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St Guilhem le Desert, Hérault, France

Narrow streets in St Guilhem le Desert


The village is set in a valley a short distance west of the A75 (Paris to the South of France, toll-free from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers) autoroute. St Guilhem le Désert is a picturesque village with a history dating back to the ninth century.

Renowned knight and paladin of the Emperor Charlemagne, and with very strong religious beliefs, Guilhem came home from the wars to find that Charlemagne had died and been succeeded on the throne by his son Louis. The wealth and estate he had expected as recompense of his loyalty to King and country had already been distributed to a large part and that which was offered by way of lands or estates were unsuitable. Guilhem at the suggestion of Louis raised an army and captured the Saracen lands across the Rhône. He first widowed and then married the Lady of Orange (Queen Orable) and between them they founded the House of Orange still one of the ruling houses of Europe.

Later in his life Guilhem abandoning his battles and following his religious convictions founded the monastery on the river Hérault, where he later died and was buried. Guilhem was canonised and his monastery became a halt on the route to Compostella and a pilgrimage centre. One of the treasures to be seen here (in the abbey) is the reliquary cross given to the young knight by Charlemagne, it contains pieces of the cross upon which Jesus died. Because of it's situation on the pilgrimage route to Spain the monastery, and the village, prospered and there was a lot of building work on the abbey in the early Romanesque style and it was not until after the French Revolution that it started to decline.

On the cliffs which climb steeply on two sides of the village are the remains of a Saracen castle, it was here that the defeated Saracen knight Guilhem lived. There is a very pleasant walk to the head of the valley. In the village is a house with dormitory style accommodation (a "Refuge") you can stay here very cheaply, you take your own sleeping bag and pillow or whatever they supply blankets and a bed with a mattress, you can take and cook your own food or eat out in a restaurant, and the prices are very reasonable. I've stayed here and in several others in this region and they make for a very cheap weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Béziers town life. There are lots of great walks in and around St Guilhem le Désert, and lots of these Refuges throughout France, great way to see the country at an economic price.

The hills around St Guilhem le Desert The hills around St Guilhem le Desert

Photos © Graham Palmer

St Guilhem le Desert village


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