1200 years old lost village in Southern France

When asking yourself “what is your favorite place on Earth?” without seconds your mind will look for a place that brings you joy, a place with happy memories, different from all the other places. When I think about MY favorite place on Earth, I have the image of this old French village named Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert.

From hiking in New Zealand, diving with Sharks in Fiji, laying on the most beautiful beaches of Greece, to exploring the Canyons of the great American West, it is the town of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert that I can’t stop thinking about.

I first wondered if it was because it was located not too far from my home town in Southern France and that it brings memories of comfort, but I soon realized that it was much more than that. To better understand, let me take you there!

When you arrive in the village, you are overtaken by a sensation of absolute peace. As if all the problems of the world vanish as you enter this ancient stone house village tucked in this green valley surrounded by imposing rocky mountains. The mountains are the longstanding keepers of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert from unwanted visitors. In fact if you look up you will see ruins of a castle and a watch tower. The locals say that there was a giant living there centuries ago who was slain by Saint Guilhem himself. You have this feeling of being so far from everything, and yet you are only a few miles from the vibrant Montpellier, 7th biggest city of France.

As you keep walking you will reach the main square of the town with its giant sycamore tree providing shade for the people enjoying a drink at the terrace of a cafe. You are not alone anymore. There are people talking, children playing, and you can hear the water running from a fountain. People come and go as time passes. There are a lot of hikers fully equipped. Some of them are walking the religious Camino de Santiago de Compostela on which Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert is one of the required stops if you are on the road from Southern France.

Since the 11th century, pilgrims have come to visit the 1,200 years old abbey to see a piece of the True Cross. This sliver of wood is a physical remnant said to be from the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. There are also the relics of Saint Guilhem, the cousin and valorous knight of Emperor Charlemagne, lending their spiritual power to the abbey. Guilhem was a man of legends, so much so that Troubadours sang about his victories in every castle of Frankia’s kingdom. You can imagine the wealth of history that is alive in this town! There are so many stories and secrets to discover, making it even more magical than it looks at first sight.

When you start to explore the picturesque cobblestone streets you discover many artisan shops. The locals are making goods such as leather shoes, hand embroided clothes, fresh cheese, olive oil, and essential oils using only local products. There is no “Made in China” here. You begin to notice how the architecture of the village complements the beauty of the surrounding landscape. The natural light stone houses and clay roof tiles contrast gently with the mountains and the trees. The locals use this setting as the perfect stage to arrange colorful flowers and plants to display their beauty and add to the charm of the village. 

When you walk down the hill you hear the water of the Verdus river flowing through all 10 fountains of the village, which is a lot for a town of 200 people! If you follow the course of the river you will see that it travels sometimes in tunnels under the houses, and also hits a few small waterfalls before throwing itself at the bottom of the town in an impressive canyon. The delimitation of the vegetation indicates how high the water can get. In the winter after a storm the water gets pretty rough, but today is a beautiful hot summer day and there are even people kayaking.

You finally reach the end of the village and you stop to have lunch at the Fonzes Restaurant with its sun-basked terrace overlooking the blue-water-canyon. It’s a little bit scary to look down but it is so nice to enjoy a delicious home cooked meal while feeling free above the valley gorge like the hawk you might spot flying around.

It is not just the beauty of this place that makes it special. Here your senses are awakened and you feel happy. You are reconnecting with yourself and the real world. That is what makes Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert my favorite place on Earth. 

  • Julia Girard-Gervois
  • : Julia Girard-Gervois is an avid traveler that turned her passion into a business. She owns the tour operator TripUSAFrance and guides unique small group tours of France with her father and husband. She also blogs about France and often writes article about her home country for other websites.
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  • : If you are looking to travel to France but don't want to be the average tourist then visit TripUSAFrance.com to learn more about there "Travel like a local" small group tours or read there blog to find special tips about France.
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  • : This is the first time this story has been published.