Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Out and about; Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert


A $2 bus trip from Montpellier takes us (Matt and I) to the medieval village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, up in the hills north of the city.

First, coffee and croissants in the Place de la Comedie, just around the corner from my apartment.

The village is a warren of ancient alleyways nestled along a valley. Many of the houses look just as they must have some twelve centuries ago.

Proof that they are still connected to the modern world (a pity that satellite dishes ruin the impact of those tiled roofs).

The spring water is as drinkable today as it would have been when this fountain was built. How many hundreds of years has it been refreshing the town's inhabitants, pilgrims, and strangers passing through?

Up on a craggy hilltop overlooking the village there are ruins of a fortified castle. We walked up a path towards the ruins and had a picnic. It is so steep that when my sun hat blew off it was impossible to climb down to retrieve it. An excuse to look in the shops in Paris next week.

In lots of places the hillsides are carefully terraced to create tiny pockets of flat land that must have been farmed for hundreds of years.

Back in the town. The Abbey of Gellone is a UNESCO-registered World Heritage Site. It was home to the Carmelite Sisters of St Joseph (Matt's primary school in Cairns was St Joseph's).

It's once-peaceful cloisters today echo to the noise of crowds of tourists speaking a United Nations range of languages who must be unable to read the signs that ask for Silence, Respect and Consideration.

For us, time for a bit of peaceful contemplation in the village square.

Matt earned his beer by running along another pathway into the mountains while I was at the Abbey. 

It is possible to do kayak trips down the river.

The St James' Way to Santiago de Compostela passes through the village.

Matt and I had met Rebekah while we were waiting for the bus and when we saw her later that day sitting by the little stream in the sun, we stopped to chat. She has a one week holiday from her life in Freiburg in Germany and has come here to walk part of the Pilgrims' Way.

It was too late in the day for her to set off on the first day's hike - 6 hours of mostly uphill pathways. She was worried about her pack being too heavy, so I suggested she leave some things with me. We brought a bag of things home with us, and she stayed a night with me when she came back through Montpellier to fly back to back to Germany. At one of the little wine bars (yes, just around the corner from home) she told me about her travels through one of the most picturesque stretches of the Chemin, staying in tiny refugios with heavy snorers and getting lost in isolated mountains. Very inspiring.

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