On Monday we headed south for a little break from Paris so it’s been a full week filled with new wonderful French finds. We’re near Montpellier and have been having the best time. It’s hard to just narrow this week’s post down to five finds, but I promise there will be more posts to come about our time here. Some of the places, foods, and activities I’ve discovered are Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Pont du Diable, Étang de Thau shellfish, and kayaking in the Gorges de l’Hérault.
Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert isn’t known as one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” for nothing. This quintessentially charming medieval village has it all from kayaking and hiking to shopping and of course sightseeing. Bordered by both the Hérault and Verdus rivers, the town was called le désert because when it was originally founded in 804 the valley was virtually uninhibited and considered a desert. In 806, Saint Guilhem established the monastery of Gellone because of the location’s isolation.
The village was founded around the abbey and it became an important pilgrimage sight during the middle ages. During the French Revolution, part of the cloister of the abbey was dismantled, sold, and exported to the United States.
Étang de Thau Shellfish
Lucky for me, we’re staying right in the Étang de Thau which is known for incredible oysters and mussels. As soon as you arrive you see the oyster beds throughout the lagoon. Look for Bouzigues oysters if you want to try some from this region. Also, here they eat mussels raw as well as cooked. I tried them raw and was surprised by how good they tasted.
My favorite food discovery (so far) however is moules farcies á la sétoise, stuffed mussels Séte-style. We got some from the market and had them for a lunch. Basically they’re large mussels that they open, stuff with sausage, close again, and cook in a big skillet with tomatoes. If you see them on a menu or at a market they’re definitely worth a try!
Kayaking in the heart of the Gorges de l’Hérault
Another highlight from the week was our 13 km kayak in the Gorges de l’Hérault. We started in Laroque and had an at times leisurely paddle and at other times…not so leisurely paddle. The setting is absolutely incredible with views of villages perched on cliffs, clear waters filled with fish, and rocky beaches perfect for stopping for a picnic along the way.
We chose a more “sporty” kayak route so there were a few challenges navigating the rapids. I’m blaming Romain, but we flipped once. It was no big deal other than I lost one Birkenstock, which was a sad moment for me. I’d happily do it again, next time I’ll just wear water shoes!
Another market speciality we tried are olives sétoises. Whenever I see a spécialité maison sign, especially accompanied by “aïoli, poivre…” written just like that, I know it’s going to be good. They were great.
We nibbled on a few before lunch, but I could’ve easily eaten the entire barquette. Romain’s friend’s mom says she likes to make spaghetti with a nice portion of the olives sétoises and a little tomato. It sounds heavenly and is something I definitely want to try on a future visit.
Pont du Diable
Last but certainly not least is the picture perfect Pont du Diable just at the base of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. The bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was constructed between 1028 and 1031. It’s one of the oldest existing medieval bridges in France and features two main and two secondary Romanesque arches, which demonstrate the strength of the construction.
Today it’s a popular spot to swim and kayak. Many people jump into the water from the rocks just below the bridge, but apparently it’s also not unusual to see people jumping into the water from the bridge. That seems way too scary for me, but the bridge itself and the views from it are stunning.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s South of France edition of Five Friday Finds from France. Check in again tomorrow for Weekend Links!