennes next, I expect. Weather's got to clear up a bit first though, it was went all wintry again last weekend, rained the whole day on Sunday which is most unusual.

  5. It looks so sunny and full of spring, in Italy we are drowning in rain, I am seriously thinking of building an ark.

    We have wild boars in the woods behind our house, I have never seen one yet, just the destruction they leave behind.

    1. Yes, I love the weather at this time of year. Warmish and sunny, and perfect for walking.

      I'm surprised to hear you've got so much rain. Must be down to global warming. :) (isn't everything?)

  6. I love tagging along with your walks too! It's not as warm here as there I suspect as the gardening gloves hadven't come out or on yet. Wd have loved to see the look on your DB face when he thought he was going flying. Fascinating journey, as always :)

    1. Thanks Anya, I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. :)


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